The genesis of one of Rockwell's most celebrated creations!1948 Original Study for "Tough Call" by Norman Rockwell -- Gifted to Legendary Umpire "Beans" Reardon.
NOTE: This lot was recently featured in a Forbes Magazine article.
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894-1978)
Tough Call, Saturday Evening Post cover study, April 23, 1949
Oil on paper
16 x 15 inches (40.6 x 38.1 cm) (sight)
Signed and inscribed lower right: My best wishes to 'Beans' Reardon, / the greatest umpire ever lived, / Sincerely, / Norman Rockwell
John "Beans" Reardon, gift from the above;
By descent from the above.
L. Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, p. 181, fig. C448 (completed work).
For more than half a century, Norman Rockwell charmed a nation with his engaging meditations on the American experience for The Saturday Evening Post, his paintings informed both by the precepts of photorealism and his personal belief that reality should not be the sole guiding ethic.
"I unconsciously decided that, even if it wasn't an ideal world, it should be so and painted only the ideal aspects of it--pictures in which there are no drunken slatterns or self-centered mothers," the artist explained. "Only foxy grandpas who played baseball with kids and boys who fished from logs and got up circuses in the back yard."
Though few of Rockwell's works are overtly patriotic, his depictions of American life in the twentieth century are visual love songs, celebrating wide-eyed innocence, puppy love, youthful mischief and, in some of his most popular paintings, our national pastime. His final version of the March 2, 1957 cover of The Saturday Evening Post entitled, "The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)" commanded $22,565,000 in a March 2014 auction. Other noteworthy baseball works include "The Dugout," created for the September 3, 1948 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, and "Gee, Thanks, Brooks!," a commission for Adirondack bats featuring Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson.
The offered creation is the study for a painting that appeared upon the April 23, 1949 cover of The Saturday Evening Post, a work that now resides in the permanent collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Arguably the most famous of all baseball-related Rockwells, the painting is officially entitled, "Tough Call," but is known alternately as both "Game Called Because of Rain, Bottom of the Sixth" and "The Three Umpires."
Rockwell approached each of his Post covers with the careful planning of a military campaign, hiring photographers, and occasionally models, in order to capture the disparate elements of his composition. Baseball historians have been able to determine, from the cast of characters that appears in the final version, that the genesis of the work appears to be a September 14, 1948 doubleheader between the hometown Dodgers and visiting Pittsburgh Pirates at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.
The central focus of the work is the three black-clad umpires who pause the game action to consider the threat of an approaching storm. From left to right, those men are identified as base umpire Larry Goetz, home plate umpire John "Beans" Reardon, and base umpire Lou Jorda. Dodgers coach Clyde Sukeforth is largely obscured by the assembled trio as he points to the heavens, while Pirates manager Billy Meyer--properly attired in the final version but dressed in red here--strikes a nervous pose as he listens. Ebbets Field's unmistakable scoreboard and advertising-laden outfield wall serve as a colorful backdrop.
Intriguingly, this oil on paper work actually represents a truer version of Rockwell's intent for the composition than the famous final product on display at Cooperstown, as that magazine cover art was altered by another Post illustrator without Rockwell's consent, removing brand names from equipment, darkening the Pirates uniforms and making adjustments to the weather. Rockwell dashed off an angry letter to the editors upon learning of these unauthorized alterations, complaining about "the piece of sky added when I still feel it was better as I conceived and painted it." The Post took the objection from its top artistic ace seriously, changing its editorial policy as a result.
But the composition remains so similar to the final product that the family initially believed this was merely a print when they contacted Heritage with an inquiry. It was only a telephone conversation with the owners, and a subsequent examination of the piece, that the full importance came to light.
At approximately 16x15" in dimension, this work is more than double the size of Rockwell's study for "Triple Self Portrait" that commanded over $1.3 million just months ago in Heritage's American Art Signature Auction #5286. The painting is affixed to a backing board similar to Masonite, and housed in its original matting which bears a thrilling inscription to the primary subject: "My best wishes to 'Beans' Reardon, the greatest umpire ever lived, Sincerely, Norman Rockwell." Framing completes the dimensions at 29x27.5".
The top right corner of the painting has lifted slightly from its backing board, and the original, signed mat exhibits toning commensurate with age, but otherwise the piece is unchanged from its state of condition as ownership was transferred from Rockwell to Reardon. Letter of provenance from Reardon family. Full LOA from PSA/DNA. Auction LOA from SGC Authentic.
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