Norman Rockwell's Saying Grace breaks artist's record at Sotheby's

Saying Grace, a painting by Norman Rockwell, has achieved $46m at an auction at Sotheby's New York - a new world record for the artist.

The work headlined the December 4 American Art sale, more than doubling its $20m estimate and tripling the previous record for Rockwell's work - which was set at $15.4m for Breaking Home Ties in 2006.

Rockwell Saying Grace Sotheby's
Saying Grace has set a new record for a piece of Rockwell's work at auction

It was hotly contested, with two telephone bidders competing head to head for over nine minutes.

Saying Grace appeared on the 1951 Thanksgiving issue of the Saturday Evening Post and was voted readers' favourite in a poll conducted by the publication in 1955.

It is a classic example of Rockwell's distillation of the symbology of America, in this case depicting the nation as a place where differing customs and values are accepted by all.  

The idea for the painting was suggested by one of the Post's readers, Mrs Earl of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, who had written to the artist in November 1950 after observing a young Polish family praying before their meal in a crowded restaurant.

Rockwell used photography to compose the painting, with assistants and family members standing in, and even brought in furniture and props from real diners.

The young boy with his back turned was modelled by a young neighbour of the artist, who later recalled: "I also remember, in this particular pose, that I could not keep my feet still, so somebody temporarily scotch taped my ankles together for the photo session".

In total seven paintings by Rockwell sold at the auction, including The Gossips and Walking to Church which realised $8.4m and $3.2m, respectively.

You can see the top 10 Norman Rockwell paintings ever auctioned over at Wikicollecting.

View our art and photography collection for sale here.

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