Lot 20
  • 20

Norman Rockwell 1894 - 1978

500,000 - 700,000 USD
1,145,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Norman Rockwell
  • Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates 'He was just a good doctor and he knew us inside out'
  • signed Norman Rockwell (upper left)
  • oil on canvas


The Upjohn Company, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1938
Acquired by the present owner, 2003


Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum, Freedom: Norman Rockwell's Vermont Years, June-October 2003
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum, The Picture of Health: Norman Rockwell Paintings, November 2003-May 2004, p. 10, illustrated in color p. 11
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum, June-September 2006, July-September 2008, July-September 2009, June 2010-September 2011
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum; Old Lyme, Connecticut, Florence Griswold Museum; Kalamazoo, Michigan, Kalamazoo Institute of Art; Mobile, Alabama, Mobile Museum of Art; Fredericksburg, Virginia, Gari Melchers Home and Studio; El Paso, Texas, El Paso Museum of Art; Sandwich, Massachusetts, Heritage Museum and Gardens, Picturing Health: Norman Rockwell and the Art of Illustration, January 2007-September 2012


Saturday Evening Post, December 24, 1938, p. 22, illustrated
Mary Moline, Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalog of the Artist's Work 1910-1978, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1978, fig. 2-54, p. 113, illustrated p. 112
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, vol. II, no. S548, p. 763, illustrated p. 762

Catalogue Note

The Upjohn Company recruited Norman Rockwell in the late 1930s to help bolster public support for the company’s latest evolution: the focus of its research had recently shifted from medicines made from plant-based products to ones derived from animal extracts and chemicals. This transition presented a marketing challenge as the company sought to reassure Americans of their safety. Before instigating a professional relationship with the artist, however, Upjohn executives asked to see an example of Rockwell’s work and were sent the charcoal sketch for a picture recently published as a story illustration in the Saturday Evening Post. Upjohn executives loved Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates, feeling the image brilliantly encapsulated their desired public relations message. They purchased the final oil version of the work, and it became the first product of the incredibly fruitful working relationship between company and artist that would endure for the next few decades.

Rockwell ultimately created seven additional images for Upjohn that appeared as both print and display advertisements in pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices throughout the United States. While not directly commissioned by the company, Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates nevertheless epitomizes Rockwell’s ability to market new products and technology by tapping into the country’s nostalgia for the past. Seeking to convince wary consumers to view their pharmaceutical and healthcare providers with confidence, Rockwell presents a vision of American healthcare characterized by personal care and intimacy. In this portrayal of responsible parents, healthy children and attentive physicians, the values of patience and compassion clearly endure, and evoke a time when the world was kinder and simpler: when doctors still made house calls. Beautifully painted and displaying an acute attention to naturalistic detail, the canvas is imbued with the small details of ordinary people in everyday life. The balance of the composition, the warmth in the palette and the intangible familiarity of the scene all ultimately work to communicate a message of trust and stability during an era of enormous flux.