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Press Release - November 13, 2020

A Historic Opportunity to Own Norman Rockwell’s Original Study for His April 1963 Portrait of President John Kennedy

Heritage Auctions is proud to present this early version of the illustrator's unforgettable Saturday Evening Post cover


Norman Rockwell study of John F. Kennedy Heritage Auctions
DALLAS, Texas (Nov. 13, 2020) — The first time John Kennedy sat for a Norman Rockwell portrait, he was a 43-year-old two-term senator from Massachusetts still seeking the highest office in the land.

The illustrator had been asked by The Saturday Evening Post to paint both presidential candidates of 1960, Kennedy and Richard Nixon, and was dispatched to the Kennedy residence in Hyannis Port to get to know his subject. The result, Rockwell would later say, was a portrait of a man whose expression was "serious with a certain dignity, but relaxed and pleasant, not hard." The radiant painting, later reproduced innumerable times, first appeared on the Oct. 29, 1960, issue of The Post -- then, again, on Dec. 14, 1963, surrounded by a mournful black box.

The second time Rockwell painted John Fitzgerald Kennedy was in the spring of 1963, as part of a series of Post covers depicting world leaders grappling with mounting crises in their regions. Kennedy's woes by then were myriad, ranging from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the escalating conflict in Vietnam to his tenuous relationships with some world leaders. The headline for that issue presented "A Worried President: The Crisis in His Foreign Policy."

Rockwell's painting of the president for the April, 6, 1963, Post cover is anything but relaxed, radiant or pleasant.

This piece, committed to large-weave canvas imitating a photograph's pixels, is muted, with the young president rendered in brown and gold, as though obscured by shadow and lit by fading sunset. Kennedy's brow is furrowed; his chin rests upon his right hand, suggesting a man lost in thought and worry. The work is meditative, somber, tense — very much in keeping with Rockwell's later works that suggested yesterday's golden promises were today's broken ones.

Heritage Auctions is extraordinarily proud to bring to market for the very first time Norman Rockwell's original study for The Saturday Evening Post's April 6, 1963, cover — which looks almost identical to the finished piece, save, in part, for his notation above his signature that this is but a "preliminary sketch." Heritage has made this cherished image a centerpiece of the Dallas-based auction house's Dec. 3 American Art event.

It has been seen in public only once, in 1988, when it was displayed at the Bennington Museum in Vermont as part of its "Paintings by Norman Rockwell" exhibition. Since then it has resided in Philadelphia with a collector now eager to share this storied piece of American art with a new owner.

"Seeing it for the first time was a very emotional experience," says Aviva Lehmann, Heritage Auctions' New York-based Vice President and Director of American Art. "When I was first notified of it, I stood up and said, 'Oh, my God, I know this image.' Because we all do. Seeing it, I got goosebumps."

According to Rockwell's son Tom, with whom the artist wrote his autobiography My Adventures as an Illustrator, Norman said little privately of his time with Kennedy — only that "he was moved by his assassination," Tom wrote, "sharing the feeling of many that his death had cut off a chance for a new idealism."

Rockwell's paintings of Kennedy, those done before his death and after, are how many remember both men. They are as cemented in the collective memory as Gilbert Stuart's Lansdowne portrait of George Washington done in 1796, Rembrandt Peale's 1800 painting of Thomas Jefferson and George Peter Alexander Healy's painting of a pensive Abraham Lincoln from 1869 in which another slain president strikes almost an identical pose as Kennedy's.

Rockwell, of course, painted several presidents and politicians, among them Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan. Each one he imbued with warmth, hope, faith, struggle; each one made them more human, seemingly, than any photograph. But there was something particularly impactful about his April 1963 rendering of Kennedy. As our online catalog notes, that particular Post cover "allowed Americans to believe that Kennedy was one of them, working hard, even agonizing on occasion, to make the world a better place."

Norman Rockwell study of John F. Kennedy Heritage Auctions
The illustrator knew that his portrayals of presidents "often swayed the public's view of that president," Lehmann says. "To that end, a lot of people will look at this portrait of Kennedy and feel like they have a leader in this image. You feel his struggle; you see the weight of the world on his shoulders. This painting is more than just American art. It's American history. I will admit: I felt very emotional seeing it. It lifted me up. And it took my breath away."

Heritage Auctions is the largest fine art and collectibles auction house founded in the United States, and the world's largest collectibles auctioneer. Heritage maintains offices in New York, Dallas, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach, London, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.

Heritage also enjoys the highest Online traffic and dollar volume of any auction house on earth (source: SimilarWeb and Hiscox Report). The Internet's most popular auction-house website,, has more than 1,250,000 registered bidder-members and searchable free archives of five million past auction records with prices realized, descriptions and enlargeable photos. Reproduction rights routinely granted to media for photo credit.

Robert Wilonsky, Director, Corporate Communications

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