A previously unknown Norman Rockwell baseball painting could fetch more than $300,000 at Heritage Auctions next month, having been ‘lost’ for almost 70 years.
When experts from the Dallas auction house were called to value a signed Norman Rockwell print, they were amazed to discover it was actually an original painting by the renowned artist.
The oil-on-paper work is a study for one of Rockwell’s most famous baseball paintings, ‘Tough Call’, otherwise known as ‘Bottom of the Sixth’ or ‘The Three Umpires’.
The 1948 work depicts three baseball umpires preparing to cancel a game due to rain, during a doubleheader game at Ebbets Field between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The finished work appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on April 23, 1949, and is regarded as perhaps his most famous baseball painting.
The original now resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, but Rockwell gifted his initial study to John ‘Beans’ Reardon, one of the umpires featured in the painting, along with the inscription:
"My best wishes to ‘Beans’ Reardon, the greatest umpire ever lived, Sincerely, Norman Rockwell."
Reardon was a renowned baseball umpire who worked in the National League for more than 20 years.
He officiated five World Series and three All-Star Games before retiring in 1949, and was known as "the last of the cussin’ umpires", due to his fondness of trading on-field insults with the players.
For years the artwork had passed down through Reardon’s family, with the umpire’s descendants believing it to be a signed print, rather than an original painting.
Having authenticated as the real deal, the painting will now cross the auction block as part of the Heritage Sports Collectibles Platinum Night sale on August 18-19.
"The Rockwell discovery is a wonderful story and we expect this work to do quite well considering the broad interest across sports, art and Rockwell enthusiasts," said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage.
Prices of Rockwell’s original paintings have soared in recent years, and the painting could well exceed its estimate.
Back in March 2014, his baseball-themed ‘The Rookie (Red Sox Locker Room)’, painted in 1957, sold at auction for an incredible $22,565,000.