Stolen Rockwell painting returned to family set for auction

Friday, October 06, 2017 05:06AM
Stolen Rockwell painting returned to family set for auction. Matt O'Donnell reports during Action News at 4:30 a.m. on October 6, 2017.


PHILADELPHIA - A Norman Rockwell painting recently returned to a family after it was stolen from their New Jersey home more than 40 years ago is going up for auction.

The 1919 painting, known as "Taking a Break" and "Lazybones," was returned to members of the Grant family by FBI art crimes agents in Philadelphia last March. The piece was one of a number of items stolen from the family's home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, during a June 30, 1976, break-in.

The Grants knew the painting was theirs because it still had damage from where their father had struck it with a pool cue.

Heritage Auctions announced Wednesday the painting will be auctioned Nov. 3 in Dallas, where it is expected to fetch up to $1.5 million. But that pool cue damage isn't part of the deal.

Aviva Lehmann, the auction house's director of American Fine Art in New York, said a conservator mended the tell-tale hole and restored the painting.

"We were on the fence on whether to offer it as-is or clean it up," she said.

After consulting the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, it was decided to restore it and make it look as fresh as possible

"It looks like it was painted yesterday," Lehmann said. "The family gasped, it was so startling in a very good way. It literally looks like it was brought back to life."

Robert Grant was playing pool at a friend's house in 1954 when he drew his cue back a bit too dramatically, damaging one of four Norman Rockwell paintings in the room.

In a "you break it, you buy it" moment, Grant paid the pal $50 for the artwork, which depicts a boy sleeping on the ground, his dozing dog's head in his lap and the hoe he should be using for chores perched between his knees.

For Grant's children, being reunited with the painting was emotional, because it meant so much to their late parents.

John Grant said he and his five siblings decided it made the most sense to auction the painting, since no one really felt safe having something that valuable just hanging in their home.

"If my dad was still alive it would be back on the wall," he said. "It was the family jewel, no doubt. It would have been the perfect ending to a really long story."
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