Collectors Sue Gallery Over Fake Norman Rockwell

It's not the first time the appraiser involved has been accused of shoddy work.

New Jersey-based collectors Barry and Isabel Knispel are suing New York’s Gallery 63 Antiques over a painting, which the gallery purported to be the work of Norman Rockwell, but which has subsequently been deemed a fake. The work, for which the couple paid $347,437, was described to them as work for an advertisement that Rockwell had created but had never been used. The entire transaction was carried out over the phone and by mail.

According to the complaint, Gallery 63 initiated contact with the couple about the painting 20 years ago. At the time, they believed it to be a legitimate Rockwell titled Mending Ways, an attribution that was backed up by an appraiser named Laurence Casper. In documents obtained by Courthouse News, the couple says that Casper was purported to be a “Certified Appraiser by the Appraisers Association of America.”

Casper’s appraisal occurred on the same day that the painting was purchased, October 8, 1994. According to the Knispels’ complaint, filed with the Bergen County Superior Court on December 23, 2014, Casper wrote that “the brush strokes, the painting texture and the draftsmanship [are] consistent with Rockwell’s technique. […] The type of faces and expressions are typical of his characters in other paintings as well.”

All the Humor and Artistic Quality that Rockwell

Despite admitting in his written appraisal that the painting was not recorded in Rockwell’s archives, Casper certified: “In my opinion, [it] is an original by Norman Rockwell with all the humor and artistic quality that Rockwell created in all his works.”

The painting hung in the Knispels’ home for nearly 20 years before they discovered that this was, in fact, not the case. In 2013, their insurer requested a reappraisal and authentication of the couple’s collection. They held a $1.75 million policy on the purported Rockwell painting at the time.

New York Fine Art Appraisers (NYFAA) concluded that the work was definitively not an original Rockwell. “Rather,” the complaint states, “the painting was determined to be an illustration for a Mobil Oil advertisement by Harold Anderson, titled Patching Pants.” NYFAA concluded that Rockwell’s signature had been painted over that of Anderson and that, “this alteration is (and should have been) open and obvious to any appraiser with training and experience similar to Casper’s.” The piece was subsequently valued at $20,000.

The Rockwell case is not the first authentication dispute to involve Casper. Ten years before he authenticated the Knispels’ “Rockwell,” the now-deceased art historian became entangled in a dispute surrounding a set of prints purportedly by Salvador Dali. The prints had been offered to American Express cardholders in 1984 and carried an authentication by Casper. (The Lewiston Daily Sun spells the appraiser’s last name “Caspar” in their 1985 article.) He called the works “Genuine and authentic, new and original works of art by Salvador Dali.” Dali himself claimed they were not his work, his lawyer arguing that signatures on the lithographs were forged.

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