The below article from; on Rockwell and Socialism Realism, see (BTW, there is now quite a market for Socialist Realism paintings/illustrations).
Norman Rockwell’s Art, Once Sniffed At, Is Becoming Prized
“Rockwell’s greatest sin as an artist is simple: His is an art of unending cliché.”
In that Washington Post criticism of a 2010 exhibition of Norman Rockwell paintings at the Smithsonian, Blake Gopnik joined a long line of prominent critics attacking Rockwell, the American artist and illustrator who depicted life in mid-20th-century America and died in 1978.
“Norman Rockwell was demonized by a generation of critics who not only saw him as an enemy of modern art, but of all art,” said Deborah Solomon, whose biography of Rockwell, “American Mirror,” was published last year. “He was seen as a lowly calendar artist whose work was unrelated to the lofty ambitions of art,” she said, or, as she put it in her book, “a cornball and a square.” The critical dismissal “was obviously a source of great pain throughout his life,” Ms. Solomon, a frequent contributor to The New York Times, added.
But Rockwell is now undergoing a major critical and financial reappraisal. This week, the major auction houses built their spring sales of American art around two Rockwell paintings: “After the Prom,” at Sotheby’s, and “The Rookie,” at Christie’s. “After the Prom” sold for $9.1 million on Wednesday; “The Rookie” for $22.5 million on Thursday.
In December, “Saying Grace” set an auction record for Rockwell, selling at Sotheby’s for $46 million.
Rockwell isn’t yet at the level of Francis Bacon (top price at auction: $142.4 million), Picasso ($104.5 million) or Andy Warhol ($105.4 million) — all of whom critics eventually embraced — but he’s poised to join a select handful of artists whose work is instantly recognizable not just for its artistic quality but, for better or worse, the many millions it took to acquire one.
Apart from any critical reappraisal, Rockwell’s paintings show that in art, as well as in the stock market, it can pay to be a contrarian. Rockwell’s paintings have turned out to be a singularly good investment. “After the Prom” last sold at Sotheby’s in 1995 for $880,000. This week’s sale price represents a compounded annual rate of return of 13.1 percent, compared with 7.9 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index over the same period.
Michael Moses, a retired professor of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a co-founder of the Mei Moses Art Index, said his database contained 39 works by Rockwell that had sold more than once at auction. Taken together, their sales prices represent a 9.7 percent annual rate of return over the period from 1960 to 2008. (The latest round of sales isn’t included.) “That’s extremely good for an American painter,” Mr. Moses said.
Mr. Moses said that his research suggests that the adage — “buy the best,” or the most acclaimed by critics — doesn’t hold true, at least when it comes to investment returns. “Rockwell was so out of favor, there was ample room for appreciation,” Mr. Moses said. Paintings already acknowledged by critics as masterpieces “tend to underperform the market,” he said. “It turns out you don’t have to be an art expert to earn good investment returns.”
To put Rockwell’s recent multimillion-dollar sales prices in perspective, “These prices are enormous by the standards for American paintings, which tend to be undervalued,” Mr. Moses said. (At art auctions and galleries, the American paintings category doesn’t include abstract and pop postwar and contemporary works, but it does include realist paintings.) “There’s a great Georgia O’Keeffe painting coming at Sotheby’s that’s estimated at only $2 to $3 million,” Mr. Moses said. “The academic acclaim for O’Keeffe is exponentially higher than for Rockwell. Or take Albert Bierstadt, one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century. There’s a Bierstadt at Sotheby’s estimated at $1 to $1.5 million. Winslow Homer might sell for the kind of money that Rockwell is. But at $40 million, you’re really in another realm.”
The explanation for the sudden and, to many, improbable surge in the price of Rockwell paintings dates to at least 2001, when the Guggenheim Museum mounted a major retrospective of Rockwell’s work. Coming just after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the show may have touched a nerve with an American public hungering for the reassurance of traditional American values captured by Rockwell’s vision. “That was the big turning point,” Ms. Solomon said. “He finally was getting art world recognition.” Still, some critics were incensed by the exhibition. “It shows the Guggenheim further trashing the reputation won for it by generations of artists,” Jerry Saltz wrote in the Village Voice. But the show set an attendance record.
