Illustrating America: Rockwell and Beyond

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Famed for his uncanny ability to capture the spirit of daily life, Norman Rockwell remains a household name, synonymous with American illustration. The celebrated artist's work falls in a storied history of remarkable American illustrators including Golden Age of Illustration artists Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish and Jessie Willcox Smith. Sotheby’s upcoming American Art sale features a remarkable array of works by these influential illustrators, at a range of collecting levels. Click ahead to learn more about these highlights.

American Art 
13 November | New York

Illustrating America: Rockwell and Beyond

  • Joseph Christian Leyendecker, The Politician (Campaign Orator). Estimate $60,000–80,000.
    Joseph Christian Leyendecker was the most celebrated American illustrator of a period often referred to as the Golden Age of American Illustration at the turn of the 20th century. By 1916, the year The Politician was created, Leyendecker’s aesthetic was well-known throughout the country, as this prolific artist produced hundreds of magazine, book and advertising illustrations for many of the country’s leading companies and publications including The Saturday Evening Post. He greatly influenced the history of illustration and was deeply influential to Norman Rockwell. 



     

  • Norman Rockwell, No Credit Given (Boy and Shopkeeper). Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    No Credit Given is among the earliest images Norman Rockwell created on commission for a prominent American publication, when the artist was just 23 years old. Norman Rockwell executed this work for the May 1917 cover of People’s Popular Monthly. A charming image of two children attempting to buy candy in a general store, No Credit Given is an exceptional example of Rockwell’s early aesthetic. Rendered in a limited palette of black, white and red pigments, it also features the vignette-style format and more painterly manner of execution that characterise the work he produced in the first two decades of the 20th century, and also reflect Rockwell’s admiration of the paintings of Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

  • Norman Rockwell, Making Good in a Boys’ Camp. Estimate $200,000–300,000.
    The present work appeared in the July 1917 issue of St. Nicholas magazine, accompanying a short story by Ralph Graham titled, "Making Good in a Boys' Camp." Graham's work was part of a series that described the daily experiences of five boys – Percy, Max, Dick, Gigs and Ruggles – during their time spent at a summer camp. Rockwell created several works on commission for St. Nicholas, particularly during the early years of his career. 



     

  • Norman Rockwell, Christmas Knight: Knight Looking in Stained Glass Window. Estimate $1,200,000–1,800,000.
    Norman Rockwell painted Christmas: Knight Looking in Stained Glass Window for the 6 December, 1930 cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Depicting a knight on guard duty who forlornly watches a jovial Christmas party from afar, the painting maintains the vignette–style format that all of The Post’s artists adhered to when creating its cover art up to this period. Here, however, Rockwell achieved a new sense of naturalism as warm light bathes the feasting revelers inside, contrasting starkly with the cool palette he utilises to render the knight and window. The knight's stance, with hands clutched closely to his body and subtly hunched over, as well as his billowing cloak, create the sensation of bitterly cold winter evening. 



     

  • Jessie Willcox Smith, She knew she could eat one whenever she wanted to, so she was in no hurry. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    Jessie Willcox Smith was an important female illustrator during the Golden Age of American Illustration. Smith studied under Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she began to use photography as an aid to her illustrations. Smith later studied in the inaugural class at Howard Pyle's eponymous school of illustration. As in the present work of a small girl picking berries, Smith’s illustrations primarily depicted children and mothers. 

  • Norman Rockwell, Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe. Estimate 7,000,000 — 10,000,000.
    Blacksmith’s Boy—Heel and Toe originally appeared in the 2 November, 1940 issue of The Saturday Evening 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. Here Rockwell depicts what is undoubtedly the climactic moment of O’Brien’s narrative, during which, the hero, Pop—having fallen behind his opponent McCann—begins to gradually overtake his younger rival. A work of extraordinary scale and complexity, the present work testifies to the Rockwell’s unparalleled ability to make the words of an author come alive through his visual interpretation and conjure the elements of a complex narrative—plot, character, and setting—with a single image. 

