Regular readers will recall the tale of “Breaking Home Ties,” the Norman Rockwell painting that turned out to have been a forgery after HENRY cartoonist Don Trachte hid the original from his soon to be ex-wife. Well, the NY Times reports on another Rockwell-inspired family spat, this time among the three sons of Saturday Evening Post art director Kenneth J. Stuart, the man Rockwell credited with helping his career more than anyone. Stuart came into possession of several original Rockwells, but following his death they have become the source of a bitter squabble among his sons:
When the urbane Mr. Stuart died in 1993, he left everything to his three sons — Ken Jr., William and Jonathan — in equal shares. The artwork was the crown jewel of an otherwise middle-class man’s estate, and by all rights, dividing three paintings among three brothers ought not to have been hard.
But two of the brothers, William and Jonathan, have spent 13 years fighting in court against their older brother, Ken Jr., saying that he took advantage of their ailing father, forcing him to sign papers to gain control of the entire fortune. The younger Stuarts charge that Ken Jr., who has been self-employed since 1991, used estate assets to enrich himself at their expense and support a lifestyle that included alimony for his first wife, a $5,000 Rolex for his soon-to-be second wife, $44,500 for a cello and bow for his daughter, and a $16,000 time-share for himself in New Orleans.
While two of the sons resist selling the paintings, the article points out that as time passes they become more and more valuable. (Trachte’s real Rockwell sold for over $15 million.) The details of the feud are just sad and petty; money changes everything indeed.
All three brothers say they are proud that Rockwell credited their father with playing an important role in his legacy. In a joint interview, Jonathan, 60, compared the infighting to “War and Peace,” and William, 63, recalled urging Ken Jr., now 65, to tote up whatever he owed the estate and make amends rather than force the dispute into court and make the “family look bad.”
Interviewed separately, Ken Jr. said he had done well by his brothers and blamed poor record-keeping. “The real nucleus of this problem is that I am the favorite of both my parents,” he said. “My brothers don’t like it and couldn’t do anything about it when my dad was alive, so this is what they did after he died.”