Update: Heritage sold Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait for $1.3 million–a record for a Rockwell study at auction.
What you see: Study for Triple Self Portrait, a 1960 oil on photographic paper laid on panel by Norman Rockwell. The final version graced the cover of the February 13, 1960 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Heritage Auctions estimates the study at $150,000 to $250,000.
Who was Norman Rockwell? He was the best-known and most-loved American illustrator of the 20th century. He created 321 covers for The Saturday Evening Post as well as many works for Look magazine, calendar companies, and the Boy Scouts of America. He died in 1978 at the age of 84.
How many studies did Rockwell make for Triple Self Portrait, and how many have come to auction? It’s unclear, but according to Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions, Rockwell typically made between five and 10 studies or preliminary works for a Post cover. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the only study for Triple Self Portrait that exists in private hands,” Jaster says. The finished Triple Self Portrait cover art belongs to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
Where was Rockwell in his career in 1960? Jaster points to the language that appeared on that February 1960 Post cover, which dubbed Rockwell “America’s Best Loved Artist,” and adds, “In the eyes of museum curators and critics, not so much. Rockwell, in his lifetime, never got true recognition as a painter, and never as a fine art painter. He didn’t ascend to major museums until well after his death.”
How close is this study to the final version of Triple Self Portrait? “It’s a nice, tight color study with a fair amount of work put into it,” says Jaster, noting that the differences between the two are few–the final places pipes in all three Rockwell mouths, adds sketches of Rockwell’s head to the left of the easel and changes the Picasso clipped to the right of the easel. Rockwell’s signature also appears on the lower right of the canvas-in-progress, but that’s about it. “This is close to the final composition, and it works as a painting.”
Who is Henry Strawn, the person to whom Rockwell inscribed the study? We don’t know, and we don’t know when he would have received it from Rockwell. We do know that the artist freely bestowed his originals on models, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. “He was a generous guy who didn’t take himself seriously,” says Jaster. “We see a lot of [Rockwells] come out from the families of sitters. One consigner [not Strawn–ed.] was a truck driver who traded him cider and cheese from Vermont.”
What makes Study for Triple Self Portrait special? “Rockwell is almost certainly the most famous illustrator and maybe the greatest illustrator who ever lived,” says Jaster. “Triple Self Portrait is a top 10 painting. It’s a tight study, it doesn’t have a long auction history, and it’s fresh to market. That all makes it wonderful. I hope you can hear the smile in my voice.”
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com.