Lot 40
  • 40

Norman Rockwell 1894 - 1978

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 USD
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  • Norman Rockwell
  • The Bookworm (Man with Nose in Book)
  • signed Norman Rockwell (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 32 by 26 inches
  • (81.3 by 66 cm)
  • Painted in 1926.


Mrs. Frank Collin (sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, April 20, 1979, lot 207, illustrated)
Jack Bartfield, New York (acquired at the above sale)
American Illustrators Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above, early 1980s


The Saturday Evening Post, August 14, 1926, illustrated in color on the cover, ©SEPS. Licensed by Curtis Licensing. All Rights Reserved
Thomas S. Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator, New York, 1970, no. 219, illustrated
Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, illustrated p. 279
Dr. Donald Stoltz and Marshall L. Stoltz, Norman Rockwell and 'The Saturday Evening Post,' 1916-1928, New York, 1975, vol. I, p. 179, illustrated p. 180
Mary Moline, Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalogue of the Artist's Work, 1910-1978, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979, no. 1-198, p. 47, illustrated
Susan E. Meyer, Norman Rockwell's People, New York, 1981, p. 51, illustrated
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, vol. I, no. C278, p. 105, illustrated
Jan Cohn, Covers of 'The Saturday Evening Post:' Seventy Years of Outstanding Illustration from America's Favorite Magazine, New York, 1995, illustrated p. 117
Deborah Solomon, American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, New York, 2013, p. 122

Catalogue Note

Norman Rockwell executed The Bookworm for the August 14, 1926 cover of The Saturday Evening Post. It features one of the artist's favorite models of the 1920s, James K. Van Brunt. An ideal model and source of inspiration, Van Brunt posed for Rockwell as numerous characters, including as a melancholy cowboy (Dreams of Long Ago, 1927, Private Collection) and as two old ladies gossiping (The Gossips, 1929, Private Collection). In the present work, Rockwell depicts Van Brunt as an absentminded urban dweller who has interrupted a day of errands to stop and browse the volumes found at a bookstall.

From the outset, it was Van Brunt’s magnificent mustache—neatly trimmed, parted in the middle, and swept downward—that attracted Rockwell. But after using Van Brunt for a few covers of The Post, Rockwell’s editor Horace Lorimer told the artist that his depictions of the model were becoming repetitive. Rockwell relayed the message to Van Brunt, and suggested that if he would be willing to shave off the mustache—his most distinguishing physical attribute—the artist would still be able to utilize him. After two weeks and a ten dollar bribe, Van Brunt reluctantly conceded. His now visible prominent lower lip, however, proved just as noticeable but not nearly as appealing as his mustache. When he felt enough time had passed, Rockwell allowed Van Brunt to regrow it, but due to his old age, it never grew back to its original glory. To please his friend, Rockwell continued to work with Van Brunt but began to devise clever ways to conceal the man’s now disappointing visage, as demonstrated in The Bookworm.

The Bookworm is also remarkable for its sophisticated reference to 19th century Romantic painting. Rockwell consistently enjoyed placing works of art within his own compositions, as this recurring theme provided the type of visual game he loved to present to his viewers. In the present work, Rockwell explicitly references the 1852 work Der Bücherwurm (Museum Georg Schäfer, Schweinfurt, Germany) by the German Romantic painter and poet, Carl Spitzweg (figure 1). Rockwell, who owned three books on Spitzweg, similarly depicts a male figure so engrossed in a volume of literature that his face is literally buried in the pages. Rockwell’s painting resists mere imitation, however, as the artist reverses the positioning of the figure, and uses minute, classically Rockwellian details to transfer the setting to 20th century America. Additional features such as the figure’s mismatched shoes and the string tied around his finger all serve to support Rockwell’s narrative, while also injecting the composition with the artist’s characteristic sense of humor.