Norman Rockwell, “Bedtime,” 1923, oil on canvas, 21 x 19 in. © Cottone Auctions 2017

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 we consider a heartwarming scene titled “Bedtime.” You might be surprised to learn who painted it…

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 by 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 had 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 effort 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.

This week’s featured lot wouldn’t necessarily be identified as by Rockwell at first glance. Canonical pictures by Rockwell typically display his subjects against a stark white background, forcing the viewer to confront his subjects directly. Moreover, as they were often designed for the covers of publications, the white background was a natural — and practical — decision. However, “Bedtime” reads much more like an autonomous work of art. Heading to auction on March 25 in New York City via Cottone Auctions, “Bedtime” displays a young mother and a small boy, who clutches his teddy bear, in her lap. In this rather dark composition, a soft orange glow is emitted by an unseen fire in the background. The sitter has just soothed the boy to sleep by reading a bedtime story. She still holds the book, but rests it in her lap as well.

Via Cottone Auctions, “The boy pictured on the lap of the woman in the painting is the son of John A. Chew. The boy was 5 years old in 1923, when ‘Bedtime’ was painted. Mr. Chew and Rockwell were neighbors in New Rochelle, NY in the 1920s and had become lifelong friends.”

Auction estimates are between $100,000 and $150,000. To learn more, visit here.

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.

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