Before the Shot

Rockwell, Norman

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle
  • Date of entry: May-30-2008
  • Last revised: Jun-01-2008


As a father of three boys and a friend of the famous doctors Erik Erickson and Robert Coles, Rockwell had plenty of opportunity to study doctors interacting with patients. Before the Shot is one of his humorous doctor-patient scenes. Published as a Saturday Evening Post cover, March 15, 1958, this oil painting depicts a doctor's examination room with the male physician and his young male patient standing with their backs to each other. In the foreground the young boy stands on a chair in his undershirt. He grasps his belt and pants around his buttocks and leans forward toward the wall, his nose up against one of his doctor's framed diplomas. On the chair are his coat, hat, and scarf. His heavy shoes are on the floor. The doctor stands behind him facing the window and holds a syringe in his hand. The walls of his office are hospital green; the floor grey and white linoleum tile. The dominant color is green. It is daytime.


Norman Rockwell said: "I do ordinary people in everyday situations, and that's about all I can do" (Reference 1). He often used adults and children from his community as models. The situation depicted here is familiar: a young child comes in for his vaccination. But no parent is present. Rockwell's decision to picture the boy scrutinizing his doctor's credentials before allowing the injection to occur indicates anxiety on the part of the patient.

Richard Halpern notes that Rockwell was in therapy with Erik Erickson at this time; he views the syringe as "Freudian vulgarity of the needle-as-phallus, ejaculating in anticipated joy. It is not so much a 'phallic symbol' as a phallic joke, Rockwell's knowing wink to the 1950s culture of pop Freudianism" (Reference 2).


1. Norman Rockwell. My Adventures as an Illustrator (as told to Thomas Rockwell) (New York: Doubleday) 1960, p.375.
2. Richard Halpern. Norman Rockwell. The Underside of Innocence (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press) 2006, p. 104.


Primary Source

Karal Ann Marling. Norman Rockwell 1894-1978. America's Most Beloved Painter (Cologne: Taschen) 2005, p. 72.