Gallery MAR Blog

Norman Rockwell Poster is (Surprise!) an Original

July 25th, 2017

We love a good fine art discovery, this time featuring one of America’s icons: Norman Rockwell. In this story, it’s a Norman Rockwell poster one family had on their wall for decades. In reality? It’s actually a $300,000 (or more) original. The painting was given as a gift to an umpire, but his descendants assumed it was just a print. Read on to learn more about this discovery.

From Artnet

By Sarah Cascone, July 25, 2017


A long-lost work by Norman Rockwell has been discovered by Heritage Auctions Texas. The owners, who mistakenly identified the piece as a signed print, presented it to Heritage auctions experts to assess its value. However, after careful inspection, the work, showing three umpires standing in the rain during a baseball game, is actually an oil-on-paper study for the final piece titled Tough Call. Its value is estimated at $300,000, but based on past auction results, it could go for considerably more.

Tough Call, also knows as Game Called Because of Rain, Bottom of the Sixth and The Three Umpires, originally graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on April 23, 1949. The finished work, perhaps the artist’s most famous baseball painting, now resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, but Rockwell gave the early study as a gift to John “Beans” Reardon, one of the three umpires pictured in the image.

According to Heritage Auctions, the painting depicts a specific doubleheader game, played between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on September 14, 1948, at Ebbets Field. It bears the following inscription: “My best wishes to ‘Beans’ Reardon, the greatest umpire ever lived, sincerely, Norman Rockwell,” and is being consigned by the umpire’s descendants.

Before publication, the Saturday Evening Post actually had another illustrator edit the final image without Rockwell’s consent, changing the sky and removing brand names from the work, among other alterations. The artist disapproved, informing the editors that “I do feel that the re-painting of a man’s work to this point is completely unethical.” Sufficiently chastened, the publication changed its editorial policy in response to Rockwell’s complaint. The study, therefore, is in some ways more reflective of the artist’s original vision.

“The Rockwell discovery is a wonderful story and we expect this work to do quite well considering the broad interest across sports, art and Rockwell enthusiasts,” said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage, in a statement.