  • NC Wyeth, Ayrton’s Fight with the Pirates. Estimate $400,000–600,000.
    Ayrton’s Fight with the Pirates is one of seventeen works NC Wyeth painted to illustrate a 1918 edition of Jules Verne’s 1874 novel L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island). Verne’s novel tells the tale of five Americans who — seeking to escape the destruction of the Civil War — become shipwrecked on an uncharted island in the South Pacific. The present work depicts a climactic moment in the tale when Tom Ayrton — having just been found also shipwrecked on a nearby island by the protagonists — is kidnapped by pirates. Wyeth was particularly respected for his ability to conjure a spirit of adventure in his images and this composition is fittingly dynamic, featuring strong diagonals of the figure’s arms as well as the rigging of the ship that enliven the scene. 



     

  • Jessie Willcox Smith, Merry Christmas: Two Children Before the Fireplace. Estimate $100,000–150,000.
    This illustration was an advertisement for Lowney's Crest Chocolates. Smith's biographer Edward Nudelman describes the work as, “A wonderful mixed media painting...published as an advertisement for Lowney's Crest Chocolates, reminiscent of her paintings for Twas the Night Before Christmas, Houghton, Mifflin, 1912, but displaying a more delicate and decorative quality characteristic of her best work.”

  • Norman Rockwell, Two Old Men and Dog: Hunting. Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    Norman Rockwell was commissioned to illustrate the Brown & Bigelow Four Seasons calendars from 1948 through 1964. Each year, the calendar had one central theme for which four separate illustrations were made, one for each season. Rockwell's 1950 series told the story of two men and their loyal dog. The group of three is pictured playing chess in winter, fishing in spring, swimming in summer and, as illustrated in the present work, hunting in fall.



    Correspondence from Brown & Bigelow dated October 1969 discussing the present work reads, "This picture will increase in value every year. Incidentally we will no longer sell any original paintings so your customer really has a collector's item." The correspondence and original sales receipt dated February 28, 1960 will accompany this lot. 

  • Maxfield Parrish, Hot Spring: Yavapai Co., Arizona. Estimate $250,000–350,000.
    In the fall of 1901, Maxfield Parrish travelled to Castle Creek, Hot Springs, Arizona to illustrate The Century Magazine series "The Great Southwest."  The dramatic landscape of the Southwest made a deep impression on the artist, who was best known for his vividly coloured illustrations of goddesses and nymphs set in mystical landscapes. Parrish was, according to historian Coy Ludwig, “strongly affected by nature's great show of color, for which the Southwest is noted. The natural chiaroscuro of Arizona's rugged canyon and the qualities of space and distance…left forever their impression on his approach to landscape painting.” 

  • Norman Rockwell, Shuffleton’s Barbershop. Estimate $20,000,000–30,000,000.
    Executed at the height of the artist’s career, Shuffleton’s Barbershop represents the very best of Norman Rockwell. Here Rockwell depicts a darkened barbershop that—long since closed to customers—is illuminated only with the golden light that bathes the trio of musicians playing in the back room, unaware of our presence. The painting is a technical tour-de-force that demonstrates the continuing power and resonance of the artist’s distinctive vision of American life. Astonishingly complex in both content and form, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, evinces Rockwell's extensive awareness of art historical precedents and his mastery of his medium, while also attesting to the importance with which he viewed his own creative abilities.

  • Maxfield Parrish, Winter Night Landscape (Two Tall Pines). Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    In 1931, at the height of his popularity, Maxfield Parrish decided to abandon the figurative work that had made him a household name and devote his efforts entirely to landscape painting. The magical, detailed landscapes previously used as backgrounds for figurative works now became the primary subject. In the present work, Parrish returned to one of his favorite motifs: the two pines viewed directly from his artist's studio in Plainfield, New Hampshire.  This was a favorite motif for Parrish as there was a family of foxes that returned each year to their den in the bottom of one of the pine trunks to have their kits.  Each element of the scene is rendered with the calculated precision and intense palette that have become integral to Parrish’s visual vocabulary.  



     

  • Norman Rockwell, Study for ‘Education’. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    The present work is a sketch Norman Rockwell executed while on assignment for Look magazine. The finished version of this work appeared in the 3 October, 1967 issue of the magazine accompanying an article on daily life in the Soviet Union. 

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