Saturday, November 1, 2014

Norman Rockwell at Auction

Sotheby's 2017


Two Plumbers from 1951 is Norman Rockwell at his best. Created at the height of his career, the painting brilliantly demonstrates the artist’s talent for depicting everyday life with a dose of humor. To produce the current work, Rockwell employed two of his studio assistants – Don Winslow and Gene Pelham – as models, posing them in front of a dresser owned by his wife, Mary. By combining real-life models, who were often friends and neighbors of the artist, and photography, Rockwell was able to meticulously account for each and every detail, which is in part what brings his paintings to life. In his own words: “Now my pictures grew out of the world around me, the everyday life of my neighbors. I don’t fake it anymore”. Sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1996, and having remained in the same private collection since, Two Plumbers returns to the market this season with a pre-sale estimate of $5/7 million.

Sotheby’s New York  21 November 2016 auction of  American Art 

The sale is headlined by Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover,  Which One?

Norman Rockwell’s  Which One? (Undecided; Man in Voting Booth) will be a major highlight of our 21 November 2016 auction of American Art in New York. Depicting the  public sentiment leading up to the  presidential election of 1944 , in which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran against  Thomas E. Dewey, this painting  epitomizes  Rockwell’s signature style , combining relatability and intellect, humour and all -American pride.  

Acquired by the Phipps Family in the1980s , the painting will be exhibited in New York starting  4 November 2016 alongside Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art, before the  American Art auction on 21 November, when it is estimated to sell for $4/6 million .   


Focused on the United States presidential  election of 1944, a hotly -contested race between Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  running for his fourth term, and Republican Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York, Which  One? is a superb example of Norman Rockwell’s  ability to highlight issues at the forefront of national discourse in a relatable manner. With questions of foreign and domestic policy, as well  as the general health of the incumbent, being called into question, Americans rallied to vote, taking part in an essential, American experience. In  Which One?  a Cedar Rapids resident represents the millions of undecided voters across the country. Having educated himself with political pamphlets and newspapers, the former jammed in his pocket and the latter still grasped in his hand, the voter continues to weigh his  options. While the image alone would have resonated with citizens throughout the United  States, Norman Rockwell’s  keen attention to detail,  demonstrated by the fine print of The  Cedar Rapids Gazette and the man’s bemused expression , bring s this undecided voter to life.     

Furthermore, by balancing the composition and creating a sense of depth, one feels that he or she could step into the painting and into the shoes of the Cedar Rapids voter.  Which One? (Undecided; Man in Voting Booth) embodies the best of Norman Rockwell and his ability to capture American life. Having been in the same collection for over three decades, the November auction of American Art offers a rare opportunity for collectors and institutions to acquire a quintessential work by one of America’s most beloved painters of the 20th Century. 


Norman Rockwell was, and continues to be, America’s storyteller. Best known for his covers for The Saturday Evening Post, his works of art captured the  zeitgeist of the day, including patriotism, racism and national security. In fact, with the public’s reliance on daily newspapers and weekly magazines like The Post for information and regular updates, his paintings were an integral part of the conversation. Capturing them with warmth, w it and a sense of humor, Norman Rockwell appealed to the average American. In the words of Thomas S. Buechner, “because [Rockwell] illustrates them using familiar people in familiar setting with wonderful accuracy, he continue to grow as new generations live through the  same quintessentially American types of experiences that he so faithfully depicted in his art” (Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective, New York, 1972, p. 13).    

Additional significant Rockwells on offer this November include   

Pipe and Bowl Sign Painter (estimate $1.5/2.5 million ) 

and Organist Waiting for Cue (estimate $1.2/1.8 million) , 

both strong examples of the artist’s work for The Post in the  1920s. Remarkably, the former was the first image to appear on the cover of the publication in full color.

