By Jess Groves, features staff writer
He never saw a day of action on the battlefield, yet his work in wartime America changed the face of the country. Illustrator Norman Rockwell’s “Willie Gillis Food Package From Home” sold for $2.8 million at Susanin’s Auctions in Chicago on Saturday.
That $2.8 million would have been worth about $186,000 in 1941, the year Rockwell painted “Food Package From Home.” Pictured is Gillis, a fictional solider who, Rockwell said, was “the little guy” Americans could root for. Rockwell modeled Gillis after his own acquaintance, Robert Otis “Bob” Buck.
Rockwell became a military artist during World War I after attempting to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He painted the wartime career of Gillis.
Many of the Post’s 4 million subscribers wrote letters to the editor thinking that Willis was a real soldier. Luckily for them, Willie Gillis made it through the war.
One of Rockwell’s most famous paintings is “Rosie the Riveter,” which sold for nearly $5 million at auction in 2002. Auctioneers expected “Food Package From Home” to sell at the same price. In 2006 Rockwell’s “Breaking Home Ties,” a portrait of a boy leaving home for the first time, was sold to an anonymous buyer for $15.4 million.
Emily Betts Susanin, the marketing and communications director at Chicago’s Susanin’s Auctions, told Reuters that the sale was great news for the auction house. In 1991, Vincent van Gogh’s “Still Life With Flowers” sold for $1.43 million. “Food Package From Home” nearly doubled van Gogh’s record Chicago auction sale.