Lot 43
  • 43

Norman Rockwell

7,000,000 - 10,000,000 USD
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  • Norman Rockwell
  • Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop; “I’ll never forget that last hour. And never, I imagine, will any of those who watched. Both men were lost to everything now but the swing from the forge to the anvil, the heels to be turned and the toes to be welded.”)
  • signed Norman Rockwell (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 35 1/8 by 70 1/4 inches
  • (89.2 by 178.4 cm)
  • Painted in 1940.


Gift to the present owner from the artist, 1966


Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Berkshire Museum, Norman Rockwell Retrospective, August 1958
Bennington, Vermont, Bennington Museum, Norman Rockwell’s American Paintings from Local Collections, March-July 1988
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Berkshire Museum, Rockwell Centennial Exhibit, May-September 1994
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum,  Norman Rockwell: A Centennial Celebration, November 1994-November 1995
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Berkshire Museum, Beauty and Utility in American Art, September 1998-spring 1999
Roanoke, Virginia, Art Museum of Western Virginia, Norman Rockwell: Presenting the American Century, September 2001-January 2002
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum, Freedom: Norman Rockwell's Vermont Years, June-October 2003
Bennington, Vermont, Bennington Museum, Rockwell Kent to Norman Rockwell: Arlington's Artistic Community, June-August 2007
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum, September 2007-April 2008 (on loan)
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Berkshire Museum, What's the Story?, April-June 2008
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell Museum; Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Museum; Rochester, New York, George Eastman House; El Paso, Texas, El Paso Museum of Art; Sandwich, Massachusetts, Heritage Museum and Gardens; Vero Beach, Florida, Vero Beach Museum of Art, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, November 2009-January 2013
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Berkshire Museum, Objectify: A Glimpse into the Permanent Collection, January 2013-June 2017 


The Saturday Evening Post, November 2, 1940, pp. 10-11, illustrated (© SEPS licensed by Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN. All rights reserved.)
Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell’s America, New York, 1985, p. 210, illustrated fig. 270, pp. 212-13 
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, no. S558, illustrated p. 766
Ron Schick, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, New York, 2009, p. 44, illustrated
The Saturday Evening Post Special Collector’s Edition, vol. I, no. 1, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2010, p. 87, illustrated


Please contact the American Art department for this condition report: (212) 606 7280 or americanart@sothebys.com
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

Storytelling is a word frequently associated with the work of Norman Rockwell. For nearly 75 years, this beloved artist captured the imagination of American audiences through the warm and witty images he created as commissions for the country’s most prominent publications and companies. Though he is best known for the over 300 works he executed for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell also rendered thousands of illustrations that accompanied the short stories and other works of fiction that filled its pages. Painted in 1940, Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe represents one of the most ambitious and successful of these commissions, a work of extraordinary scale and complexity that testifies to the artist’s unparalleled ability to make the words of an author come alive through his visual interpretation.

Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe originally appeared in the November 2, 1940 issue of The Post alongside Edward W. O’Brien’s short story of the same title, which tells the tale of a horseshoe making contest from the point of view of a local blacksmith’s son. Forging contests like these were common tests of strength and skill in small towns throughout the United States in the early years of the 20th century, and they provided immense entertainment for the townspeople who came to watch and to place bets on the outcome. In O’Brien’s work, “Pop,” the steady, seasoned blacksmith attempts to prove his abilities against a younger and remarkably strong itinerant blacksmith named McCann, who moved from town to town participating in contests like these and was—up to this point—undefeated.

Here Rockwell depicts what is undoubtedly the climactic moment of O’Brien’s narrative, during which Pop—having fallen behind McCann—begins to gradually overtake his younger rival. The central character describes the scene with near breathless excitement: “I’ll never forget that last hour. And never, I imagine, will any of those who watched…. Both men were lost to everything now but the swing from the forge to the anvil, the heels to be turned and the toes to be welded. Nip and tuck they went, almost heel-and-toe abreast, but when Pop started singing Molly Brannigan, I knew McCann’s dog was as good as dead” (Edward W. O’Brien, “Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe,” The Saturday Evening Post, November 2, 1940, p. 11).  

A gaggle of the town’s denizens have gathered to watch the contest in its final moments. Indeed, the composition depicts an impressive 23 characters, all of which were photographed individually in Rockwell’s Arlington, Vermont studio. Rockwell worked with many of his favorite models of the period to create the scene. Among those who posed for the work is Harvey McKee, the undersheriff of the town of Arlington. Rockwell loved McKee’s expressive face and distinguished mustache. He appears as two separate characters in the present work: the mustachioed figure in the lower left corner looking back at the viewer over his shoulder, and the figure at the right in profile with a cigarette in his mouth but without his characteristic facial hair. Another frequent Rockwell model, Nip Noyes, is also depicted with a bowler hat and cane at right.

Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe also notably includes a self-portrait of the artist as the figure in the hat at the left whose eyes mischievously meet the viewer’s, a compositional decision that suggests that we too are present in the crowded shop, watching these events as they unfold. Rockwell included his own likeness in his works at times not out of vanity but out of necessity (Fig. 1). As he explained of the present work, “When I do a picture with a lot of people, I often run out of models, or perhaps there is some space I wish to fill; then the easiest and cheapest thing to do is to pose myself; so there I am over on the left, wearing a dark-banded hat and looking straight at you” (as quoted in Ron Schick, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, New York, 2009, p. 44).

While photography undoubtedly aided Rockwell in his quest for realistic representation, the artist’s gift for simply reading people cannot be understated when considering a work like Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe. Rockwell combined between 50 and 100 photographs to compose his most ambitious oil paintings, however, Rockwell rarely took these photographs himself. Instead he relied on professional photographers so that he would be free to orchestrate and oversee every detail of pose, prop, and expression. In each of his works, Rockwell strives to achieve authenticity above all, creating scenes that—while often idealized—seem like they could occur in any place and in any time. In Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe, Rockwell directed each of his models to expressively communicate the excitement he would feel if actually a witness to this event, contributing to the sense of eager anticipation that the composition strongly exudes. His masterful understanding of the human form as well as his ability to translate it onto canvas is also demonstrated here, drawing comparisons with masterpieces such as Vulcan's Forge by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, in which the Spanish painter exhibits his ability to depict a complex arrangement of figures in a fully articulated space with extraordinary naturalism (Fig. 2). 

Ultimately, a work like Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe manifests Rockwell’s matchless ability to conjure the elements of a complex narrative—plot, character, and setting—with a single image. Rockwell’s career developed and flourished in tandem with the rise in popularity of American filmmaking. The manner in which Rockwell executed his most ambitious paintings is often compared to film direction, but beyond these similarities in process, Rockwell’s paintings also evoke a quality that is undeniably cinematic. At their core, notes Todd McCarthy, Rockwell’s images, “convey what movies do—pieces of time—moments that present recognizable characters in quickly comprehensible situations rife with comedy, drama, and the things of life” (Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, New York, 2010, p. 205).