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Norman Rockwell's "The Rookie" called up for six days only at MFA Boston
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room). Oil on canvas; 41 x 39 in.; Painted in 1957. Estimate: $20,000,000-30,000,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2014.
BOSTON, MASS.- After a third World Series Championship in a decade, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), celebrates the legendary Red Sox with a special loan of the beloved Norman Rockwell painting, The Rookie (The Red Sox Locker Room) (1957). Before being offered at auction at Christie’s (New York) on May 22, the MFA has the opportunity to display the work of art for six days only, April 29–May 4, 2014.

The MFA is the only place where the public will be able to see the celebrated painting in Boston—which depicts the Red Sox locker room in 1957 during spring training in Sarasota, Florida—before it goes on the auction block. Rockwell’s classic work, portraying a group of seasoned veterans giving the once-over to the team’s newest player, will be on view in the MFA’s Sharf Visitor Center. The painting was also on display at the MFA in 2005 and 2008, following World Series wins. Fans of both Rockwell and the Red Sox are encouraged to take advantage of this limited opportunity. On Wednesdays, Museum admission is by voluntary contribution after 4 pm, including on April 30, and kids 17 and under are always free at the MFA.

“We are proud to celebrate our hometown team and Red Sox Nation by displaying a quintessential painting from one of New England and America’s most beloved artists, Norman Rockwell,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director at the MFA. “Neighbors across the Fenway for over 100 years, the histories of the Red Sox and the MFA are inextricably linked.”

The painting’s celebration of America’s favorite pastime captures catcher Sammy White (at lower left of painting); pitcher Frank Sullivan (No. 18), on the bench next to outfielder Jackie Jensen; Ted Williams standing in the center; and infielder Bill Goodman at far right, suppressing a smile. On the far left is a figure Rockwell called “John J. Anonymous,” an aspiring ballplayer who finally “made the team.” Figuring prominently in the work, right of center and dressed in a suit, is the “rookie,” a local high school athlete from Pittsfield, MA—Sherman Safford—who was asked to model for Rockwell. Ted Williams was the only player who did not pose for the work—Rockwell had to rely on baseball cards for the details of his face. The painting appeared on the cover of the March 2, 1957, Saturday Evening Post, the publication most closely identified with Rockwell, and for which he produced more than 300 covers.

Frank Sullivan, Red Sox pitcher from 1953-60, wrote the following in Memories, from Diamond Days, the Red Sox alumni magazine, December 2004:

In the summer of 1956, while playing for the Red Sox, we got a rare day off, but I was told to take my uniform and go to Stockbridge, MA, to be photographed, along with Sam White and Jackie Jensen. . . . On arrival, we found the address and were greeted warmly by a small, slim man smoking a pipe and his name meant nothing to me. We . . . went over to a two-story wooden building with a studio on the second floor. There we put on our uniforms and Jensen and I were told to sit side by side on a bench with my arm on Jensen’s shoulder while Jackie faked tying his shoelace. It was explained to us that the Sarasota, FL, locker room we used in spring training would be the background. Sam was photographed separately. . . . It all took awhile and was a little confusing . . . the following year, there we were, right in the middle of the cover for the Saturday Evening Post Magazine issue dated March 2, 1957. . . . if you’ll look closely, you’ll see we are wearing street shoes, not spikes. The cover was titled “The Rookie.” The man’s name turned out to be Norman Rockwell.

Rockwell was best known for narrative images of seemingly everyday moments in American life, and baseball was a favorite subject. He frequently featured boys or men involved in America’s national pastime in his magazine covers, advertisements, calendars and story illustrations. Even when not specifically painting baseball, Rockwell often included the game in his work in details like the gloves, caps and bats that children hold or wear.

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