Lot 19
  • 19

NORMAN ROCKWELL | Tired Salesgirl on Christmas Eve

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 USD
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  • Norman Rockwell
  • Tired Salesgirl on Christmas Eve
  • signed Norman/Rockwell (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 30 3/8 by 28 1/4 inches
  • (77.2 by 71.8 cm)
  • Painted in 1947.


J. Willard Loos, Columbus, Ohio
Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, Ohio (bequest from the above)
American Illustrators Gallery, New York
Private collection
Sold: Christie’s, New York, December 4, 1996, lot 296
Private collection, 1996


Osaka, Japan, Hankyu Department Store, April 1975, n.p.
Daytona Beach, Florida, Museum of Arts and Sciences; West Palm Beach, Florida, Norton Museum of Art, Norman Rockwell's America, January-March 1976
Columbus, Ohio, The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts; Allentown, Pennsylvania, The Allentown Art Museum, Salute to Norman Rockwell, October 1976-January 1977, no. 28, illustrated n.p.
New York, American Illustrators Gallery; Greenville, South Carolina, Greenville County Museum of Art, Norman Rockwell: An American Tradition, December 1985-May 1986, no. 36, p. 47, illustrated p. 31
Jackson, Mississippi, Mississippi Museum of Art; Orlando, Florida, Orlando Museum of Art; Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Woods Art Gallery, University of Southern Mississippi; Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hunter Museum of Art; Vero Beach, Florida, Center for the ArtsPeoria, Illinois, Lakeview Museum of Arts and SciencesNew York, Judy Goffman Fine Art, Norman Rockwell: The Great American Storyteller, March 1988-July 1989, no. 36, p. 8, illustrated p. 9


The Saturday Evening Post, December 27, 1947, cover illustration (©SEPS licensed by Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN. All rights reserved)
Thomas Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist & Illustrator, New York, 1970, no. 433, illustrated n.p.
Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, illustrated p. 297
Mary Moline, Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalog of the Artist's Work (1910-1978), Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979, illustrated fig. 1-359, p. 74
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, no. C439, pp. 176-77, illustrated
Jan Cohn, Covers of "The Saturday Evening Post:" Seventy Years of Outstanding Illustration from America's Favorite Magazine, New York, 1995, illustrated p. 207
Maureen Hart Hennessey and Anne Knutson, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, New York, 1999, pp. 166-67, illustrated p. 166
Richard Halpern, Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence, Chicago, Illinois, 2005, p. 120, illustrated fig. 5.4
The Saturday Evening Post: Norman Rockwell Special Collector's Edition, vol. I, no. I, 2010, illustrated p. 123
Dr. Donald Stoltz and Marshall L. Stoltz, Norman Rockwell and 'The Saturday Evening Post:' The Later Years, vol. II, New York, 1976, p. 67, illustrated p. 68


Please contact the American Art department for this condition report: (212) 606 7280 or Laura.West@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

The idea of a “Norman Rockwell Christmas” is one that has crystalized in American culture. Indeed, American holidays, and Christmas in particular, played a central role in Norman Rockwell’s career even in its nascent stages, when the artist’s parents allowed him to attend art school for the first time after witnessing him draw the character Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As Rockwell became the most sought-after illustrator of the mid-twentieth century, the holidays consistently provided him with a myriad of creative opportunities, particularly for images commissioned by The Saturday Evening Post. Of the 321 images Rockwell created for the cover of the publication over the course of nearly 50 years, many featured Christmas as their subject. With his trademark wit and warmth, Rockwell captured the festive spirit of the season, and ultimately created much of the imagery and iconography that today remains central to the popular conception of the holiday. 

Rockwell painted the present work for the December 27, 1947 cover of The Post. Here the artist depicts a department store employee on Christmas Eve, rendered utterly exhausted by the relentless onslaught of customers seeking last minute gifts. Slumped over against the wall, her shoes slipped off and forgotten among the few leftover toys and remnants of wrapping paper strewn about the floor, she has just finished what was clearly a long, strenuous and chaotic shift; the crooked sign behind the figure’s head tells customers that the store will close at 5:00 pm on Christmas Eve, and the watch she wears reads 5:05 pm. The few unpurchased dolls scattered about the rest of the composition mimic her dejected pose, yet their frozen smiles contrast delightfully with her own frazzled expression. Demonstrating his undeniable gift for visual narration, Rockwell utilizes these details to reinforce the underlying message of the painting, capturing an aspect of the holiday season that would become increasingly more common as the century progressed.

