The Massachusetts branch of the American Legion Post, a veterans service organization, sold a Norman Rockwell painting at Heritage Auctions last week for $4.3 million. Titled Home for Thanksgiving (1945), the painting was sold in Dallas, Texas, and was being auctioned to raise funds for the organization, which said it is facing financial fallout as a result of the pandemic.
As with some of Rockwell’s most famous works, this painting was initially commissioned for the magazine cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell’s art often features middle-class white Americans, and has been considered integral in forming national identity in the postwar years.
In Home for Thanksgiving, a soldier returned home from war is shown helping peel potatoes with a woman who appears to be his mother. The painting was made just before World War II ended; its subject was suggested to Rockwell by the art director at the Saturday Evening Post, who was anticipating those stationed abroad coming back to the U.S. soon.
According to the Gardner News, the American Legion Post obtained the work in 1959, when a local priest donated it along with a $500 gift. Most visitors weren’t aware that the painting was a Rockwell, however, and some were even under the impression that it was a reproduction—not an original. It wasn’t until 1982 that a representative for the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, verified the work as a bona fide Rockwell and placed its valuation at $60,000.
Despite the work’s relatively unusual history, the painting just barely fell within its $4 million–$7 million estimate. Its price is also well below the greatest one ever obtained at auction for a Rockwell painting. Rockwell’s record was set in 2013, when his painting Saying Grace (1951) sold for $43 million at Sotheby’s.