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Sale 2495 Lot 128
"The Pharmacist." Study for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, published March 18, 1939, featuring one of his favorite models, James K. Van Brunt. Conte crayon on brown paper archivally mounted to board. 419x495 mm; 16 1/2x19 1/2 inches, on 19 1/2x22-inch board. Unsigned. Recently professionally restored. Laid into matte; framed.
Estimate $70,000 - 100,000
"That certainly is the finest mustache I've ever seen" exclaimed Rockwell on a sweltering June day in 1924 when a petite Van Brunt materialized at his studio door. "I offer it, sir, and myself, as a model." Considered one of the luckiest days of his life, Rockwell recalled "What a face! And mine, I gloated, all mine. That knobby nose, thick and square at the end with a bump in the middle; those big, sad, dog eyes which, however, burned with a fierce warlike sparkle; that mustache. And all crammed together in a small, narrow head so that if you glanced at him quickly that was all you saw -- eyes, nose, and mustache" - Norman Rockwell, "My Adventures as an Illustrator," page 202-203.
In the hours spent together as model and artist, the tiny and bombastic Van Brunt endeared himself to Rockwell. He spent countless hours listening to Van Brunt reminisce about his services in Great Sioux War, battling the Confederate Army at Antietam, and spoiling his beloved late wife at the World's Columbian Exposition.
Eventually, the editor of The Saturday Evening Post, George Lorimer, complained about the frequency with which Rockwell was using his septuagenarian muse and forbid him using Van Brunt's likeness for covers. In a creative act of rebellion, Rockwell continued to use Van Brunt throughout the remainder of the 1920s by constructing compositions to carefully obstruct his model's face and finally paying him $10 to shave.
By the time "The Pharmacist" was created, both Lorimer and Van Brunt had passed and Rockwell's process began to rely more and more on photo references. It is likely that he repurposed long-forgotten images of Van Brunt to depict his friend one last time as a serious, yet slightly unkempt alchemist with a remarkable mustache.
"My Adventures as an Illustrator" Norman Rockwell (New York: Harry Abrams, Inc, 1988).