Norman Rockwell’s “The Gossips,” 1948

GossipsDo older women gossip more than other people? Norman Rockwell seemed to think so. In this work, made for the cover of Saturday Evening Post, nine out of fifteen gossips are women, and six of those are old. Maybe he was making a point about older people in general, since four of the six men are old as well. Its also possible that the old outnumbered the young in Arlington Vermont, where Rockwell lived and drafted the models for this image.

Gossips2The small details in each portrait are wonderful—the parts of collars, jewelry, pipes and curlers all give a sense of individual personalities. I am particularly fond of the outline of buttons down the back of the third woman in the top row. Don’t they speak volumes about her fussy tastes?

gossips1The older woman who started the gossip chain wears an original head covering with a net base and bow like decorations at the front. Underneath the netting you can make out her what looks like her scalp below her thinning hair. According to the Norman Rockwell Museum, the person who posed for this image wasn’t pleased with how it turned out—and I don’t blame her.

Gossips3What else can we learn from this lovingly satirical portrait? Gloves are apparently not essential in this small town; only the original gossiper has them on. Hats are worn by the older set, while the one woman in a kerchief is young. And we might also note the gossipers’ relationship to technology. It is the young people who prefer to gossip on the phone. The older set—both men and women—spread their rumors face to face.

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1 Response to Norman Rockwell’s “The Gossips,” 1948

  1. Thanks for getting me to take a closer look at this painting. In 1948, my grandmother still had a “party line” telephone, and was not above listening in to conversations at the house next door. . . . (She wanted to find out if they were planning to move.) I almost expected the “gossip” line in this painting to start with a telephone. [For those who haven’t heard of a party line, the number of times the operator rang the bell told you which house was the intended recipient of the call — but once answered, it was like an extension in your own house; you could “accidentally” lift your receiver and listen in. If caught, you could gasp, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were still on the line!”]

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