Rockwell's Red Sox painting may fetch $20-$30M at auction next month


STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. -- An iconic painting by Norman Rockwell with several ties to Western Massachusetts will be auctioned in New York City next month.

The painting of a young man arriving in the Red Sox locker room as several veterans look on suspiciously, is titled "The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)". It appeared on the cover of the March 2, 1957, issue of the Saturday Evening Post.

Christie's is offering the painting at a May 22 auction, with a pre-sale estimate of $20 million to $30 million. The last Rockwell to be auctioned, a 1951 painting titled "Saving Grace" fetched $46 million, an auction record for the artist.

An anonymous owner acquired the Red Sox painting in 1986. The museum last showed it in 2004, according to Jeremy Clowe, a spokesman for the museum.

"It turned out to be a pretty timely showing because the Red Sox ended up winning the World Series that year, said Clowe.

The actual cover is on display at the museum, he said, as part of the museum's exhibition of all 323 Post covers, said Clowe.

The players in the painting are, from left to right, second baseman Billy Goodman (foreground), catcher Sammy White, pitcher Frank Sullivan; a tall fellow in the center who is supposed to be Ted Williams, and at far right, outfielder Jackie Jensen. The player far left is an anonymous Sox player Rockwell just used to fill out the painting.

The gangly kid in the foreground is a local lad, a former Pittsfield High School student named Sherman Safford. Safford was a basketball and baseball standout for PHS who graduated in 1957.

Now living in Rochester, N.Y., Safford attended the museum's Models Reunion last summer, said Clowe.

Safford was in the PHS cafeteria one afternoon in 1956 eating lunch when Rockwell spotted him. Rockwell was on a kind of scouting trip, looking for a tall, gangly kid for the painting. Safford fit the bill exactly.

The player representing Williams didn't really look like Williams, because Williams had other commitments and couldn't travel to Stockbridge to pose for the picture. The Red Sox sent Rockwell several photos of the famed slugger, but the artist didn't like any or them.

In the end, according to Eagle files, Rockwell used a slightly altered picture of Sullivan's head which he attached to Williams' torso.

All of the Red Sox in the picture have passed away, except Sullivan, now 84. In 2007, Sullivan said in an interview that he and the other three Sox were ordered by Boston management in 1956 to drive out to Stockbridge on an off day with their uniforms.

None of the players were really sure why.

"We had no idea where Stockbridge was," he said. "We had no idea who Norman Rockwell was."

When they got to Rockwell's studio in Stockbridge, the famous artist had them don their uniforms and pose in several positions while he shot photos.

It was confusing, admitted Sullivan, because the only prop was a bench. The players posed in front of a white sheet. Rockwell filled in the background later.

When the session was over, Sullivan conceded in 2007 that he and his teammates still had no idea what has just transpired. They forgot about the experience within a week.

Then, the magazine came out, and Sullivan and his teammates suddenly had national exposure.

"By then, we understood who Rockwell was," he said.


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