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The painting above garnered Norman Rockwell a plum $3,500 in 1951, when he sold it to The Saturday Evening Post for the magazine's Thanksgiving issue. Today it sold at a New York auction for $46 million, the most that's ever been paid for a Rockwell painting.

The only wrinkle is that the Norman Rockwell Museum in western Massachusetts would rather the painting return to their collection, where it's been on loan for "at least over a decade," according to Jeremy Clowe, Manager of Media Services.

"We hold the world's largest collection of original Norman Rockwell artwork," Clowe told The Wire after the auction today. "We feel we're a perfect forum to showcase the existing paintings that are out there."

Those paintings include not only the $46 million "Saying Grace," but also "The Gossips," which also sold today for nearly $8.5 million, and "Walking to Church," which sold for a little over $3.2 million. All three were owned by the family of Kenneth Stuart, longtime art director of the Post. But the new owners' identities haven't yet been disclosed.

"The person that has the one bid on the painting might feel that they want to share it to the public again and they might loan it to the museum again," Clowe said. "That would be wonderful. There are many works out there that haven't been on view at the museum, [and] we'd like to be able to exhibit as many as possible."

Some works, for instance, end up in the hands of high-profile Rockwell collectors like George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, Clowe said. But "we're a perfect venue for that, and we have a weather- and temperature-controlled environment for the paintings."

Director Laurie Norton Moffatt similarly told AP that "we believe [the museum is] where they belong." But in an interview with The Wire, she stressed that she's pleased with the massive sale even if the paintings don't return. "We are so thrilled to see that the market value of the Rockwell work is commensurate with the value we've always believed Rockwell to be to the country," she said.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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