Whether you think this is fine art or illustration, Norman Rockwell’s Which One? (Undecided; Man in Voting Booth) will be a major highlight of the 21 November 2016 auction of American Art at Sotheby’s New York. The painting estimated to sell for $4/6 million was originally commissioned as a cover for the now defunct Saturday Evening Post magazine. It depicts the public sentiment leading up to the presidential election of 1944, in which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran against Thomas E. Dewey, this painting epitomises Rockwell’s signature style, combining relatability and intellect, humour and all-American pride.
Focusing on the US presidential election of 1944, a hotly-contested race between Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, running for his fourth term, and Republican Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York, Which One? is a superb example of Norman Rockwell’s ability to highlight issues at the forefront of national discourse in a relatable manner. With questions of foreign and domestic policy, as well as the general health of the incumbent, being called into question, Americans rallied to vote, taking part in an essential, American experience.
The painting’s subject is a Cedar Rapids resident representing the millions of undecided voters across the country. Having educated himself with political pamphlets and newspapers, the former jammed in his pocket and the latter still grasped in his hand, the voter continues to weigh his options. While the image alone would have resonated with citizens throughout the United States, Norman Rockwell’s keen attention to detail, demonstrated by the fine print of The Cedar Rapids Gazette and the man’s bemused expression, brings this undecided voter to life. Furthermore, by balancing the composition and creating a sense of depth, one feels that he or she could step into the painting and into the shoes of the Cedar Rapids voter.
Which One? (Undecided; Man in Voting Booth) embodies the best of Norman Rockwell and his ability to capture American life. Having been in the same collection for over three decades, the November auction of American Art offers a rare opportunity for collectors and institutions to acquire a quintessential work by one of America’s most beloved painters of the 20th Century.
Norman Rockwell was, and continues to be, America’s storyteller. Best known for his covers for The Saturday Evening Post, his works of art captured the zeitgeist of the day, including patriotism, racism, and national security. In fact, with the public’s reliance on daily newspapers and weekly magazines like The Post for information and regular updates, his paintings were an integral part of the conversation. Capturing them with warmth, wit and a sense of humor, Norman Rockwell appealed to the average American. In the words of Thomas S. Buechner, “because [Rockwell] illustrates them using familiar people in familiar setting with wonderful accuracy, he continue to grow as new generations live through the same quintessentially American types of experiences that he so faithfully depicted in his art” (Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective, New York, 1972, p. 13).
Acquired by the Phipps Family in the 1980s, the painting will be exhibited in New York starting 4 November 2016 alongside Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art, before the American Art auction on 21 November, when it is estimated to sell for $4/6 million. A major exhibition of Rockwell’s work was mounted at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2011