The oil on paper Tough Call, 16 x 15in (40.5 x 38cm), a 1948 study for a Saturday Evening Post cover, took $1.68m (£1.31m) including buyer’s premium at Heritage Auction in Dallas last week. It had hung in a house in Austin, Texas, where the family that owned it believed it to be a cheap copy. Once consigned, it was expected to take around $300,000 but ended up far exceeding its estimate and setting a record for any oil study by the artist. The buyer remains anonymous.
It is the second record to be set for a Rockwell oil study during the past few months. In May, his 1960 Triple Self Portrait, also a Saturday Evening Post cover study, took $1.3m (£1.01m) including buyer’s premium at Heritage.
“It is remarkable to still discover such an important Norman Rockwell original artwork after so many years,” said Christ Ivy, director of sports memorabilia at Heritage Auctions.
Tough Call shows three umpires at a baseball game where it has started to rain. The scoreboard in the background shows that six innings have been completed and, if the game is called off, the leading team (Pittsburgh) will automatically win.
Rockwell created cover images, often idealised vignettes of American life, for the Saturday Evening Post for nearly 50 years. He is quoted as saying: “I unconsciously decided that, even if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be so and painted only the ideal aspects of it – pictures in which there are no drunken slatterns or self-centred mothers.”
The record for any work by the artist was set in 2013 by his 1951 oil on canvas Saying Grace, which sold at Sotheby’s New York for $46m (£28.13m) including buyer’s premium.