New York–A painting commissioned to help elevate the image of Swiss watchmakers around the globe sold for $7.3 million at auction Tuesday.
“What Makes It Tick? (The Watchmaker),” a painting from Norman Rockwell, topped its pre-sale estimate of $6 million when it hit the auction block as part of the American Art sale at Christie’s New York.
In 1948, The Watchmakers of Switzerland, now known as the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), wanted to launch a global marketing campaign to get Swiss watchmaking in front of broader audience.
They were looking for an artist who could do that with maximum impact utilizing just one image.
Norman Rockwell, the preeminent American illustrator, fit the bill perfectly.
He had traveled to Europe to study the art of Pablo Picasso and was aware of the move toward Modernism in America by artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, according to Christie’s.
The full view of “What Makes It Tick? (The Watchmaker)” by Norman Rockwell
Despite the artistic trends at the time, Rockwell chose to pursue a career as an illustrator, producing more than 800 magazine covers and becoming as ubiquitous to the American public as the images he created.
In addition to his magazine covers, he also was sought after for his story illustrations and advertisements.
The commission from The Watchmakers of Switzerland was high profile given it was slated to run in over a number of years in The Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine and to be displayed in jewelry stores across the world.
The Watchmaker kept his signature Rockwell style, and also had a significance for the artist.
His grandfather, Samuel, was apprenticed when he was just 15 to a watchmaker and jeweler in Manhattan. After 12 years in the role, he bought the business and developed it, putting himself in a position to eventually sell it so that he could then establish a real estate business just north of New York City, in Yonkers.
The artist referred to The Watchmaker painting as “One of my best, I think,” in his autobiographical book “The Norman Rockwell Album.”
It was one of a number of Rockwell paintings to appear in the Christie’s American Art sale, which totaled $34.1 million and also included works from Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Moran and Milton Avery.
The full list of results can be found on Christies.com.