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Why George Lucas and Steven Spielberg can't take their eyes off Norman Rockwell

June 26, 2010 |  1:30 pm

Close friends since the 1960s, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have affected each other’s filmmaking in countless ways. They have also influenced each other’s art collecting, sharing a decades-long interest in Norman Rockwell.

I interviewed each of them about their passion for Rockwell for an Arts & Books feature pegged to this week’s opening of “Telling Stories” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C. The exhibition features 57 Rockwell works, primarily paintings, drawn exclusively from the filmmakers’ collections.

In the article, the usually discreet collectors talk about their first Rockwell acquisitions, the painter's cinematic techniques and his influence on their work, direct and indirect. On the less direct side, they both identified movies they’ve made steeped in that place of hope, idealism and patriotism that we call Rockwell’s America.

For Lucas, it’s “Star Wars”: “On the one hand it's a film for young people, a film for 12-year-olds that taps into the Norman Rockwell world of bold adventures. But then, on the darker side, it explores the psychology of our relationships with our parents, our government, and some things not at all Rockwellian.”

For Spielberg, it’s “E.T.”: “E.T. I think comes closes to Rockwell's America, because it's centered on a family in need of repairs, and there's such a hopefulness there. But that's where it stops -- I don't think Rockwell has a single alien in his repertoire.”

I also asked them how they would respond if art critics suspect the pair of collectors, as they so often do with single-collection shows, of loaning the works to a major museum show to boost the value of their holdings.

Spielberg, who had the initial idea for the show, said the market implications never occurred to him, noting that Rockwell's values have gone up to “levels that I thought at one point unimaginable. No museum show is going to be able to pump up the values any more.” (The auction record for a Rockwell painting, set in 2006, stands at $15.4 million.)

Lucas responded, “I'm never going to sell my work, so that doesn't make any difference to me.”“Besides,” he added, “if Steven and I really wanted to drive up the price, we could go to an auction and bid a work up to $2 or $3 million or much, much more -- we could outbid that Picasso. Or else I could sell him one of my pictures for $100 million, and both of our collections would be worth a whole lot more money.”

Not that Lucas has any intention of doing so. “I find the art world mystifying,” he says.

Read more on George Lucas' and Steven Spielberg's Rockwell collections.

-- Jori Finkel

Image: Boy on High Dive, 1947 oil on canvas, Collection of Steven Spielberg. Licensed by Curtis Publishing.