For Norman Rockwell, Christmas was the most special time of the year. His illustrations of Santa Claus are the standard by which all other Santas have been measured.
On November 30th 2007, a Norman Rockwell painting of Santa Claus perched on a stepladder sold for $2.17 million at Christie's sale of American paintings, drawings and sculptures. This sale featured a large and varied group of American illustrations, reflecting the growing interest in this genre. The painting, entitled "Extra Good Boys and Girls," is the original of a Saturday Evening Post cover from 1939 and shows Santa in front of a world map, checking his list of good boys and girls and mapping his traditional Christmas Eve sleigh route.
The last decade has seen Rockwell's star rising. The painting "Breaking Home Ties" broke a record for the artist when it sold for $15.4 million at Sotheby’s. It shows a working man and his college-bound son sitting on the sideboard of an old pickup. It first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on September 25, 1954. It was found hidden in a secret hiding place behind a wall in the Vermont home of cartoonist Don Trachte, who died last year. He had bought the work from his friend Rockwell in 1960 for $900 and hid it during a messy divorce, allegedly to protect his children’s inheritance.
Other impressive sales include River Pilot, which sold for $2,617,000 and The Checkup, which sold for $1,385,000. Rockwell’s Gary Cooper as “The Texan,” (from the May 24, 1930 Saturday Evening Post cover) shattered its high estimate of $2, 500,000 and sold for $5,921,000. This painting of Gary Cooper is the only one Rockwell mentions in his biography and successfully captures both the glamour of Hollywood and the romance of the West.
One of Rockwell’s most interesting pieces is Christmas in the Heart (estimated at $800,000-$1,200,000). It was used as an illustration for a January 1941 issue of American Magazine. According to letters from the owner, Rockwell donated this painting as a raffle prize to help raise money for local Arlington charities, and the winning raffle ticket was purchased for twenty-five cents at a fundraiser and street fair in 1942. When Rockwell’s Arlington studio burned down in 1943, many original paintings, drawings and notes were destroyed in the fire, but Rockwell’s generosity had inadvertently insured that Christmas in the Heart survived.
Other Rockwells that have sold for more than $1 million include Lincoln the Railsplitter, which sold for $1.8 million and Rosie the Riveter, which sold for $4.9 million. Many of Rockwell's most famous works are in private collections and museums and therefore are not offered in auction frequently.
Saturday Evening Post
December 16, 1939
Print: St Nicholas Center Collection