NEW YORK, NY.-
On 14 November, Phillips
will offer Norman Rockwells Before the Shot, marking the first time that a work by the iconic American illustrator will appear in an Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, as well as the first time that one of his paintings will be offered at Phillips. The work has never before been sold publicly, having remained in just two families collections since it was painted, the first of which was Rockwells own doctor and the model for the painting.
Elizabeth Goldberg, Senior International Specialist of American Art and Deputy Chairwoman, Americas, said, We are honored to introduce Norman Rockwells paintings to Phillips auctions by including this masterwork in our November Evening Sale. While Rockwell has traditionally been offered in sales of American Art, we are eager to break down the barriers that separate these collecting categories and reexamine the way that these different voices of the 20th century are classified. Before the Shot is one of the most recognizable paintings by one of Americas most iconic artists. This November, Rockwells name will be rightfully positioned alongside other international 20th and 21st century masters, including Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Joan Mitchell, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
One of Rockwells most well-known paintings, Before the Shot is a nostalgic and humorous reflection of American culture in the 1950s, elevating the commonplace to the remarkable. Nearly identical to the version gracing the cover of the March 15, 1958, issue of The Saturday Evening Post, the picture depicts a child standing on a wooden chair in a doctors office, awaiting an impending shot and uneasily inspecting the diplomas on the wall as the physician prepares a syringe.
While Before the Shot betrays a sense of chance encounter, it was actually a picture of much consideration for Rockwell. Typical of his working process for his most important paintings, Rockwell painted Before the Shot from a series of photographs that he directed as scrupulously as one would a film shoot. The source images were taken inside Dr. Donald Campbells office in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Rockwells home from 1953 until his death in 1978. Dr. Campbell, Rockwells own physician, served as the model for the doctor, and eight-year-old Eddie Locke, who Rockwell selected from the lunchroom at Stockbridge Plain Elementary School, posed as the patient. Locke would later model for Rockwells popular painting The Runaway. The artists practice of selecting his neighbors, instead of professional models, to pose for his paintings lends his work an authentic sense of Americana and pays homage to the everyday middle-class existence in post-war America.
The doctor-patient relationship is one that Rockwell knew intimately; in addition to his wifes and his own medical treatments, Rockwell had three young boys at the time, who no doubt provided him with much opportunity to study children apprehensively interacting with doctors. Rockwell gave the completed work to Dr. Campbell, who later sold it to another family, in whose collection it has remained ever since. For the past thirteen years, the work was generously on loan to the Norman Rockwell Museum, where it was enjoyed by countless visitors. The paintings power lies in its amusing relatability; as Rockwell has acknowledged, "I guess everyone has sat in the doctor's office and examined his diplomas, wondering how good a doctor he was... It is this communal experience that makes Before the Shot a hallmark image of American culture, as relevant today as it was in 1958.