Norman Rockwell’s only painting of Hawaii sells for $1.625 million


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Photos: Courtesy Christie's

The American illustrator Norman Rockwell is famous for his depictions of everyday life, but in 1956 the east coast stalwart came to Hawaii and rendered something a little more tropical.  Set against the iconic backdrop of Diamond Head, close inspection of the painting, called The Thing to Do With Life is Live It! (Outrigger Canoe), reveals the rowers’ shorts bearing The Outrigger Canoe Club’s logo and vacationers decked out in full aloha gear, clumsily leaning against the momentum of the canoe.

The painting had previously been owned by a private collector in Hawaii, but was sold off today to an anonymous buyer at the hammer price of $1,625,000—much higher than its $800K to $1.2 million valuation by Christie’s. The painting was mostly staged on the beach outside the Outrigger, though the vacationers in the painting were re-staged in Florida after Rockwell decided he was unhappy with the results. Exploiting small moments of embarrassment or discomfort was a playful hallmark of Rockwell’s work, common to his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post.

Unfortunately, not much is known about the few days Rockwell spent on Oahu, but it did leave a a lasting impression on him. Regarding the tradition of being presented with a lei, he later remarked, “It’s an interesting custom, the way they decorate you when you come to Hawaii. They don’t even ask whether you have allergies or not.”

The trip, and the work Rockwell created here, was commissioned by the ad agency J. Walter Thompson for its new client, aviation giant Pan Am. It’s perhaps surprising, then, that the painting Rockwell produced featured no planes. As Christie’s senior specialist in American art Elizabeth Beaman explains, “The point of the Rockwell ads was less about the aircraft and more about encouraging people to travel.”

Because the buyer wishes to stay anonymous, it is unknown whether the painting will stay in Hawaii.

 

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