OBJECTIFS : faire découvrir un peintre américain, lire une image

1.      Les élèves effectuent des recherches au CDI sur Norman Rockwell.

When and where was he born ? in

1894 in

New York City When did he die ? in 1978

Was he ð a musician ð a painter ð a photograph ð a sculptor  ð an illustrator ?

How many works did he produce ? over 4000

What were his favourite themes ? everyday American life, civil rights, poverty and space exploration.

Name three of his works. Saying Grace, Mother Tucking Children into Bed, The Problem We All Live With. What do these titles mean in French ?

Who was Ruby Bridges ? This young African American lived in

New Orleans



. She was six when she was selected in 1960 to be among the first Black children to integrate the

New Orleans

public school system, based on her high test scores. Up until that time, White and Black children throughout the South, still attended racially segregated schools. As a protest, partisans of segregation boycotted the public school they attended and, for a year, she went to school protected by police. She was the only pupil in the school ! By the beginning of the next school year, the situation calmed down. Ruby grew up to create the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which promotes social change and tolerance through the education of children.

What is the Ku Klux Klan ? It is a racist secret society founded in 1867 which fights against Black integration.

2. Présentation du tableau The Problem We All Live With.  Les élèves s’expriment librement et le professeur note les commentaires au tableau en les classant selon plusieurs thématiques : setting, characters (clothes, expressions, what they are doing …), colours …. 

Ensuite, reformulation par les élèves dans une grille de lecture de l’image.






ORIGIN (date, historical context)

1964, school segregation has just been abolished by law


a middle shot with a central character


The scene takes place on a pavement. The central character, a young African American girl, dressed in white (skirt, socks, shoes), is going to school. She is holding schoolbooks, pens and a ruler. She is walking decisively, with her head up, past a wall stained with tomato and racist graffiti : « Niggers » and a reference to the « KKK ». She is flanked by four white federal marshals who are wearing grey or brown uniforms with yellow armbands saying « deputy US marshal ».

The girl is rather small whereas the marshals look proportionally like giants.

She is protected by the police because angry people, who are opposed to school integration, don’t want her to enter the school.


The white colour suggests innocence.

The red of tomato draws our attention and first suggests blood.

The inscriptions help us understand how Ruby may have felt as she entered the school guarded by marshals.

The painter wants to dramatize the situation.

This is a committed painting. Norman Rockwell wanted to show/his purpose was to emphasize the stupidity and unfairness of racism.   


I think … In my opinion … What I like about the painting is that  … What I don’t appreciate … What I find surprising is that …

2.      Etude du tableau New Kids in the Neighbourhood (1967), aussi intitulé Negro in

the Suburbs.

The context : this painting illustrated an article published in the magazine Look about « the White Flight ». Indeed, white Americans went to live in the residential suburbs of big cities because they feared Black riots in city centres. A few Black people went to settle in these areas too.

This painting depicts an evidently white neighbourhood where a moving van has been parked because a Black family is going to live there.


Les élèves comparent les deux groupes d’enfants.







They are neatly dressed : jeans, baseball white outfit, shorts, socks and sneakers

They are neatly dressed : white jumper, shorts, socks and sneakers

Centres of interest

baseball and pets (black dog)

baseball and pets (white cat)


They are standing with their arms behind their backs,   staring at the other children with curiosity.

They are standing with their arms behind their backs,   staring at the other children with curiosity.

Social class : why ?

middle class (clothes,houses …)

middle class (clothes, houses, furniture …)

Colour of skin



Conclusion : They are about the same age, they are all as neatly dressed as can be, they belong to the same social class, they’ve got the same interests ; the only difference between them is racial.

What was Norman Rockwell’s message ? He pleaded in favour of racial integration in residential suburbs where Whites were in majority. These innocent-looking Black children could not present a threat to the white world.

What are the common points between the two paintings ? racism, white clothes …

3.      Etude du tableau Saying Grace. Une reproduction en couleurs est distribuée aux


This painting was made to illustrate the cover of the Saturday Evening Post issued on November 24, 1951, on Thanksgiving Day.

What is Thanksgiving ? Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day is a traditional North American holiday to give thanks for the things that one has at the conclusion of the harvest season. All the members of a family eat a traditional meal. It celebrates the time when settlers who came to North America from


were saved by Native Americans. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States.

Brief description of the place and the characters in Saying Grace.


Norman Rockwell’s working technique : how did he paint Saying Grace ?

Les élèves, répartis en groupes, réalisent les activités suivantes :

·        the characters : Rockwell asked his elder son to pose as the grandson, he asked

his photographer and a tramp to pose as the two young men seated in front of the grandmother. Imagine the orders he gave them : ‘I want you to …’, ‘I’d like you to …’ : position (sit …), attitude (look, bow head, clasp hands, pray …), clothes …

[Possibilité ensuite d’apporter des accessoires et de faire interpréter cette scène par les élèves, sous forme de sketch.]

·        Choice of the view from the window : Rockwell hesitated between

  •        a  flowered garden

       people walking on a pavement

       railroad lines in an industrial park

Which view did he finally choose ?

·        the inspiration : one day Norman Rockwell received a letter from a reader of the

Post. She had witnessed the following scene in a cafeteria in


: an old woman and her grandson were saying their prayers before having a modest meal.

Imagine the letter she wrote.

·        the scenery : Rockwell collected  the props he needed to paint this scene.

Make out a list of the objects : tables, chairs, two bags, an umbrella, cups, plates, forks, knives, a tray with a saltcellar, a pepperpot, clothes …

·        Research of locations : Rockwell went to the railroad-station cafeteria and

observed all the details of the inside.

Mise en commun, puis les élèves écrivent un court texte dans lequel ils récapitulent, dans l’ordre qui leur paraît le plus logique, les tâches accomplies par Norman Rockwell avant de peindre le tableau : First … Then … After that …