2013 was undoubtedly one of the most interesting years at auction: Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale shattered auction records when it brought in US$691 million, Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud (1969) became the highest-selling work at auction (US$142 million), and dozens of individual artist records were set. Falling into the last category was Norman Rockwell (American, 1894–1978), a 20th-century painter and illustrator, whose photo-realist depictions of the ideal America were, and to some extent still are, dismissed by the Fine Art community as kitschy. Despite this stigma, interest in Rockwell—and illustration in general—has increased as of late. Recently, Christie’s held its first exhibition and private sale centered on American illustration: Illustrating America: Norman Rockwell and His Contemporaries
More telling, perhaps, is the success of Rockwell at auction this past December. Over the course of the month, 18 works were offered at auction—only one of which, a print, failed to sell—bringing in over US$67 million. Highlights included seven Rockwell paintings from the Estate of Kenneth J. Stuart, Sr. (a friend of the artist and art director at The Saturday Evening Post), which performed particularly well on the auction block. Together, these lots totaled over US$59 million; the auction in its entirety achieved US$83.9 million.
Saying Grace (1951) made a spectacular auction debut, following its long-term loan to the Norman Rockwell Museum. The painting sold for over US$46 million (estimated at US$15–20 million), setting a record not only for the artist but for any artwork sold at an American auction. This iconic illustration depicts a woman and young boy, heads bowed in prayer, and the surprised but respectful reactions they evoke from nearby diners. According to a poll, this work was considered the most popular Rockwell cover for The Saturday Evening Post.1
Other top-selling lots for the month included The Gossips (1948), which sold for US$8.4 million (estimated at US$6–9 million), and Walking to Church (1953), which realized US$3.2 million (estimated at US$3–5 million). Overall, December brought in five high-selling lots (over US$1 million), increasing the yearly total to 11; previously the number of high-selling works topped out at five.
The total sales value at auction for Rockwell’s work reached US$80 million in 2013, nearly 2.3 times the total sales value of the next highest year (2006, US$33.7 million). Rockwell’s total sales in 2013 represent roughly 38.5% of the artist’s all-time total sales value. Bolstered by high demand, seen in the high sell-though rate of the artist this year (95%), and an average sale price nearly double that of the next-highest year, the 2013 auction season has truly reflected a newfound respect for Rockwell.2 His market success is reflected in the artist index below.
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2 Values exclude the sale of prints.