Sotheby’s American Art 18 May 2016

Among the most sophisticated and complex compositions Rockwell created for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, Road Block (estimate $4–6 million) demonstrates the artist’s distinctive sense of humor and unparalleled gift for storytelling–two of the qualities that have incited comparisons between Rockwell’s work and filmmaking. Regarding his 1949 painting Road Block, NormanRockwell bemoaned: “Why, oh, why do I paint such involved and complicated pictures?” 

The May sale also will include Rockwell’s Hobo and Dog (estimate $1.5–2.5 million), sold by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Appearing on the cover of The Post on October 18, 1924, it features one of Rockwell’s favorite models of the period: James K. Van Brunt. 
 Sotheby's May 2015


Sotheby’s will present The  Warshawsky Collection – a  landmark offering of Tiffany, Pre-War Design and fine art –  this May in New York, assembled from the 1960s through the  ‘90s by noted Chicago businessman Roy Warshawsky and his wife Sarita. The collection is led by Norman Rockwell’s  The Bookworm from 1926, which is considered a tribute to  German artist Carl Spitzweg’s painting  Der Bücherwurm from  1852 (estimate $1.5–2.5 million). Rockwell’s homage  reverses the stance of the original painting both literally and  figuratively: whereas Spitzweg  depicts a respectably-dressed  German burgher in a large library, Rockwell paints an  eccentric and absentminded reader lost amongst his findings  at an outdoor bookstand. 

Christie’s 19 November 2014

$800,000 - $1,200,000

Painted in 1918, Stolen Goods is exemplary of the signature wit and charm found in Rockwell’s best work. Stolen Goods was featured on the cover of the February 9th, 1918, issue of Judge Magazine, a satirical publication launched by artists in 1881.

Christie’s December 5, 2013

Among the five works in the sale by Norman Rockwell is The Thing to Do With Life is Live It! (Outrigger Canoe) (estimate: $800,000-1,200,000).  Rockwell painted the seven-foot-wide canvas in 1956 after having been approached by an advertising agency to create a campaign for Pan American World Airlines.  The ads sought to highlight the breadth and diversity of Pan Am’s tourist destinations and featured a variety of international locales, including London, Rome, Tokyo, and Hawaii.  The charming and humorous painting offered in the sale is a true celebration of American tourism. An uneasy couple wearing matching Hawaiian shirts and straw hats are juxtaposed with the confident native Hawaiians, who aggressively paddle their Outrigger Canoe through the waves.  In Rockwell’s only known portrayal of Hawaii, he succeeded in obliging the demands of his advertising commission, while still maintaining his trademark sense of humor.

Christie’s 28 November 2012

Deer Santy Claus by Norman Rockwell was believed to have been lost or discarded over eighty years ago, but was unexpectedly found in a closet in California this past May. ( estimate: $300,000-500,000).  Commissioned for the Western Newspaper Union syndicate in 1921, the painting depicts a young girl fast-asleep in her bed under a patchwork quilt in the foreground, with a letter addressed “Deer Santy Claus” tied to her bedpost.  Santa Claus, dressed in his traditional red suit and hat, peers over the child, his hand is placed on his bearded chin as he contemplates what gift he should give her for the holiday.  The painting evokes the sense of innocence nostalgia with which Norman Rockwell is so closely associated. 

CHRISTIE’S  September 25. 2012
Norman Rockwell’s Study forThe Runaway’ leads the sale (estimate: $80,000 – $120,000).  Arguably the artist’s most iconic image, the completed work was used as a Saturday Evening Post cover for the September 20, 1958 issue.  The scene features a young boy who has packed up all of his belongings into a neatly folded knapsack and run away from home.  Before setting out on his adventure, he stops at a local diner only to find himself caught up in a conversation with a friendly policeman, who is earnestly asking him to reconsider his departure.  As is the case with most of Rockwell’s artwork, he found models among the locals in his town.  Richard Clemens, a 29-year-old trooper and neighbor of the artist in Stockbridge was asked to don his uniform and meet at a local restaurant. There he was introduced to an 8-year-old boy, Eddie Locke, who had been recruited from a nearby elementary school.   Originally, the Saturday Evening Post acquired the study directly from the artist, and upon the retirement of the present owner’s mother from her longstanding job at the Post, the work was given to her. It has remained with the family for many years and has since been given to the current owner by his mother.