Rockwell consistently strove to imbue his paintings with a strong sense of authenticity, contributing to the idea that they were painted from life. Yet in reality the artist’s most complex compositions were thoroughly planned and staged productions. In 1937, encouraged by a younger generation of illustrators that included Steven Dohanos and John Falter, Rockwell similarly began to use photography to assist with compositional design. He typically began the creative process by sketching the scene as he imagined it. Only after painstakingly collecting the appropriate props, choosing his desired models and scouting the locations required to achieve his desired scene would photography sessions begin in his studio or elsewhere on site. Rockwell rarely took these photographs himself, however, preferring to be free to adjust each element while a hired photographer captured shots under his direction. He recognized the benefits that came from incorporating the camera into his technique, later articulating, “I feel that I get a more spontaneous expression and a wider choice of expressions with the assistance of the camera and I save a lot of wear and tear on myself and the model” (Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make a Picture, New York, 1979, p. 92).

Rockwell traveled to Chicago to create Tired Sales Girl on Christmas Eve, selecting the Marshall Field department store as the setting for the scene. A legendary perfectionist, Rockwell auditioned numerous models and employed seemingly all of the dolls and toys the store had in stock in order to achieve his desired effect. Ultimately the artist felt he needed to include an even larger number of dolls, and so he went out to acquire more from additional sources and claimed that by the time he completed the painting he owned $48 worth. Though he tested several sales girls from Marshall Fields and other department stores, Rockwell eventually found his perfect protagonist in a 17-year-old waitress working in a nearby diner, who apparently had to be cajoled into posing for the famous artist.

Rockwell’s frequent engagement with Christmas as subject matter was due in part to his important professional relationship with The Post, which began in 1916. In 1899, the publication’s formidable editor, George Horace Lorimer, began to observe the major American holidays by commissioning artists to create special cover images in celebration of them. From this directive, motifs like J.C. Leyendecker’s New Year’s Eve babies and Rockwell’s jolly Santa Clauses were born. Rockwell’s Christmas imagery developed in tandem with his career, which spanned nearly three-fourths of a century. By the time he conceptualized and executed the Tired Sales Girl on Christmas Eve, the holiday itself had begun to change in American culture. Here, Rockwell certainly confronts the commercialization of Christmas as he personifies the mental and physical fatigue the holidays induced for many Americans. By the 1930s Rockwell had also largely transitioned away from the vignette-style composition exhibited in earlier works such as Merrie Christmas (Fig. 1), to compositions such as Tired Sales Girl on Christmas Eve in which he presents a more complex narrative a fully articulated time and place. Rockwell engagement with the Christmas theme did not remain limited to his work for The Post, however, as he also utilized it in the images he created as advertisements for numerous prominent American companies (Fig. 2).

Though many of his contemporaries portrayed images of Christmas, it is Rockwell’s work that we continue to identify most closely with this holiday. “Norman Rockwell is generally credited with the invention of the modern American Christmas,” explains Karal Ann Marling, “and the tender sentiments attached to it: kindly Santa Clauses who ponder each juvenile request; merry Dickensian travelers bound for home on cold winter nights; cozy hearths; windows aglow with warm light spilling out across the snow; fathers and grandfathers in red suits and beards; sprigs of holly and mistletoe; mysterious packages; tired salesclerks; and exhausted department-store Santas. Rockwell helped to create the outlines of a secular, commercial holiday suffused with the intense feelings of a religious ritual—but a ritual in which he largely declined to participate, except as a shrewd and not unsympathetic observer” (“Rockwell’s Christmas,” Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, New York, 1999, p. 155). Though Rockwell illustrated many facets of Christmas, he consistently strove to associate it with warmth, friends and family (Fig. 3). The best of Rockwell’s images remain just as relatable and poignant as they did when he created them, demonstrating why works such as Tired Sales Girl on Christmas Eve still retain their comedic power and emotional resonance when we consider them today.

Please note this lot is accompanied by a copy of the December 27, 1947 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, for which the present work served as the cover illustration.