NEW YORK (TheBlaze/AP) — In a record-setting move, a popular Norman Rockwell painting titled "Saying Grace" sold Wednesday at a New York City auction for $46 million, Sotheby's said.
This was a particularly stunning development surrounding the Saturday Evening Post illustrator's work, considering that the painting had a pre-sale estimate of $15 million to $20 million. The $46 million price includes a premium.
The $46 million price tag is also stunning when considering how much Rockwell was paid to produce "Saying Grace" -- just $3,500. An image of the painting appeared on the cover of the magazine's Thanksgiving issue in 1951; it was painted that same year.
"Saying Grace" was also voted the Post readers' favorite cover in a 1955 poll.
Image source: Sotheby's
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. According to NPR, the painting has been exhibited in more than a dozen American museums.
"The creation of 'Saying Grace' began almost exactly a year before its publication date when the artist received a letter from a Post reader," Sotheby's said. "Mrs. Edward V. Earl of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania wrote to the artist on November 27, 1950 about the experience of witnessing a Mennonite family praying in a Horn & Hardart automat."
After seeing the family pray, she shared her idea with Rockwell and he inevitably translated it to the canvas.
In 2006, the same auction house sold Rockwell's "Breaking Home Ties" for more than $15 million, then a record.
"Saying Grace" wasn't the only Rockwell original to fetch millions on Wednesday. Another of his paintings, "The Gossips," sold Wednesday for just under $8.5 million, while a third, "Walking to Church," fetched a little more than $3.2 million. In sum, Rockwell paintings fetched a total of $58 million.
For nearly two decades, all three had been on loan at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., which has the world's largest collection of original Rockwell art located in the artist's hometown.
The illustrator, who created his first cover for the Post in 1916, is celebrated for his reflections of small-town America and portraits of famous figures. Rockwell spent 47 years at the magazine and produced 321 covers. He died in 1978.
"The Gossips," which was a cover illustration for the March 6, 1948, issue, depicts a montage of the artist's neighbors, wife Mary and Rockwell himself finger-wagging and yammering on the phone.
"Walking to Church" appeared on the cover of the April 4, 1953, issue and shows a family dressed in their Sunday best walking along a city street. Rockwell based it on a painting by Johann Vermeer.
The trio, along with four other Rockwell works, were being sold by the family of Kenneth Stuart, Rockwell's longtime art director at the magazine. The sale comes years after a legal fight among Stuart's three sons. Rockwell and Stuart worked together at the magazine for 18 years.
Laurie Norton Moffatt, director at the Rockwell museum, has expressed hope that the three Rockwells will eventually be returned.
"We cared for them like children. ... We hope they come back some day. We believe that's where they belong," she said.