Three of Norman Rockwell’s best-known paintings of homey, small-town America, which are among the most popular of the artist’s Saturday Evening Post covers, sold at Sotheby’s American Art auction Wednesday for a total of more than $57 million.
The final price for “Saying Grace,” considered Rockwell’s masterpiece, was $46 million, after 9 ½ minutes of spirited bidding. The painting, which depicts a crowded restaurant with a boy and an old woman bowing their heads in prayer, sold for more than double its high estimate and far more than the $15.4 million price another Rockwell brought in 2006. The image had topped a Saturday Evening Post readers’ poll in 1955, four years after it was painted. (The artist was paid $3,500 for the painting — about $30,500 when adjusted for inflation.)
Another favorite, “The Gossips,” a finger-wagging montage that included Rockwell’s friends, neighbors and even the artist himself, painted in 1948, sold for $8.45 million.
The third major painting in the sale, “Walking to Church,” brought $3.2 million and was purchased by Rick Lapham, an American paintings dealer, on behalf of a client. Lapham was one of only two bidders for the painting. It appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1953 and was based on the Vermeer painting “The Little Street.” Rockwell translated the scene to his own urban street setting, depicting family members in their Easter best, each carrying Bibles, from a composite of different buildings in Troy, N.Y., and a church steeple in Vermont. Asked why there was not more competition for the painting, Lapham replied, “It’s stylistically different,” referring to Rockwell’s translation of an old master painting.
The paintings had belonged to the magazine’s longtime art director, Kenneth J. Stuart, who received them as presents from the artist. They were being sold by his three sons.
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