Lot 51
  • 51

Norman Rockwell 1894 - 1978

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Norman Rockwell
  • The Ouija Board
  • signed Norman Rockwell (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 27 by 24 inches
  • (68.6 by 61 cm)
  • Painted in 1920.


Private Collection
American Illustrators Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Tokyo, Japan, Isetan Museum of Art; Osaka, Japan, Daimaru Museum, Umeda-Osaka; Nagoya, Japan, Matsuzakaya Art Museum, Norman Rockwell, February-August 1992, no. 8, p. 41, illustrated in color


The Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1920, illustrated in color on the cover, © SEPS. Licensed by Curtis Licensing. All Rights Reserved.
Thomas Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist & Illustrator, New York, 1970, illustrated fig. 129, p. 80
Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, p. 83, illustrated fig. 94, p. 88
Dr. Donald Stoltz and Marshall L. Stoltz, Norman Rockwell and 'The Saturday Evening Post:' Volume One, 1916-1928, New York, 1976, p. 59, illustrated in color p. 60
Mary Moline, Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalogue of the Artist's Work 1910-1978, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979, illustrated fig. 1-138, p. 38
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, vol. 1986, no. C218, p. 83, illustrated
Jan Cohn, Covers of 'The Saturday Evening Post:' Seventy Years of Outstanding Illustration from America's Favorite Magazine, New York, 1995, illustrated in color p. 97
Karal Ann Marling, Norman Rockwell, New York, 1997, pp. 64-5, 68, 66, illustrated in color
Judy Goffman Cutler and Laurence S. Cutler, Norman Rockwell's America in England, Newport, Rhode Island, 2010, illustrated p. 169


This work is in good condition. There are some visible cracks in the background within the circle. Under UV: As is common in Rockwell's work, the whites of the background fluoresce erratically due to the artist's materials and technique. There are strokes of inpainting to address cracking within the circle in the background and some scattered dots and dashes of inpainting in the white background. There are some broad, brushy areas that fluoresce erratically in the upper corners that appear to be the artist's hand.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In 1916, at the age of 22, Norman Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post, at that time America’s most popular magazine. Over the course of the artist’s ensuing decades-long partnership with the Post, Rockwell’s images became synonymous with the magazine itself. He honed his technique and compositional design, while crafting nostalgic images infused with warmth and humor that embodied the spirit of everyday life in America.

Rockwell considered the selection of models to be one of the most important elements of the picture making process, once writing, “When you have a good idea clearly in mind, spare no effort to get the ideal character for it…Your models can make or break your work” (Rockwell on Rockwell, New York, 1979, p. 44). Rockwell chose models for his story-telling images from six age groups which he believed captured all of humanity, ranging from infants to old age. Adolescent boys and girls were in the middle of this spectrum, and Rockwell found that they offered a variety of unique compositional possibilities. Not only did these teenagers possess both youthful and mature characteristics and expressions, but they could also be humorous, serious, or romantic—and sometimes even all of these things at once.

Many of Rockwell’s most-loved covers of The Post feature these young adults in witty or sentimental scenarios. Ouija Board is an early reflects the central role that the theme of young romance played in the artist’s body of work. According to Karal Ann Marling, “Ouija Board of 1920 documents the craze for contacting the spirit world by moving a heart-shaped platform over letters and numbers inscribed on a polished board. The boards gained popularity during the war years, when they were used to predict the fate of soldiers at the front; a million sets were sold in 1918. Afterward, in the face of opposition from clergy who suspected devil worship, the Ouija board became a parlor game, conducive to intimacy, since the board worked best when perched on the knees of users, whose fingers invariably touched as they rested lightly on the moving indicator. And Rockwell took full advantage of the romantic implications of the subject by joining his couple at the knees as they ask coy questions about their mutual future. She looks up, avoiding his glance and the embarrassment of acknowledging their close proximity. He uses the occasion to stare openly at her face, as if memorizing every feature. The circle around their upper bodies enhances the closeness of their momentary contact.”

“This was Rockwell’s first use of the circle device, which became a Post trademark… In Rockwell’s hands, the circle was a supple tool for emphasizing a profile, showing a fragment of a setting, or suggesting a character’s innermost thoughts” (Norman Rockwell, New York, 1997, pp. 64-5).