Illustrator Norman Rockwell's 'Saying Grace,' 'Walking to Church' to Be Auctioned

Three of the famous illustrator Norman Rockwell's most iconic masterpieces will be heading to auction at Sotheby's in New York City in December after spending nearly two decades on loan at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

The three illustrations to go on auction at the legendary fine art collection and auction house include Rockwell's classic 1953 Saturday Evening Post cover "Walking to Church," his greatly beloved 1951 cover "Saying Grace" and his 1948 Post cover illustration "The Gossips." The three well-known works will join four lesser-known pieces by Rockwell on sale at Sotheby's on December 4.

Rockwell's "Saying Grace" is considered by many to be his masterpiece. The illustration features a family of four, including an elderly woman, a young boy, and two adolescents, bowing their heads in prayer before dining at a crowded city restaurant. The illustration appeared on the cover of the Nov. 24, 1951 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, and has been interpreted by many as portraying a family dining on Thanksgiving in an unconventional scene.

According to the Associated Press, Rockwell's "Saying Grace" is expected to fetch between $15 million and $20 million at the Sotheby's auction, although Rockwell was initially paid a mere $3,500 when he first created the work in 1951. The oil illustration is a favorite of many Rockwell enthusiasts; it was voted a Saturday Evening Post reader's favorite cover in a 1955 poll.

The next great Rockwell piece to go up for auction in December is the April 4, 1952 cover illustration "Walking to Church" that shows a family, the men and boys dressed in blue outfits and the women wearing pink dresses, walking down an empty city street on their way to church on a Sunday. This piece is reportedly expected to fetch far less than the popular "Saying Grace," but could still fetch between $3 million to $5 million.

The third well-known illustration to be auctioned is "The Gossips," created for the March 6, 1948 cover of the bi-monthly American magazine. The piece shows several different illustrations of people speaking with each other, either by talking on the phone, pointing fingers, or laughing. Rockwell reportedly created this illustration after a neighbor in his town of Arlington, Vermont started a disagreeable rumor about him. Therefore, the faces in the illustration are all based on the actual residents of Rockwell's town, and to avoid offending anyone, Rockwell included himself and his wife in the illustration. This piece is expected to rake-in $6 million to $9 million.

Rockwell's iconic pieces are leaving their home at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. and heading to Sotheby's after the illustrations' owners, members of the Stuart family, decided to sell them. The family members are the sons of Kenneth Stuart, Rockwell's art director who gave the artist his assignments from World War II until the eve of the Vietnam War.

The three Stuart brothers became involved in a bitter legal battle over official ownership of the Rockwell pieces two years ago. Now, Jonathan Stuart, one of the sons, told the New York Times that it's "time to move forward" and sell the paintings.

Rockwell became an iconic American illustrator adept at portraying the hominess of American life through his 322 covers for The Saturday Evening Post before he died in 1978.