This is one unsolved mystery in Vermont that no one ever saw coming. Who would have thought that in the town of Arlington where Norman Rockwell produced some of his most iconic work, a real live story of counterfeit art, deception and secrecy took place. But let’s start at the beginning of this story, shall we?
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Norman Rockwell was born in New York City on February 3, 1894. At the age of 14, Rockwell transferred to the Chase Art School, the National Academy of Design, and finally the Art Student’s League where he was taught by some of the great artists of the day.
As a student, Rockwell was given a number of small jobs before landing his first major opportunity as a cover illustrator for a book at the age of 18. This began his career as an American painter and illustrator.
Rockwell's famous and iconic work reflecting small-town life began when he moved to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939. While living in Arlington, Rockwell’s circle of friends included fellow artists and illustrators Grandma Moses and Donald Trechte.
Here are some of his best known works in a video posted by sundroid. VIDEO
Rockwell may be best known for his known for his work for the Saturday Evening Post, where he published 323 original covers for The Saturday Evening Post over 47 years.
The work behind the mystery we’re talking about revolves around “Breaking Home Ties,” which Rockwell painted for the September 25, 1954 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The painting depicts a hardworking man with his son, waiting for a train to come so the man can send his boy to off to start a new life in the big city.
The story was so moving it was the inspiration of a 1987 TV movie starring Jason Robards (pictured) and Doug McKeon respectively as the father and son.
As with most of Rockwell’s works, the painting tells an intricate story and stirs up strong emotions. “Breaking Home Ties,” is considered by experts to be one of Norman Rockwell's masterworks, and is also one of the most widely reproduced, but there was one reproduction that no one knew about until February 2006.
“Breaking Home Ties” was purchased in 1960 by fellow illustrator, friend and neighbor, Don Trachte for $900.
Trachte was an American cartoonist who began working on comics in 1932 as an assistant to Carl Anderson and worked on the Sunday version of the “Henry” comics (pictured) from Anderson's death in 1948 until 1995.
Trachte and wife had an art collection and “Breaking Home Ties” was the prized possession. When he and his wife divorced they divided the paintings among their children, who would receive custody of their inheritance upon their parent’s death.
For the next 40 years, art dealers and collectors pursued the Trachte family about acquiring the works, especially the famous “Breaking Home Ties.”
When Trachte moved into an assisted living facility in 2002, his children loaned what they thought was the original painting to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA where, over the next few years would be seen by hundreds of thousands of people.
Before being hung in the gallery in Stockbridge, a cleaning of the painting was done and this revealed small differences from the original Saturday Evening Post cover. Curators concluded that these changes occurred due to the cleaning.
In 2006, after their father’s death, Dave and Don Trachte Jr. began to search for paintings in their deceased father's home and came upon a replica of a George Hughes painting in their father's studio. A replica? Things just got really interesting…
What Trachte’s sons discovered next changed everything. They also found film in the studio revealing that their father possessed two copies of Breaking Home Ties, with visibly noticeable differences. A professional examination done by the Williamstown Art Conservation confirmed that the painting was indeed a forgery.
The original painting was found On March 16, 2006 when Dave and Don Trachte discovered it located in their father's studio located in between a gap in the paneling of a bookcase. In that gap was the original paintings purchased by their father, including the original copy of Breaking Home Ties.
Now art forgery is not a new concept, but this bait and switch makes you wonder what the ulterior motives were. Was it to protect the original art and preserve it for his children’s inheritance? Perhaps it was to secure his possessions after his divorce. Here is an interesting video by Open Road Media who interviews art forger Ken Perenyi, a man who replicated art for another purpose… Just to see if he could get away with it.
Since the differences between the original “Breaking Home Ties” pictured cover of The Saturday Evening Post was so different from the original, how could people not have noticed the discrepancies before? Well, the painting had been out of the public eye for over 25 years when it hung in Trachet’s home. Additionally, he said it had been restored and it was thought that the coloring was affected during the restoration process.
What was Trachte’s real reason for replicating the painting and passing it off as the original? Well, since there was no note or documentation explaining why, the world will never know.
The original painting, which was in perfect condition after its 40 year hiatus within the wall, was sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $15.4 million dollars. Who bought the painting? Well, that’s a mystery too since the buyers chose to remain anonymous. We just hope they got the real one!