The year after the Guggenheim show, “Rosie the Riveter,” one of Rockwell’s most famous images, sold for close to $5 million at Sotheby’s, setting a record for the artist. The painting was later sold again for an undisclosed price to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., the museum founded by the Walmart heiress Alice Walton.
In 2006, “Breaking Home Ties” set another record, selling for $15.4 million, far above its $4 million to $6 million estimate. (The buyer is believed to have been H. Ross Perot, the former presidential candidate and founder of Electronic Data Systems. The painting has been seen hanging in his office.)
Rockwell also gained a Hollywood stamp of approval. Two of the country’s most famous film directors, George Lucas (“Star Wars”) and Steven Spielberg (“E.T.”) were acquiring Rockwells. Rockwell “is a great story teller, and he used cinematic devices,” Mr. Lucas told an interviewer for the Smithsonian, which mounted the exhibition of his and Mr. Spielberg’s Rockwell collections, “Telling Stories,” in 2010. “He ‘cast’ a painting,” Mr. Lucas said. “It wasn’t just a random group of characters.”
Others, too, were discovering new depths in Rockwell’s work. “What distinguishes the best of his works for me,” Ms. Solomon said, “is that they’re rooted in real emotion. They’re not just a one-liner. Take ‘The Rookie,’ which is a great painting. It captures the tension between generations, when a rookie, a youngster, arrives, and the veterans realize they’ve just met their replacement. Their time is limited. It doesn’t matter if it’s baseball players, or newspaper reporters, or firefighters. It’s about time and how one generation replaces another.”
Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., observed: “What we’re seeing in the marketplace is that collectors, in a sense, are catching up with the incredible quality and enduring meaning and message in Rockwell’s paintings. There are a handful of his works that have iconic resonance, enduring meaning, and those pieces are what we’re seeing really take off in the marketplace.”
Andy Warhol was among the first prominent artists to recognize Rockwell’s merit. He attended a gallery show in 1968 and bought two works, a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy (whom Warhol himself used as an iconic portrait subject) wearing a strand of pearls, and “Extra Good Boys and Girls," which shows another iconic figure — Santa Claus — plotting his route on a map of the world.
Despite their contrast in styles, Rockwell’s work — and their recent sale prices — have drawn comparisons to Warhol. “In some ways, Norman Rockwell is to American painting what Warhol is to contemporary art,” said Elizabeth Goldberg, the head of American art at Sotheby’s. “You walk in a room, you know immediately who the artist is. They’re both prolific and passionate artists. They’re images that people connect with instantly.”
And recognition is a critical element in the most expensive paintings these days, Mr. Moses said. Rockwell “is instantly recognizable,” he said. “People know what it’s worth. This appeals to a certain kind of wealthy buyer. As Zero Mostel said, ‘When you’ve got it, flaunt it.’ ”
Museums are now clamoring for the best examples of Rockwell’s work, but few can afford it. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, displayed “The Rookie” for six days this year and drew large crowds. “People of all ages and types responded to the image,” said Elizabeth Beaman, the senior specialist in American art at Christie’s, who watched visitors’ reactions. “There’s a universality in the work. Because of museum exhibitions and collectors’ response at auctions, he’s finally been welcomed into the elite circle of American artists.”
What would Rockwell himself make of this? “He would be incredulous,” Ms. Solomon said. The consummate modest man, he was content to be paid by his magazine employers, and never pursued the gallery scene. He often gave away his paintings to family, friends, co-workers or neighbors.
He sold one of his most famous images, “Town Meeting,” an oil study for “Freedom of Speech,” to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1952 for $100, and, according to The Saturday Evening Post, let out a “gladsome yelp” when he learned the Met had bought it. It was the first museum to buy one of his works.
But some things haven’t changed. The painting is nowhere to be seen in the Met’s recently expanded and reorganized American wing. The museum’s website says simply: “Not on view.” (The museum didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Ms. Moffatt has directed the Rockwell Museum for 28 years, and for much of that time, “We were at odds with the rest of the art world,” she said. “But I’d tell myself, Rockwell himself endured this disdain and dismissal of his art. He was the creator of it, yet he persevered and he kept creating these wonderful masterpieces. That always kept me going.”
She added, “I think we’re in a new era now. The ideals in his work are timeless, and they resonate deeply. That’s a quality of great art throughout the centuries.”
Above images from