Lot 23
  • 23

Norman Rockwell 1894 - 1978

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
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  • Norman Rockwell
  • Walking to Church
  • signed norman rockwell (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 19 by 18 inches
  • (48.3 by 45.7 cm)
  • Painted in 1953.


Mrs. and Mrs. Kenneth J. Stuart, 1955 (gift from the artist)
By descent to the present owners


Fort Lauderdale, Florida, The Fort Lauderdale Museum of the Arts; Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Museum; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; San Antonio, Texas, Marion Koogler McNay Institute; San Francisco, California, M.H. De Young Memorial Museum; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Art Center; Indianapolis, Indiana, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Omaha, Nebraska, Joslyn Art Museum; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective, February 1972-April 1973, illustrated in color p. 110
Atlanta, Georgia, High Museum of Art; Chicago, Illinois, Chicago Historical Society; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; San Diego, California, San Diego Museum of Art; Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Museum of Art; Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum; New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, November 1999-February 2002, p. 195, illustrated in color p. 130 (detail), illustrated in color p. 140
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum (on extended loan)


The Saturday Evening Post, April 4, 1953, illustrated in color on the cover, © SEPS. Licensed by Curtis Licensing. All Rights Reserved.
Norman Rockwell, The Norman Rockwell Album, Garden City, New York, 1961, p. 130, illustrated in color p. 131
Thomas Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist & Illustrator, New York, 1970, illustrated in color pl. 486 p. 220
Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell’s America, New York, 1975, no. 28, p. 40, illustrated in color p. 39
Mary Moline, Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalogue of the Artist’s Work 1910-1978, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1976, illustrated p. 79, fig. 1-385
Dr. Donald Stoltz and Marshall L. Stoltz, Norman Rockwell and 'The Saturday Evening Post:' The Later Years, 1943-1971, New York, 1976, p. 119, illustrated in color p. 120
Christopher Finch, 102 Favorite Paintings by Norman Rockwell, New York, 1978, p. 1953
Christopher Finch, 332 Magazine Covers, New York, 1979, pp. 405, 413, illustrated
Fred Bauer, Norman Rockwell's Faith of America, New York, 1980, p. 152, illustrated
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, vol. I, no. C465, p. 193, illustrated p. 192
Jan Cohen, Covers of the “Saturday Evening Post”: Seventy Years of Outstanding Illustration from America’s Favorite Magazine, New York, 1995, illustrated in color p. 237
Sherry Marker, Norman Rockwell, North Dighton, Massachusetts, 2005, p. 84, illustrated
Ron Schick, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, New York, 2009, p. 132

Catalogue Note

Walking to Church originally appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on April 4, 1953, and presents a young family engaged in what is seemingly a weekly ritual. However in typical Rockwellian fashion, the artist elevates the picture far beyond a simple genre scene, creating a compelling and convincing image of small town America. Employing Johannes Vermeer’s iconic painting View of Houses in Delft (Fig. 1) as a compositional inspiration, Walking to Church demonstrates Rockwell's ability to imbue a scene with the particulars of a complex narrative, transforming a single static image into a dynamic ongoing story.

In Walking to Church Rockwell depicts his figures marching determinedly down an average city street lined with residences and businesses. The beauty parlor, barber shop, and restaurant are closed for the day; the members of the family appear to be the only residents of this city who have ventured out of their homes to greet the day. The descriptive text accompanying the image in The Post situated the scene as a warm spring Easter morning, yet Rockwell also conveys this visually through the remarkable details he includes. The artist peppers the scene with instantly recognizable trappings of a Sunday morning: milk bottles and newspapers on stoops waiting to be brought inside for breakfast and shades drawn over slightly open windows, behind which residents seize the opportunity to sleep in rather than rise to attend an early morning service.

As in Saying Grace and The Gossips, Rockwell worked from a unique combination of photographic references and his own personal vision to create Walking to Church. When he wanted to paint a city scene, Rockwell typically traveled to Troy, Vermont—the nearest big city to his Arlington home—and used its architectural features and residents as models. The street depicted here, however, is a composite of three separate sites: a section of Cambridge in Washington County, Vermont, the steeple of the North Bennington Church, and a street in the Little Italy neighborhood of Troy, which at the time included a restaurant called the Silver Dollar Cafe that Rockwell evidently renamed the Silver Slipper Grill. Like the environment that surrounds them, the central characters in this story are likely also aggregates of the features of several models, including many of his favorites. One of these was Donald F. Hubert, Jr., who appears in a number of Rockwell's painting. Hubert remembers his mother dressing him in his best clothes the first time he modeled for the artist: an eton suit. Rockwell apparently loved the ensemble, and every time he asked Hubert to model for him subsequently, he requested that he wear it (Letter from Donald F. Hubert, Jr., February 11, 1986, Norman Rockwell Museum Archives, Stockbridge, MA). Rockwell used his models and the photographs taken of them to help achieve the work’s remarkable sense of authenticity including, for example, the positioning of the smallest boy’s feet as he strolls in his Sunday best (Fig. 3).

The strong horizontality of the composition, achieved with the prominent placement of the structural façades, emphasizes the dynamism of the scene: the figures are moving forward across the picture plane towards a destination. This plane intersects with the vertical elements Rockwell places throughout the canvas, such as the church steeple and the figures themselves, giving the composition an overall balance. As was not atypical, Rockwell attained this visual harmony through his rigorous creative process. Unhappy with the direction the painting was taking at a certain point, he began the canvas over again entirely, making several changes that ultimately enhanced the work’s narrative qualities. A comparison with a preparatory charcoal drawing reveals these alterations, the most noticeable of which is the addition of the steeple, peeking out from behind the Silver Slipper Grill. Rockwell added this structure, and the tiny flock of birds that spread out across the sky, because he believed these specifics “clarified the story he wanted to tell. Without [them], one might not have realized that the family is going to church. With [them], one is certain of their destination and even, to a certain extent, of their route: up the block and around the corner” (The Norman Rockwell Album, Garden City, New York, 1961, p. 130).

Rockwell enjoyed placing works of art within his own paintings, and he often included references to other artists, both old and new. This recurring theme—one of his favorites in the period—provided the type of visual game Rockwell loved to present to his viewers (Fig. 2). Beyond the wit and humor these referential acts provided, Rockwell also used them to demonstrate his knowledge of both his predecessors and contemporaries. Rockwell’s allusion to Vermeer’s 17th century painting, A View of Houses in Delft, is evident in both the organization of the scene and the attention he pays to the architectural features of the building façades. He even intended to use the same dimensions of his picture with Vermeer's, but his stretcher was ultimately slightly larger. Although the artist publicly told his audience that he, "couldn't paint it better than Vermeer, so I painted it bigger," Rockwell clearly demonstrates his ability to emulate the Dutch master. By visually suggesting his own place in the history of art, Rockwell declares himself a true painter whose refined technical process and practiced eye equated him with many of history’s most celebrated artists. “No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations,” Rockwell stated of his work. “He’s got to put all of his talent, all of his feeling into them. If illustration is not considered art, then that is something that we have brought upon ourselves by not considering ourselves artists. I believe that we should say, 'I am not just an illustrator, I am an artist'" (Judy Goffman, The Great American Illustrators, New York, 1993, p. 122).