Yesterday, Jeanette and I visited the exhibition “Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera,” and we made an interesting discovery that apparently no one has noticed before.
A painting on exhibit, which purports to be the well-known 1953 Post cover “Soda Jerk” is not what it appears to be.
Have a look for yourself. On the left is a photograph of the original painting in the show. It is owned by the Columbus Museum of Art. According to the official Columbus Museum website, it "appeared in the August 22, 1953 issue" of The Saturday Evening Post.” On the right is a photograph of the actual tearsheet.
Notice the differences. In the CMA painting at left, there’s a red leash on the dog that doesn’t appear in the finished work. The CMA version lacks tiles on the floor, the view out the window is much more green, and the juke box is green, rather than brown.
In this closeup, the CMA version (left) lacks the menu behind the napkin holder. Overall, the painting is much looser and sketchier. Pencil lines are clearly visible throughout.
I believe it is an alternate version that Rockwell abandoned for an unknown reason after what he called “the color layin.” (Guptill, 1946, p. 204)
If you compare the signature on the CMA version (above) to the one that appears on the published version (below), note that the x-height, spacing, and baselines of the red signature are far beneath Rockwell’s standard. Rockwell typically didn’t sign his abandoned versions.
It's possible that the signature on the Columbus Museum painting was forged by another hand, though it would take sleuth-work from a conservator to know for sure. There's no doubt in my mind that the rest of the work is authentically painted by Rockwell.
In the Norman Rockwell Album (1961, p. 134) Rockwell mentions that “I painted this cover twice.” But the alternate version he refers to appears to be a third version, which includes a man in the foreground that is missing in both of these.
Apparently, the authentic published original remains unlocated. I hope that more light will be shed on this mystery.
More about the exhibition at the NRM site.
Image licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL