DescriptionNorman Rockwell (American, 1894-1978)
Mother Tucking Children into Bed (Mother's Little Angels), Literary Digest cover, January 29, 1921
Oil on canvas
28-1/2 x 24-1/4 inches (72.4 x 61.6 cm)
Signed lower right: Norman / Rockwell
Rudolph E. Leppert, Literary Digest Editor, gift from the above, 1921;
By descent to the present owner.
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 2016-2019.
L.N. Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, pp. 54-55, no. C144, illustrated.
From the time I was born until I had my own children, I woke up every morning with Norman Rockwell's "Mother Tucking Children Into Bed" -- also known as "Mother's Little Angels"-- on the wall facing my bed. Later, it was my younger daughter's turn to wake up each morning facing it in her bedroom; we all grew up with the feeling that Norman Rockwell was a member of our family.
The painting was commissioned in 1920 by my grandfather, Rudolph Edward Leppert Sr., the Art Editor of the Literary Digest, for the cover of its January 29, 1921 issue. He and Rockwell were good friends and fellow painters. Yes, my grandfather was also an illustrator and painter, and one can see an example of his work in the portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the cover of the October 8, 1932 issue of the Literary Digest.
Grandpa was among the first to recognize Rockwell's talent. He encouraged the younger painter to persevere in his art, sponsoring him and commissioning him to illustrate many Literary Digest covers, as well as many covers of the Saturday Evening Post. Their collaboration and friendship led them to exchange paintings, and Rockwell often used members of both our families as models in his work.
For years, a digital copy of "Mother Tucking Children Into Bed" was used as a centerpiece on Mother's Day at the Rockwell Museum. The painting was Rockwell's expression of his intense wish to have children of his own with his wife Irene, the model of the beautiful mother in it -- a wish that sadly remained just that. It was this that may have, according to my mother, Mary Jack Folsom Leppert, contributed to their divorce in January 1930, and a depression Rockwell subsequently suffered.
"Mother Tucking Children Into Bed," the expression of his most ardent wish, hung on a wall of Rockwell's atelier; after he and Irene divorced, he offered it to my grandfather, who gave it to his son, Rudolph Edward Leppert Jr., my father, and it remained in our family ever since.
--Elizabeth F L Gerteiny
Few images hold the same sense of nostalgia in the American consciousness than that of a mother tucking her little children into bed at night. Similarly, few artists have ever captivated the nation's imagination as adeptly as America's most beloved illustrator, Norman Rockwell. From his earliest advertisements to his patriotic World War II magazine covers, Rockwell was a virtuoso in his ability to capture the essence of American culture and a view of a more innocent time in our country's history.
Between 1918 and 1923, The Literary Digest featured Rockwell artwork on its cover forty-seven times. Painted in 1921, Mother Tucking Children into Bed (Mother's Little Angels), Rockwell's most iconic and best-known Literary Digest cover, depicts Rockwell's first wife, Irene O'Connor, as the model for the mother, tucking her two rosy-cheeked cherubs into bed, safe and sound. The painting was gifted by the artist in 1921 to Rudolph E. Leppert, famed Literary Digest editor, and has remained in the family to this day.
Within his magazine oeuvre, Rockwell's covers for The Literary Digest are exceptional in their focus on girls and women, usually within a family context. Despite major advances in the women's reform movement by the 1920s, symbolized by the liberated flapper, The Literary Digest, as a general-interest news periodical, appealed to a mainstream audience, and Rockwell followed suit with his imagery. Perfectly groomed girls either respond to the call of duty (Girl Returning from Summer Trip, Girl Scout Saluting) or interact with elderly figures, absorbing their wisdom (The Toy Maker, Little Girl Reading to Grandfather, Girl Sewing Old Man's Jacket). And women embrace their roles as mothers, guardians of morality and domesticity (Mother Sending Children Off to School, Mother and Daughter Singing in Church, Mother Reading to Child by Fire (fig. 1), Mother Sending Boy Back to War).
