Stolen Norman Rockwell Worth $1 Million Returned to Owners After 40 Years

It was bought for less than $100.

Stolen more than 40 years ago, a folksy painting of a slumbering child by American illustrator Norman Rockwell has been returned to its rightful owners by the FBI. The unlikely recovery ends what the work’s original insurance company has called “one of the art world’s greatest mysteries for over four decades.”

Though purchased in the 1950s for a nominal sum under $100—at a time when there was little to no demand or market for Rockwell’s original paintings—the current fair market value of the work could be as much as $1 million, according to recent news reports, and cited by Chubb.

(The current auction record for a Norman Rockwell, according to the artnet Price database, is over $46 million, set at Sotheby’s in December 2013, for Saying Grace, painted in 1951. In the past decade, four works by Rockwell have fetched more than $10 million each at auction.)

The recently recovered work, an oil on canvas which dates to 1919, has been known by various titles over the years including Taking a Break, Lazybones, and Boy Asleep with Hoe, according to the FBI.

“The FBI Art Crime Team investigates a broad array of art and cultural property matters. This case fell within our purview as it signified a major theft of a quintessential American artist,” FBI special agent Jacob Archer told artnet News. He and his colleague Don Asper handled the Rockwell case.

 

The painting had hung for roughly 20 years in the homes of the Grant family—wherever they lived—including in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. (The painting actually became the Grants’ when patriarch Robert Grant was forced to buy it after damaging it in the home of a friend during a game of billiards.) In 1976, it had been stolen from the family home, along with a silver coin collection and a television, the New York Times reports.

Last year, the FBI issued a news release marking the 40th anniversary of the theft of the painting, in hopes of generating new leads. And it worked: An antiques dealer contacted the bureau’s art crimes division to say he thought he might be in possession of the work in question.

The anonymous dealer handed over the Rockwell and is not believed to have been involved in the theft or subject to any charges.

Archer said: “Certainly this was not an easy case. We were striking out left and right with our efforts but we didn’t give up. We came up with a coordinated media blitz on the 40th anniversary. We didn’t expect this type of a lead. It was thrilling when we got the call.”

Chubb Insurance, which had insured the painting for the Grant family at the time of the theft, had paid out a $15,000 claim after the original theft—thereby making it technically the rightful owner of the returned work. Given the high profile of the case, however, a special arrangement was made: The Grant family returned the claims payment to Chubb in exchange for the work. Chubb, in turn, is donating these funds to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

At the news conference this past Friday, the FBI returned the painting to John Grant, son of the original owner, Robert. The younger Grant told the Times that Rockwell’s image of indolent youth meant far more to him now than it did when he himself was a teen, though he added that he was not taking any chances by taking the work home with him. Said Grant: “I don’t want it in my house.”


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