Norman Rockwell’s Iconic ‘The Rookie’ Hits a Home Run at Auction

Norman Rockwell’s 1957 illustration “The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)” sold for $22,565,000 May 22 to lead Christie’s May sale of American Art. The auction overall realized $64 million.

NEW YORK – Norman Rockwell’s iconic baseball painting “The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)” sold for $22,565,000 May 22 to lead Christie’s May sale of American Art. The auction overall realized $64 million.

The work, which had never been offered at auction, was painted in 1957 for the March 2nd cover of The Saturday Evening Post and has remained in the same private collection for nearly 30 years. It has been publicly exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston twice–once in 2005 and again in 2008–following World Series victories by the Red Sox. Estimated at $20-$30 million, “The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)” was the highest estimate ever for Norman Rockwell at auction.

“The strong result of this sale confirms the continued strength of the market for American Art, with all sectors of the category having performed well,” said Liz Sterlin, head of American Art at Christies. “Norman Rockwell’s ‘The Rookie’ … (is) an all-American illustration, which is the second-highest price for the artist at auction and the highest price of the season. Western art also saw top prices, with Thomas Moran’s masterwork ‘The Grand Canyon of the Colorado’ achieving $12.5 million.”

Rockwell’s covers for The Saturday Evening Post during the 1950s reflected the direction of editor Ben Hibbs, who strove to make the magazine more current to increase circulation. Nothing could be a more popular subject to an American audience than baseball and no player other than Ted Williams—“the Splendid Splinter—was commanding more attention at the time, on the eve of his retirement from baseball.

Rockwell conceived this cover at least nine months in advance of its publication date, just in time for the start of spring training for the Red Sox. Over the summer of 1956, he convinced team management to send four players from the starting lineup up to Rockwell’s hometown, Stockbridge, Mass.—deep in Red Sox country. Pitcher Frank Sullivan, right fielder Jackie Jensen and catcher Sammy White all posed for the painting. Williams was either unable or unwilling to make the trip and Rockwell captured his likeness from his trading card, and other photographs.

Rockwell then traveled to Sarasota to take pictures of the Red Sox spring training stadium and locker room. The palm trees that sway in the window indicate the location. “The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)” depicts an intimate scene during spring training; an awkward newcomer is juxtaposed with the confident stances of the seasoned players, making the rookie’s anxiety all the more apparent and endearing.

“During his lifetime, Norman Rockwell was witness to such important artistic movements as Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism,” said Elizabeth Beaman, senior specialist of American Art at Christie’s. “In choosing a path of illustration, however, he became as ubiquitous to the American public as the images he created.

“With more than 800 magazine covers to his name, Rockwell earned the reputation of America’s preeminent illustrator and helped forge a sense of national identity through his art. The renewed demand for these uniquely American works of art is evidenced by their increasingly strong prices in recent seasons and this particular painting, capturing America’s favorite pastime, will surely have wide ranging appeal among collectors,” Beaman added.

On Dec. 4 of last year, Rockwell’s masterpiece “Saying Grace” set a new record for any work sold in an American Art auction and nearly tripled the previous auction record for the artist when it achieved $46,085,000 at Sotheby’s American Art auction, soaring past its $20-million high estimate.

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