Norman Rockwell picture fetches highest price ever for an American painting at auction


A man holds his hand up while bidding on a work of art inside the Christie's auction house in New York City in 2006.


Spencer Platt

NEW YORK – “Saying Grace,” a 1951 oil painting by Norman Rockwell, sold for $46 million at Sotheby’s on Wednesday. It is the highest price ever paid for an American painting at auction, Sotheby’s said.

The previous record holder was “Polo Crowd” by George Bellows, which sold for $27.7 million in 1999.

Two anonymous bidders, both bidding over the phone, spent nine-and-a-half minutes wrangling over the painting.

The picture shows a grandmother and grandson praying at their table at a diner. It appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, one of hundreds of covers Rockwell painted for the magazine.

Two other Rockwells were also auctioned off: “The Gossips,” which fetched $8.45 million, and “Walking to Church,” which sold for $3.3 million.

All three paintings had been owned by the Saturday Evening Post’s longtime art director, Kenneth J. Stuart, who received them as gifts from Rockwell. Stuart died in 1993, and his sons were selling them off.

The most paid for any work ever sold at auction is $142.4 million. The work that commanded that price: “Three Studies of Lucian Freud, a three-panel painting by British artist Francis Bacon, sold at Christie’s in November.