Also featured in the sale is Rockwell’s Study forA Man’s Wife,’ an illustration completed to accompany a story written by Howard Fast in the February 1939 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal (estimate: $30,000 – $50,000).  The story fictionally chronicled the lives of Martha and George Washington in the camp at Valley Forge.  Rockwell was gifted in that he was able to choose the correct moment in the story for the illustration, creating enough of an interest in the viewer for them to read the story.  The scene that Rockwell chose to illustrate is the moment when Martha Washington enters the kitchen to find that the supper she had planned to serve to Colonel Hamilton has been burned and is now inedible. Knowing that food is scarce, the kitchenmaid is distraught by her mistake and is found weeping on a bench.  When Martha asks why the meal is ruined, a sentry who had been stationed outside the house, rushes in and jumps to the young girl’s defense, appealing to the romantic sensitivities of the female readers.  The study was given by the artist directly to his friend and barber, Steven M. Kovac, whose name appears in the dedication at lower right. The picture has remained in the family ever since.

Bonhams' November 19, 2014

Scouts of Many Trails by the prolific American artist, Norman Rockwell, is a highly anticipated lot. It is estimated at $300,000 – $500,000. This oil sketch is likely an early compositional idea for Scouts of Many Trails as it differs vastly from the final, published version. In this work, an old and seasoned sailor with a parrot on his shoulder regales his young charges with tales of adventures past. The final version of this work served as the cover illustration of the February 1937 issue of Boys' Life.


Rockwell's illustrations graced the covers of a great number of magazine including Life, and The Saturday Evening Post. One such featured work in the upcoming auction, A Light Haired Woman Will Cross Your Path (Fortune Teller with Young Couple) (est. $200,000 – 300,000) was on the cover of the August 12, 1920 issue of Life. This intimate, dimly lit scene conveys an encounter between a young couple and a fortune teller seated in a disorganized, private setting of the fortune-teller's tent. Rockwell capitalized on poignant interactions not only in this current work but throughout his career and illustrations.

Swann Galleries June 12 2014

The Family Tree

charcoal, drawn for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post’s October 24, 1959 issue

(see a great history of this work here)—which was accompanied by a copy of the magazine, $28,160. 

Christie’s May 22, 2014

The Rookie illustration ©SEPS. Used with permission from Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, Indiana. All Rights Reserved

The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room) by Norman Rockwell, which has never been offered at auction, was painted in 1957 for the March 2nd cover of The Saturday Evening Post and has remained in the same private collection for nearly thirty years.   It has been publicly exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston twice–once in 2005 and again in 2008–following World Series victories by the Red Sox.

The work was painted in 1957 for the March 2nd cover of The Saturday Evening Post and has remained in the same private collection for nearly thirty years. It has been publicly exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston twice–once in 2005 and again in 2008–following World Series victories by the Red Sox. Estimated at $20-30 million, The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room) marks the highest estimate ever for Norman Rockwell at auction.

Norman Rockwell’s covers for The Saturday Evening Post during the 1950s reflected the direction of editor Ben Hibbs, who strove to make the magazine more current to increase circulation. Nothing could be a more popular subject to an American audience than baseball and no player other than Ted Williams, “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” was commanding more attention at the time, on the eve of his retirement from baseball. Rockwell conceived this cover at least 9 months in advance of its publication date on March 2nd, 1957, just in time for the start of spring training for the Red Sox.

Over the summer of 1956, he convinced team management to send four players from the starting lineup up to Rockwell’s hometown, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, deep in Red Sox country. Pitcher Frank Sullivan, right fielder Jackie Jensen, catcher Sammy White all posed for the painting. Williams was either unable or unwilling to make the trip and Rockwell captured his likeness from his trading card, and other photographs. Rockwell traveled to Sarasota to take pictures of the Red Sox spring training stadium and locker room. The palm trees which sway in the window indicate the location. The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room) depicts an intimate scene during spring training; an awkward newcomer is juxtaposed with the confident stances of the seasoned players, making the rookie’s anxiety all the more apparent and endearing.

