When The Saturday Evening Post polled its readers in 1955 which illustration of Norman Rockwell they liked the most, the majority called the Saying Grace painting. This work was made for Thanksgiving and for many years it remained the personification of the holy holiday for Americans.
Published in the magazine in 1951, the illustration by Norman Rockwell accurately conveyed the atmosphere of the post-war America and was accompanied by the text: “Our world is not the happiest place today.” The Second World War turned the minds of people and once again proved how transient is this raging world. Confusion, fear and hopelessness came after the worldwide chaos- — the inexorable consequences of war. Rockwell’s painting answered many questions of the Americans: after going through violence and cruelty, how to maintain faith in love and kindness and where to get the strength to trust people again and look to the future with hope? The answer came to the liking of many Americans — the artist sees the source of strength in a prayer of gratitude coming from the very heart for the gift of life.
The idea for the story came from one of the readers of The Saturday Evening Post. In 1950, Mrs. Earl wrote to the artist about the experience of witnessing a scene. She told that she “observed a plain young woman with a little boy of about five. They walked by her with food-laden trays, laughing and happy to be in the restaurant. They took off their coats, hung them up and returned to their table at which two men were already seated, ‘shoving in their lunch’. The young woman and boy folded their hands, bowed their heads and, for two minutes, said Grace”.
Impressed by the story, Rockwell painted this scene as authentically as if he had seen it himself, but for greater expressiveness, instead of a young woman, the artist depicted a grandmother with a grandson. Every time the artist came up with an idea, he was seized by a pathological passion for perfection and the Saying Grace painting, like many others, was carefully planned.
The scene was first played out in a café in Time Square, Manhattan. Unhappy with the photographs taken there, Rockwell chose another café at the station, and in order to accurately depict the situation, he even brought tables and chairs from the café to his studio (the first version of the picture).
An insatiable desire for authenticity led him to photograph the yard of the railway station in Rensellar, near New York, which is visible outside the window in the final version.
In his work on the painting, Rockwell, as usual, acted as the play director: he came with a scene, selected models, entourage and, in addition to preparatory sketches, took a hundred photos. He believed that photography conveys spontaneity and expression very well. In this painting, Rockwell even used the photographers’ deep focus trick to obtain the hyper-realistic clarity of the foreground and the background. For the painting, his favourite models posed for the artist: a young man sitting with his back to the window was the artist’s eldest son Jerry, next to him Rockwell’s student, Don Winslow sat at the table with a cigarette.
Norman Rockwell’s Saying Grace painting became the most expensive work of American realist art — in 2013, it was sold at Sotheby’s for $ 46 million.