Jeremy Clowe spends so much time around Norman Rockwell paintings that his life often seems to imitate the artist’s work, nearly everywhere he looks.
That was the case when Clowe, an employee at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, where he’s worked for almost two decades, was shown an image of a dog separated by its owner on the MBTA this week, a scene that played out Tuesday night and was widely circulated online after a rider posted the picture on Twitter.
The image was captured on an Orange Line train. It shows the dog, wearing a plaid vest, staring attentively at a closed train door as its owner stands on the other side. Riders surrounding the dog, who is still connected to a leash, have varying reactions — shocked, intrigued, nonchalant — to the scenario.
It’s all framed by people’s arms and bodies, offering a slice of life that if painted on canvas could arguably be displayed in a museum, right down to the sign in the background that reads “Priority Seating,” Clowe said.
“This is like a modern-day Rockwell scene,” he said, after the Globe sent him the image to get his take. “Just all these elements . . . the composition, the use of color, the detail, the use of cropping of subjects where you only see a part of it — they are all definitely things that Rockwell would have used.”
We asked Clowe, who has interviewed subjects featured in Rockwell paintings, to break down the viral image, piece by piece, and highlight the similarities to the artist’s own masterpieces.
Here’s what he had to say:
“Rockwell used dogs, in particular, as an effective subject matter,” Clowe said. “This one is calling to mind a picture he did called “Road Block,” where a dog is the center of attention, and he is basically halting all the traffic going down this narrow street, and everyone is reacting to that. This is typical of something Rockwell would use in his composition not only to tell a story, but the use of the red — the fact that this little jacket is red — that’s something Rockwell would use so your eye is directed straight to the subject.”
The Shocked Woman
“There’s a very sympathetic view, this character in this picture here, reacting to the whole scene. A little bit of disbelief, a little bit of sympathy to the owner, the dog. She is waiting to see how this is going to unfold and can’t quite believe it,” he continued. “There’s the story within the story of what’s going through this woman’s mind — definitely a technique that Rockwell would have used. He often would just do one single piece that told this whole story, and you could gain all these clues just by the interactions of the characters within the piece. So that’s definitely something he would have used, a character like this woman here and her response.”
The Woman Leaning Out
“There’s actually a very famous piece called “Saying Grace,” where there’s a grandmother and her grandson saying their prayers at a dining table — a restaurant diner, you might assume — and there are characters that are kind of veering over in a little bit of disbelief in what’s happening, but also being respectful about what is happening. I’m thinking of that image when I see her. A little bit of, “What’s going on here?” She is almost a foil to the other woman.”
The Gloved Man
“Something that Rockwell used a lot would be a figure that you don’t quite see the full figure, but you see the bit of an arm or something outstretched. You realize there is more beyond this little isolated image point. We don’t even see the face of this man sitting here, so we don’t know how he is reacting, but it kind of gives you the sense of the depth of where this is all taking place; the full subway car. . . . This man here could almost be substituting for us. He is looking at all the scene.”
The Man With the Tie
“There’s pictures that Rockwell did that you don’t actually see, again, just a piece of the body. There is a picture called “The Problem We All Live With,” the picture of the little girl being escorted by marshals to the desegregated schools in the South, and the marshals, you don’t see the tops of their heads. It’s almost that same idea. It could be anybody. We don’t know how he’s reacting either, which makes it all the more curious.”
The Man Who Wasn’t Watching
“That’s hilarious. It adds a little bit of a comical touch to it. There’s humor in this little bit of a sensitive scene. I think most people would feel bad about a dog being separated from its owner, so there’s that mixed element of emotions that you see. . . . He’s immersed in his smartphone or book, or whatever he’s looking at. Different characters that are in the scene, but they’re in their own little world, as major action is going on.”