In addition to The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room), ten other works by Norman Rockwell will be offered in the sale, including

The Collector ( estimate: $700,000-1,000,000),

Boy Graduate (estimate: $2,000,000-3,000,000)

and Willie Gillis in Church (estimate: $2,000,000-3,000,000).


Estimate   200,000 — 300,000
Lot Sold   905,000

Estimate   15,000,000 — 20,000,000
Lot Sold   46,085,000

Estimate   200,000 — 300,000
Lot Sold   329,000

Estimate   6,000,000 — 9,000,000
Lot Sold   8,453,000

Estimate   3,000,000 — 5,000,000
Lot Sold   3,245,000

Estimate   200,000 — 300,000
Lot Sold   509,000

Estimate   100,000 — 150,000
Lot Sold   137,000

 Sotheby’s 3 December 2009

Norman Rockwell’s Under the Mistletoe was painted in 1936 for the December 19thcover of The Saturday Evening Post(est. $600/800,000). Though Rockwell painted over 300 covers illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post during his forty-seven year career with the publication, his most beloved works were his holiday-themed covers. Under the Mistletoec aptures an intimate but playful moment between a travelling gentleman and a barmaid as he bends forward for a kiss under the mistletoe.

Bonham's December 4, 2013 

Iconic works by Norman Rockwell lead the sale. Girl Choosing Hat, which was the cover for the January 31, 1931 edition of the Saturday Evening Post is the auction's top lot, executed at the start of Rockwell's most fruitful years at the magazine (est. $400,000-600,000). This work comes to sale directly from the artist's family. 


A quintessential oil on canvas by Norman Rockwell is just one of the many illustrations that will be offered on May 23. Starstruck (estimate: $800,000-1,200,000) was painted for the September 22, 1934 cover of The Saturday Evening Post and depicts a young boy fawning over Hollywood’s leading ladies of the day. Distracted by the beautiful movie stars, the boy has cast aside his childish pursuits of baseball and playtime with his faithful sidekick. The fact that both the boy and his dog are pining for the attention of an unwitting subject underscore the scene’s charm.

Sotheby's May 2013

- The enduring strength of the market for works by Norman Rockwell was felt throughout the sale – the six examples on offer together sold for an impressive $6.5 million, more than double their overall high estimate of $3 million. Seven bidders battled for

He’s Going to Be Taller than Dad, a domestic scene of a boy and his faithful dog that fetched $2,629,000 (est. $500/700,000). (This follows Sotheby’s November 2012 sale of American Art in which five works by Rockwell totaled $6.1 million, again demonstrating the continued appetite for works by the American icon.)

More sales – Sales price and estimate:

Norman Rockwell, Doc Melhorn and the Pearly Gates, 1938 $1,085,000 (£716,266) $1,000,000 - 1,500,000

Norman Rockwell, Sport, 1939 $905,000 (£597,439) $300,000 - 500,000

Norman Rockwell, The Veterinarian, 1961 $845,000 (£557,829) $200,000 - 300,000

Sotheby’s Nov 2012

The Muscleman (1941) sold for $2,210,500 (high estimate: $800,000)

and Doctor and Doll (1942) reached $1,874,500 (high estimate: $700,000).

Sotheby’s May 17 2012

Estimate   150,000 — 250,000
Lot Sold   170,500

Estimate   150,000 — 250,000
Lot Sold   422,500

Estimate   300,000 — 500,000
Lot Sold   332,500

Estimate   150,000 — 250,000
Lot Sold   242,500

Sotheby’s May 17 2012

Another important Rockwell highlight is a study for The Facts of Life in which a father appears to explain a most delicate subject to his son. The work was completed for the July 15, 1951 issue of the Post (est. $300,000-400,000).