NEW YORK -- A Norman Rockwell painting titled Saying Grace sold at an auction on Wednesday for $46 million, a record for the Saturday Evening Post illustrator and for any work sold at an American art auction, Sotheby's said.
Two people on the telephone bid against each other for nine minutes before the hammer came down, the auction house said. The buyer's identity wasn't disclosed.
The painting had a pre-sale estimate of $15 million to $20 million. In 2006, the auction house sold Rockwell's Breaking Home Ties for more than $15 million, then a record.
The previous record for any work at an auction of American art was set in 1999, when George Bellows' painting Polo Crowd sold at Sotheby's for $27.7 million, the auction house said.
Another Rockwell painting, The Gossips, sold Wednesday for just under $8.5 million, while a third, Walking to Church, fetched a little more than $3.2 million.
For nearly two decades, all three had been on loan at the Norman Rockwell Museum in his hometown of Stockbridge, Mass. The museum has the world's largest collection of original Rockwell art.
Rockwell was paid $3,500 for Saying Grace, which appeared on the cover of the magazine's Thanksgiving issue in 1951 and was voted Post readers' favourite cover in a 1955 poll.
The auction record for a work by any American artist goes to Andy Warhol's painting Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), which sold at Sotheby's last month for $105 million.
-- The Associated Press