What's It Worth? by Leslie Hindman

How We Answer "What's It Worth?" Part VIII: Subject Matter

"What's It Worth" presents the eighth part of our 10 part series.

8. Subject Matter

As people in the auction business say, "A little girl with rosy cheeks and a bouquet of flowers will sell for more than an old man with a grizzly beard, period.: Other perennial best-sellers include pictures of nudes, landscapes, and pets. Religious scenes tend not to do so well, though they're big with museum curators. I guess people just don't want to live with a picture of the Madonna and child sitting on a golden throne or of Martin Luther and His Friends hanging in the den.

Again, a trio of pictures proves that subject matter is more than just a matter of taste - for many people, it's a matter of value.

Norman Rockwell, who created covers for the Saturday Evening Post  for forty years, was the quintessential American artist, a master at showcasing the everyday pastimes of people at work and at play, in moments of quiet repose and thrilling exuberance. His paintings of a family oohing and ahhing at the Thanksgiving turkey as it's brought to the table or of the young girl looking at herself in the mirror contemplating her impending womanhood are American icons.

Three of his magazine-cover illustrations  that had been part of a large Mid-western corporate collection were sold in 1994. The canvases were all about the same size and in equally good condition, and each had a clear authentic signature.

One of the pictures, though it depicts an adorable cheery cheeked little girl with a flower, was set against a background of war, which isn't considered one of Rockwell's most desirable subjects. It was estimated to sell for between $50,000 and $75,000, and sold for just under the high estimate at $70,000.

The next picture is a classic Rockwell: an image of small-town America, with a bright new fire engine juxtaposed against a pass predecessor, meant to illustrate Rockwell's - and America's - can-do spirit and optimism. Certainly collectors would find this scene to be much more Rockwellian, and desirable and this was proved to be true when it sold for $220,000 at auction.

the third picture was an even more ideal Rockwell scene. Called The Fumble, it was painted in 1925 and illustrated two themes that Rockwell returned to often: youth and sports. Estimated to sell for between $100,000 and $150,00, it sold for more than twice its estimate, fetching $400,000.




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