Norman Rockwell’s “Saying Grace,” which sold at Sotheby’s last month for $46 million, setting a world auction record for an American painting, could have ended up in a Vermont snow bank instead of on the auction block but for the saving grace of Rockwell’s change of mind.
Inspired by a Saturday Evening Post reader’s account of seeing an Amish woman and her young grandson praying in a railroad station diner, Rockwell (1894-1978) started painting the scene but became frustrated with the work and threw it out of his studio window in Arlington, Vt., according to a 1992 article in the Post.
When George Hughes, a fellow Post artist, asked about the theme of the painting, Rockwell described it as centering on rough-looking fellows watching a woman saying grace in a diner. Hughes agreed that theme wouldn’t work, but that comment was all it took to get Rockwell to retrieve the painting from the snow and give it a second try.
He posed his son Jerry as the boy and his neighbor May Walker as the grandmother. Sadly she passed away five days before the painting became the cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post issue of Nov. 24, 1951.
Rockwell was paid $3,500 for the painting, which was later voted in a readers’ survey their favorite of all of Rockwell’s works.
“Saying Grace,” along with “The Gossips,” which sold for $8.4 million, and “Walking to Church,” for a little more than $3.2 million, had been on loan for nearly two decades at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
They were from the collection of Kenneth J. Stuart Sr., the artist’s friend and longtime art director of The Saturday Evening Post, who died in 1993 at 87. The paintings were auctioned after a long and bitter legal fight between Stuart’s three sons that recently was settled out of court.
Heated competition at the auction for ownership of “Saying Grace” came down at the end to a nine-minute battle between two phone bidders.
The name of the winning bidder has not been revealed, but high on the guessing list are filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Texas billionaire Ross Perot, and Walmart heiress Alice Walton, all Rockwell collectors.
Walton is the second-richest woman in the United States with a fortune of $33.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine, which described her in a recent issue as “America’s richest art collector.”
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At Christie’s auction of American art a new world auction record was set for the realist Edward Hopper (1882-1967) when his 1934 painting “East Wind Over Weehawken” sold for $40.5 million. The previous Hopper record was $26.8 million set in 2006 with the sale of his 1955 oil “Hotel Window.”
Both paintings are permeated with a sense of loneliness and melancholy. “Hotel Window” depicts a solitary figure seated by a window in a sparsely furnished hotel room, while “East Wind Over Weehawken” depicts a deserted-looking street with a “For Sale” sign beside a dark colored house, capturing the reality of Depression-era America.
The record-setting painting was consigned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which is using the proceeds from the sale to expand its collections.
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RM Auctions and Sotheby’s Art of the Automobile Auction last month in New York grossed $63 million in just over two hours with bidders competing from 17 countries.
The top seller was a 1964 Ferrari 250 LM by Carrozzeria Scaglietti, an original example of this very rare sports racing Ferrari, which brought $14.3 million, establishing a new world auction record for the model.
The US-made cars included a 1964 Chevrolet CERV II ($1.1 million), a 1932 Ford V-8 cabriolet ($319,000), which set a record for an unmodified 1932 Ford at auction, and a 1958 Oldsmobile 98 convertible ($258,500) a record for a 1958 Oldsmobile convertible.
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A rare first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s 1687 “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” bound for King James II sold at Christie’s auction of fine printed books, manuscripts, and Americana for $2.5 million, establishing a world auction record for a scientific book. The estimate was $400,000-$600,000.
The auction’s second- highest price of $425,000 was paid for a detailed map of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor drawn by the Japanese flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida and used in the Dec. 26 briefing of Emperor Hirohito.
Topping the Americana offerings was George Washington’s letter seal in a gold fob setting that fetched $245,000 against a $220,000-$250,000 estimate.
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Music scored big time at auctions this month.
Bob Dylan’s electric guitar, a 1964 Fender Stratocaster, sold at Christie’s for $965,000, setting a world auction record for any guitar. The estimate was $300,000-$500,000.
The guitar used by the 24-year-old Dylan in his groundbreaking performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, along with five of his song lyrics that were found in the guitar’s case, have remained for more than 50 years with a New Jersey family.
They were left behind after the festival in the private plane used by Dylan and were found by the pilot. According to his daughter, her father contacted Dylan’s manager to find out what to do with the guitar, but never heard back.
This year the guitar was authenticated on the PBS program “History Detectives” as the one used at the festival by Dylan. The buyer of the guitar was not identified.
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A working manuscript written by Bruce Springsteen of his iconic 1975 hit, “Born to Run,” which catapulted him to mega stardom, sold at Sotheby’s for $197,000 against a $70,000-$100,000 estimate.
The 20-line manuscript written on notepaper when “The Boss” was 26 was owned by his manager Mike Appel for a time before changing hands. Neither the consignor nor the purchaser of the manuscript was identified.Virginia Bohlin can be reached at email@example.com.