Norman Rockwell, Saying Grace. Cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post, November 24, 1951. Estimate $15/20 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
NEW YORK, NY. - Sotheby’s announces that its American Art auction in New York on 4 December 2013 will offer an extraordinary selection of paintings by Norman Rockwell from the family of Kenneth J. Stuart Sr., the artist’s longtime friend and art director at the Saturday Evening Post. The seven works are led by two icons of Rockwell’s extensive oeuvre – his singular masterpiece Saying Grace (est. $15/20 million*), voted by Post readers as their favorite cover, and The Gossips (est. $6/9 million) – as well as Walking to Church (est. $3/5 million) and a color study for Breaking Home Ties (est. $200/300,000), the final version of which set the artist’s current auction record when it sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2006 for $15.4 million.
The collection has descended in Stuart’s family to the present owners, and is estimated to achieve more than $24 million. Select works will be on view in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and New York throughout the fall.
Elizabeth Goldberg, Head of Sotheby’s American Art department, commented: “To offer any one of these masterworks would be a great privilege. To present two of Norman Rockwell’s most iconic works in one auction truly is unprecedented. Kenneth J. Stuart Sr., who was both a gifted art director and close friend, led Rockwell to produce what are arguably the greatest works of his career. The men were at their best when collaborating, which clearly is evident in this collection. Rockwell’s vision of American life has become so influential that many of his scenes feel deeply familiar, but when experienced in person these paintings illicit an emotional response that is far more powerful than anticipated.”
Rockwell created his first cover for the Saturday Evening Post in 1916 and, over the course of the next several decades, rose to become the publication’s most popular and successful illustrator. By the mid-1940s, Rockwell had honed his aesthetic and technique: by adopting a more sophisticated subject matter and compositional design – often accomplished with a series of photographs that he meticulously arranged – Rockwell began to craft the nostalgic and humorous vision of American life for which he is known today.
This highly productive and creative period for Rockwell coincided with the start of his personal and professional relationship with Kenneth J. Stuart Sr., who became the Post’s art editor in 1943. Stuart and Rockwell would work together for the next 18 years, collaborating as artist and editor on many of the Post’s most popular covers, including Saying Grace, The Gossips and Walking to Church.
THE STUART FAMILY COLLECTION
Cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post, November 24, 1951
Estimate $15/20 million
Originally painted for the Thanksgiving issue of the Saturday Evening Post in 1951, Rockwell’s Saying Grace was named his most popular cover just four years later in a reader poll that coincided with an exhibition of his work at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. A reader originally submitted the basic concept for the composition, writing to the artist about the atypical experience of seeing a Mennonite family praying in a restaurant – Rockwell later claimed that while he received thousands of suggestions for covers from readers, he used only four over the course of his career. Many of the artist’s favorite models are depicted: his son Jarvis is seated at the table with his back to the window, next to Don Winslow, his studio apprentice at the time.
Elizabeth Goldberg said: “The attention to detail in Saying Grace is astonishing, as are the sophisticated composition and technique. The low perspective draws the viewer into the scene, so that we feel as though we are sitting in the diner among the other patrons. Rockwell’s distinctive vision and seemingly limitless imagination make even this specific story universal. The imagery of Saying Grace feels like it belongs to everyone, which demonstrates the artist’s great ability to distill experiences into paintings that everyone can relate to.”
Cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1948
Estimate $6/9 million
‘Gossip’ was one of Rockwell’s favorite themes, and he explored it more than once over his prolific career. The figures depicted in the present work are his Arlington, Vermont neighbors, whom he posed and photographed, as well as the artist himself and his wife Mary (Rockwell in bottom row right, wearing a hat; Mary second from left and third row from top).
Scholars today often point to Rockwell’s application of cinematic techniques, which are particularly visible in The Gossips: a sequence of frames that convey the progression of the scene, similar to the editing of a movie montage.
Walking to Church
Cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post, April 4, 1953
Estimate $3/5 million
Walking to Church is a relatively rare street scene for Rockwell, who tended to favor interior scenes as in Saying Grace. He based the present work on a painting he greatly admired by Johann Vermeer called The Little Street. Rockwell originally wanted to make his work the same size as the Dutch original, but his structure was slightly larger – Rockwell later commented, “I couldn’t paint it better than Vermeer, so I painted it bigger.”
The street depicted is a composite of Bennington, Vermont (the church steeple), Troy, New York (the storefront and brownstone), as well as a section of Cambridge in Washington County. Residents of both Arlington and Troy serve as the models. Rockwell’s relationship with religion was a complicated one: though not an explicitly religious man, he promoted acceptance and tolerance.