The Normal Rockwell painting "Saying Grace" sold for $46 million at a Sotheby's American Art auction on Wednesday following nine and a half minutes of bidding.
Collectively, three of Rockwell's works that depict small-town America and are among Rockwell's most popular Saturday Evening Post covers garnered more than $57 million. "Saying Grace" appeared on the Nov. 24, 1951, cover.
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The painting shows an old woman and a boy bowing their heads in prayer in a crowded restaurant, and had long been considered Rockwell's finest piece. It fetched much more than "Breaking Home Ties," a work that sold for $15.4 million in 2006.
The other two paintings, 1948's "The Gossips" and "Walking to Church," sold for $8.45 million and $3.2 million respectively. All three paintings had belonged to the magazine's longtime art director, Kenneth J. Stuart, who received them as gifts from Rockwell. Stuart's three sons were the sellers.
Rockwell was paid $3,500 for "Saying Grace." The idea for the illustration came from a reader who saw a Mennonite family praying in a restaurant. Rockwell's son, Jarvis, was among the models the artist used for the drawing.
Rockwell died in 1978 at age 84. He produced more than 300 works for the Saturday Evening Post in a career that spanned more than four decades. The sold painting had been on loan at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., where the artist lived the last years of his life.
The auction comes shortly after the release of a controversial new biography, "American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell," by Deborah Solomon that has angered Rockwell's descendants. The book examines the possibility that Rockwell may have been gay, and if any homo-eroticism is depicted in his works.
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