More than any other Literary Digest cover-and arguably any of his paintings-Mother Tucking Children into Bed celebrates the vision of moral or sentimental motherhood crafted during the Victorian period and flourishing well into the twentieth century. In Victorian white, middle-class ideology, the "world [was] divided into separate but complementary spheres: whereas women relied upon men for economic support and physical protection, men depended on women to nurture their bodies and guard their souls" (R. Plant, Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America, Chicago, 2010, p. 8). Once a woman achieved her ultimate goal of becoming a mother, she "automatically metamorphosed into an angel filled with altruistic devotion to her offspring" (Ibid., 4). "Mother love" necessitated self-sacrifice, the shaping of children's moral and civic development, and homemaking, not wage earning.
Mother Tucking Children into Bed exudes sentimental motherhood. The focal point of the composition is mother, Household Angel, whose head is offset by a halo of light from the lamp on the bureau. She softly, adoringly hums to her "little angels" as she secures them in crisp white sheets, her immaculate laundry product of the day. Rockwell transforms the bedroom into a nurturing cocoon by encircling it with a trompe l'oeil quilt, literally framing a picture of domestic bliss. This is mother's preferred domain-no fathers allowed-and yet her wedding ring, wristwatch, and apron signal that it is time for her to leave and serve her husband dinner down the hall.
As part of the moral development of her children, the traditional mother worked to ensure that they felt safe and unafraid at all times, particularly at night. Not surprisingly, elaborate bedtime rituals arose during the nineteenth century to ease children's transition into sleep: changing them into pajamas, reading stories, reciting nursery rhymes, singing lullabies, drawing the curtains shut, saying prayers, and tucking them into bed with a protective blanket or stuffed animal. Of especial concern was the child's fear of the dark and its accompanying "bogies and ghosts," and Victorian parenting manuals advised that "lamps and night-lights should be placed wherever the little sufferer is likely to be exposed to fright" (Cassells Household Guide, "The Rearing and Management of Children, 1880s, online source).
Perfectly attended to by mother, the little cherubs in Mother Tucking Children into Bed easily fall asleep beneath the warm glow of a hurricane lamp. Interestingly, Rockwell's other main client in 1921 was Edison Mazda Lampworks, for whom he produced twenty advertisements touting the virtues of electric lighting. These paintings accentuate the same dramatic chiaroscuro effects-and often props--as the present work. In fact, in the bedtime Children Saying Prayers, Rockwell includes the same teddy bear, and in And Every Lad May Be Aladdin (fig. 2), he sentimentalizes a boy reading by lamplight in bed, nestled under the same quilt.
In Mother Tucking Children into Bed, Rockwell further emphasizes the traditional mother's domestic and civic responsiblities through the colorful patchwork quilt. As far back as the colonial era, the quilt epitomized the domestic arts mastered by women, as men had the only access to fine art schools. Piecing together a quilt from household fabrics was, much like motherhood, a "labor of love," requiring long hours, patience, ingenuity, and collaboration with other women. Like a child, the finished product, while unique, was intended to be utilitarian and rooted in community values.
Indeed, for centuries, the patchwork quilt symbolized America itself, a country of motley immigrants stitched together into a beautiful, functional whole. By quilting together, women represented their own microcosm of America. Through quilts, they exercised their patriotism by commemorating societal or historical events, from births and weddings to wars and deaths.
Not lost on Rockwell, quilts, in their pioneer roots, connoted America of a simpler, more innocent time. In the present lot, he ingeniously utilizes the quilt to parallel the important roles of traditional mother and "America's illustrator." Within the composition, mother wraps her children in a quilt, metaphorically imparting to them a sense of civic pride and duty. So, too, does Rockwell "secure" the entire picture with a trompe-l'oeil patchwork quilt frame, reminding the viewer that comfort, success, morality, and protection abide within the framework of the middle-class American family.
Heritage is honored to present this impeccable masterwork for sale for the first time since its inception.
Estimate: $1,800,000 - $2,400,000.
This painting is in good overall original condition.
It remains structurally unaltered and is stretched by the artist on an unkeyable frame liner.
The painting has been cleaned removing overpaint, a layer of soot, dirt and yellow resin
varnish. Inpaint is present corresponding to two small old repairs located at lower left and
center. Inpaint is also present corresponding to select shrinkage cracks and scattered small
Minor artist change and small areas of old overpaint were also adjusted. A protective layer
of synthetic resin varnish has been applied.
Buyer's Premium per Lot:
25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 12.5% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.