$46 million Norman Rockwell lived in Wilton
Two of the three Norman Rockwell paintings that recently sold at auction for a record-breaking $57.3 million at Sotheby’s have a Wilton connection.
Both Saying Grace and Walking to Church were owned by the family of Kenneth J. Stuart, the former art director at the Saturday Evening Post, and hung in his Wilton home for many years.
According to the New York Times, Walking to Church was a mainstay in the bedroom of Mr. Stuart’s wife, Katharine, and Saying Grace, the newspaper reported, “adorned [Mr. Stuart’s] office at The Post, and when he left the magazine, it hung in the family’s living room.”
After his death in the early 1990s, the paintings were sent out on loan to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. Mr. Rockwell’s first studio was on the top floor of a building in downtown Stockbrige near the historic Red Lion Inn.
Saying Grace was originally commissioned by The Saturday Evening Post for $3,500 and depicts an elderly woman and young boy saying grace in an American diner as other customers look on inquisitively. It is one of Mr. Rockwell’s most well-regarded paintings.
It sold for $46 million — more than double its Sotheby’s estimated value — to an unknown party.
Walking to Church depicts a well-dressed family passing brownstone buildings on their way to church, and was also commissioned by The Saturday Evening Post. It sold for $3.2 million to Rick Lapham, an American art collector. The third painting was The Gossips, which sold for $8.45 million.
Mr. Stuart, the original owner of the paintings, lived in Wilton for many years, and was an active participant in the town’s art initiatives.
He was not unfamiliar with auctions. An article pulled from a 1978 issue of The Wilton Bulletin notes that Mr. Stuart was “one of the committee which for months has been gathering books and art work to make the library’s first auction a smash-bang success.”
According to the article, he was a lifelong artist whose talents were recognized at a very early age.
“When I was only 12, I went to life classes at night. I remember my father was surprised when he saw my drawings of a nude, and suggested that we tuck it away in the attic,” he said.
He would go on to be the art director at a number of different publications.
The Rockwell paintings remained the property of his family while his sons settled a court battle regarding Mr. Stuart’s estate.
It is not clear at this time whether the paintings will continue to hang at the Norman Rockwell Museum.