Happy April Fools’ Day from FWMoA!

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

Today, we’re bringing you this exquisitely detailed, everyday scene of an antique dealer sharing his wares with a young girl.

A man in his shop speaks to a little girl and her dog. All around him are oddities and thinks that aren't quite right, like dolls with elderly people's heads; a dog with a raccoon tail, and doll with horse feet.
Norman Rockwell, American, 1894-1978. April Fool. Collagraph, 1976. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. William Lloyd Bridges, 1981.11.1. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.


See anything that’s a bit “off”? This lithograph, a re-creation of Norman Rockwell’s April 3, 1948 cover of the Saturday Evening Post does depict an older store clerk sharing his stock of dolls with a young girl, but upon closer inspection, nearly every other detail in the work verges on the surreal. In fact, it contains 56 unusual details, according to the Post. Can you spot them all?

Rockwell, among his many other Saturday Evening Post illustrations, also created covers for April Fools’ Day in 1943 and 1945, but this, his third iteration and 253rd cover overall, was the zaniest. Many quirks are quite obvious while others require closer scrutiny. Beyond just hidden details, the “jokes” sometimes require a bit of thought to fully grasp. I, for instance, saw the birds flying through the antique shop and found that strange enough, but Rockwell didn’t stop there, giving the bird at the top a woodpecker’s head on a crane’s body. The goat has deer antlers and is wearing a saddle. Abraham Lincoln is wearing Ulysses S. Grant’s jacket in his portrait (quite difficult to spot). Some errors, too, are a bit tougher to discern from a modern perspective; for example, the hanging light should be a gas lamp rather than a candle. Others even feel like inside jokes for the artist—for one as meticulous as Rockwell, these paintings must have been a great joy to execute. I imagine him chuckling to himself as he painted the visual pun of the actual face in the clock.

We’ve looked at Norman Rockwell before on the blog, around Thanksgiving to examine ties between his famed Freedom from Want and a Scholastic-Awarded work. It would be impossible to discuss Rockwell’s work from this era and ignore the historical context of the 1940s and World War II. The bulk of his artistic output during this time was more serious, a reflection of the somber, duty-bound lives of the American public. The April Fools’ covers provided a respite both for Rockwell and the readership of the Saturday Evening Post, which reached 4 million in 1949. Today, too, it feels good to take a break from the news and enjoy a work of art that exists solely to be silly and bring joy.

Although cultures around the world observe similar days of mirth that mark the beginning of springtime, the origins of modern April Fools’ Day celebrations are difficult to trace. I, in fact, never really wondered why people play pranks on each other on a certain day before writing this post. It can be historically linked with the switch to the Gregorian calendar in sixteenth-century France, which moved the New Year from March 25 to January 1. Of course, the transition to a new system took time, but eventually, the hangers-on to the old Julian calendar became known as April Fools. Some might say that we’re now in the golden age of April Fools’ Day pranks, as the Internet provides a new and far-reaching platform for all kinds of lighthearted trickery, following the tradition set by its mass media predecessors like the Saturday Evening Post.

This April 1st finds many stuck at home. Maybe you can kill some time playing “I Spy” with Rockwell’s covers: find them all along with the “answers” here . Or maybe you’re inspired to create your own April Fools’ work of art! In any case, I hope today provides a bit of comic relief in these uncertain and strange times.

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