Stolen Norman Rockwell painting found after 41 years

"Boy Asleep with Hoe" by Norman Rockwell, 1919. Photo by Matt Rourke, AP.Norman Rockwell’s original painting for Boy Asleep with Hoe, a.k.a. Lazybones or Taking a Break, has been recovered by the FBI more than 40 years after it was stolen. The 25-by-28-inch oil painting was stolen from the home of Robert and Teresa Grant in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on June 30th, 1976. The thieves also helped themselves to the Grants’ silver coin collection and their television. The Cherry Hill Police Department investigated the crime at the time but made no progress.

The FBI’s Art Crime Team got involved last year, partnering with the Cherry Hill police to launch a fresh appeal for leads in the very cold case on the 40th anniversary of the theft. It apparently worked, because a few months later in October the FBI got a phone call from a lawyer representing an anonymous client who wanted to return the painting.

Apparently the client was an antiques dealer who had the painting for years. He didn’t realize it was the original. He assumed it was a copy and had tried to sell it but never found any buyers, so he just hung it on his kitchen wall. That’s where it stayed for almost 40 years. The authorities found no evidence whatsoever that he was involved in the theft. It seems he was an unwitting fence of a stolen Norman Rockwell, and as soon as he realized it he made arrangements to return it. He is cooperating with the authorities in creating a composite drawing of the man he bought it from, but since four decades have passed it’s unlikely to lead to a sudden unmasking of the geriatric Lupin.

FBI Special Agent Jacob Archer points to pool cue damage on recovered Norman Rockwell painting. Photo by Matt Rourke/AP.The image of a boy napping under a tree, the hoe between his legs a mute testament to the work he’s not doing, graced the cover of the September 6th, 1919, issue of the Saturday Evening Post. While Rockwell’s magazine covers enjoyed great popular success, his original paintings weren’t in demand at all, not for decades. Robert Grant acquired Boy Asleep with Hoe for $50 in 1952, and he only bought it because he had to after he poked a hole in it with a pool cue at a friend’s house. Robert’s son John says the friend told his father, “You just bought yourself a painting.”

FBI Special Agents Don Asper, left, and Jacob Archer displays a recovered Norman Rockwell painting. Photo by Matt Rourke, AP.That hole from the pool cue was key to the authentication of the painting. Experts from Christie’s and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, confirmed it was the real thing. Because the Grant family submitted a claim to their insurer, Chubb, at the time of the theft and the claim was paid, Chubb was the legal title-holder. The company graciously agreed to allow the Grant family to reimburse them for the $15,000 claim payment in exchange for the painting. Given that the estimated value of the painting today is between $600,000 and $1,000,000, this was an incredibly generous act. Chubb isn’t even keeping the money. It plans to donate the claim payment to the Norman Rockwell Museum.

The painting was officially returned to the Grant family at a ceremony attended by representatives from the FBI and Chubb in Philadelphia on March 31st. There are six Grant heirs who now have to decide together what they’ll do with it. For obvious reasons, none of them wants to run the risk of keeping the painting in their home, so for now it’s going into storage.

 

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5 Comments »

Comment by Lisboeta
2017-04-09 05:42:06

It’s a cutesy painting. That said, can it really be worth as much as $1M?

 
Comment by Cordate
2017-04-09 07:19:45

Wow, I don’t think I have ever heard of an insurance company choosing heart over coin. Good on you, folks at Chubb!

 
Comment by hh
2017-04-09 08:35:02

Not this one, perhaps. On the other hand, the future owner might have a use of it when try’ing to get asleep, so … ?

 
Comment by Annie Delyth
2017-04-09 16:13:58

Curious: which Norman Rockwell Museum? Assuming the one in Stockbridge, Mass. But there are several…

This painting might not be as high on the list of appraised Rockwell paintings as others. But, as with any highly appraised works of art, part of the value lies in the name of a recognized artist. Rockwell was regarded as an illustrator for most of his career.

But he had the knack for painting what came to be seen as iconic moments in American life, during a time when the definition of “art” was enlarging in collectors’ eyes. He was already admired by the kind of people who appeared in the Post covers. They bought Rockwell prints and hung them in their homes. My folks had one. Of course.

A sidenote: in the video I noticed that one of the young men I assumed to be gallery attendants had a very voguish haircut. I was thinking that is the kind of cut the chic young military guys and young male cops are wearing these days. And lo, he turned out to be just that, a member (perhaps the unit head?) of the Art Crime Squad. What a kick. Great job to have.

 
Comment by Jason
2017-04-10 14:39:38

Winner of classy move of the year goes to the insurance company, Chubb!

 
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