In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: Norman Rockwell, “She Gave Me a Parker 61 (Happy Birthday to Dad).”
Norman Rockwell (1894–1978) is remembered as perhaps the greatest painter and illustrator of American wartime culture, and his works are, without a doubt, some of the most coveted and highly collected artworks today. Born in New York, Rockwell pursued an art career early. His passion and talent were noticed as early as age 15, when he painted his first commission of four Christmas cards. Still in his teens, Rockwell landed his first major commissions from Boys’ Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. At age 22, Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post, which would become the artist’s launch pad to national acclaim and success. Over the next 47 years, Rockwell would paint an additional 321 covers for the Post, part of more than 4,000 original works during his lifetime, cementing his place in history and in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.
Still enjoying widespread popular appeal, Rockwell’s style was characterized by idealistic and sentimental portrayals of American life and culture. This was especially true during the end of World War I and throughout World War II. As part of the drive to mobilize America for the war effort, Rockwell turned his artistic lens away from the youthful subjects seen in his illustrations for Boys’ Life and toward inspiring subjects.
Unfortunately, many of Rockwell’s original works belong to public and private collections or have been destroyed. Rarely do originals head to auction, but, when the occasion presents itself, prices are expected to soar. That’s what Sotheby’s is expecting during its October 20 “American Art” sale when Rockwell’s “She Gave Me a Parker 61 (Happy Birthday to Dad)” becomes available.
Dating to 1959, the painting is a rare example of Rockwell’s work with the Parker Pen Company, which commissioned the work. Sotheby’s writes, “In 1956, the Parker 61 was introduced, notable for its advanced, self-filling features and slimmer, more pleasing profile. For its holiday season promotional campaign in 1959, Parker commissioned Norman Rockwell to illustrate a three-month series of ads. This would be the third time that Parker and Rockwell would work together. In 1928, his first illustration for a Parker Pen advertisement appeared on page 65 of the December 1 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The next year another seasonal advertisement by Rockwell for the Parker Pen appeared in the December 14, 1929 issue of the Post. Not surprisingly, both the 1928 and 1929 ads were Christmas themed. Now Parker took a slightly different tack with its illustrator now as famous as its pens. The first ad appeared in October with an encouragement to write home often. The November ad had a birthday theme with a special gift that when unwrapped thoroughly delighted father. The final December ad in the sequence was, of course, Christmas based with a young, happy couple entwined under the mistletoe. This work was reproduced in an advertisement for the Parker Pen Company in the 28 November 1959 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.”
Auction estimates are between $120,000 and $180,000
To learn more, visit Sotheby’s.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.