Thursday, October 24, 2013

'Bernadette' surfaces

Jennifer Jones as Bernadette Soubirous, 1943 
St. Bernadette hung in the
Chalon Library until 1986.
SHE GRACED A CONFERENCE ROOM in the Chalon library and was a familiar presence to Mount students for nearly 40 years. She was the subject of one of American portraitist Norman Rockwell's most famous and beloved works, and an emblem of one of the world's great pilgrimage sites -- Lourdes.

She was Jennifer Jones as Bernadette Soubirous in 1943 drama Song of Bernadette (based on the novel by Fritz Werfel)The 28- by 53-inch oil painting was Rockwell's study for the movie posters that made Jones and St. Bernadette famous. Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal.

At some point before 1950 the portrait was donated to Mount St. Mary's College -- a spectacular addition to the still-new Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library. Although the circumstances of the donation are lost, it was a rare and wonderful gift to a small college.

Sad to say, our portrait of St. B was sold in 1986. The Mount needed funds. College treasures were located, inventoried and appraised and reluctantly placed on the auction block. A black-tie gala and silent auction was held in the Doheny Mansion on May 10 that year, and among the proceeds were $10,000 (according to oral history, anyway) for Rockwell's St. Bernadette. The buyer is said to have been a Brentwood neighbor, a gentleman who lived nearby in Mandeville Canyon.

Nothing more was heard of the painting, although we did get occasional questions from alumnae about what happened to it. It was sort of comforting to know St. B was close by.

New York Times ad for auction
This week we heard from our favorite alumna correspondent, Bev Halpin Carrigan '52, who noticed an ad in the October 18 New York Times for an auction of Rockwell's Bernadette. Bev remembers seeing the portrait in a conference room off the library entrance. Later it hung in the main staircase.

The painting is to be previewed today and tomorrow in New York City, with the auction scheduled for this Saturday, October 26. The bid estimate is $400,000 to $600,000.

So begins another chapter in Rockwell's painting of our friend St. Bernadette. We hope the eventual owner takes as much inspiration from her as the Mount community did.

Caption from MSMC auction catalog