Tuesday, April 11, 2006

This Forger Got Away with It

One of this year’s most amazing stories involves a forger who recreated one of America’s most famous and iconoclastic paintings. And when the forgery was discovered, the official reaction was, “Well, that is certainly interesting.”

Here’s how it happened.

In the 1970s, Donald Trachte was best known as an illustrator of the famous “Henry” comic strip. That bald, speechless boy had been a classic in American newspapers since 1932. Trachte had been drawing the character with John Liney ever since the original creator, Carl Anderson, had died in 1948.

Trachte was also a good friend and neighbor of the great American artist, Norman Rockwell. When he wanted to buy one of Rockwell’s paintings for his private collection, he was offered Breaking Home Ties, for which he paid $900 in 1960.

This was one of Rockwell’s greatest paintings. Appearing on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post  in 1954, it depicted a young man ready to leave for college, accompanied by his farmer father. The elder, hat in hand, is contemplating his future and perhaps offering a last piece of advice as the son anxiously awaits the bus that is going to take him to school. They are both sitting on the running board of a beat-up pickup truck. A faithful collie rests his chin on the boy’s knee.

It can easily be said that Trachte got a bargain. Art critics often rated Breaking Home Ties  as one of Rockwell’s greatest paintings, in the same vein as Rosie the Riveter, which was sold for $5 million in 2002. Paying $900 for a multi-million dollar painting was a good deal.

Trachte proudly displayed the painting as the centerpiece of his private collection right up until his death last year.

And all along, he was displaying a forgery.

For reasons unknown, Trachte himself painted an exact copy of the great picture almost as soon as he bought it. It was the copy  that he had displayed all these years. And it was such a good copy — such a perfect copy — that nobody noticed the difference.

Nobody did, that is, until this year when the family discovered the painting — the real painting — hiding behind a wall in his house where Trachte had stashed it thirty years ago.

Nobody knows why he made and displayed the copy. It certainly wasn’t for financial gain. It couldn’t have been for security; the original was no more secure behind the wall than the copy was hanging in public.

Whatever the reason, it died with the forger. And no hard feelings are present, either. The plan is to display both the original and the forgery side-by-side in the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Be sure to listen to Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story  in the next few weeks. My guess is that this remarkable story will be featured.

And you can tell your friends that you heard it here first.

1 comment:

rebibug said...

wow... that's so intriguing... Maybe he just liked the idea of having a secret... fooling the world...