The Norman Rockwell painting "Saying Grace" on Wednesday exceeded the most optimistic expectations, bringing $46 million in an auction at Sotheby's and setting an auction price record for a U.S. painting.

"Saying Grace," an oil on canvas work painted in 1951, had remained for the past 20 years in the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

The piece shows a little boy and a woman praying before a meal in a restaurant full of people.

This image had been displayed on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, where Rockwell worked as an illustrator, and it was voted by readers as the best of all those that the artist created for the magazine.

Regarding the prices that other works by Rockwell have sold for, the $46 million paid for "Saying Grace" practically triples his previous record and on Wednesday seven works by the artist were sold for a total of $59.6 million.

"The Gossips" brought $8.5 million and "Walking to Church" was sold for more than $3.2 million.

Rockwell (1894-1978), besides being an illustrator and painter, also worked as a photographer and stood out by moving away from avant-garde trends to focus on a style replete with local custom and common wisdom and often containing a dose of dry wit. EFE