Norman Rockwell’s “The Rookie” has sold for $22.5 million at auction Thursday. The 1957 painting of baseball players in a locker room was sold by Christie’s auction house — heady heights for a work that first appeared on a magazine that sold for 15 cents.
Update at 12:50 p.m. The Final Price
While the “hammer price” of the Rockwell painting was $20 million, Christie’s says the painting’s final price is $22,565,000, reflecting a buyer’s premium. We’ve updated this post to reflect the auction house’s final calculation.
Our original post continues:
An image of the painting — its full title is “The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)” — originally appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. The last time it was sold was in 1986, for $600,000.
“The Rookie” features real big-league ballplayers and a lanky high school student, Sherman “Scottie” Safford, who’s now 75.
“Rockwell paid me $60 for each posing session,” Safford, who now lives in Rochester, N.Y., tells The Berkshire Eagle. “I wish I had kept those checks; they might be worth more than that now.”
Earlier this month, Safford and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Frank Sullivan, the only two men who posed for the painting who are alive today, visited Boston’s Fenway Park to see the framed work.
As the Eagle reports, it was the first time the pair had ever met. Safford and the Red Sox players were photographed separately to give Rockwell images to work from as he created the locker-room scene. (You can check out the reference photos used for the painting at the Norman Rockwell Museum website.)
Here’s some background on how the painting came about, from Christie’s:
“Rockwell conceived this cover at least 9 months in advance of its publication date on March 2nd, 1957, just in time for the start of spring training for the Red Sox. Over the summer of 1956, he convinced team management to send four players from the starting lineup up to Rockwell’s hometown, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, deep in Red Sox country. Pitcher Frank Sullivan, right fielder Jackie Jensen, catcher Sammy White all posed for the painting. Williams was either unable or unwilling to make the trip and Rockwell captured his likeness from his trading card, and other photographs.”
Experts had predicted “The Rookie” would sell for $20 million to $30 million. The record price for a Rockwell painting was set back in December, when “Saying Grace,” a work depicting a scene in a restaurant, was auctioned for $46 million.