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Rockwell found behind fake wall

December 1, 2006
Associated Press
Photo: AP Photo


NEW YORK — One of Norman Rockwell's most famous paintings, discovered hidden behind a fake wall in its owner's Vermont home, has sold for $15.4 million, the auctioneer said Thursday.

"Breaking Home Ties," which "Henry" comic strip illustrator Donald Trachte Sr. purchased from Rockwell when the two were neighbors in Arlington, Vt., was sold Wednesday to an anonymous telephone bidder.

Sotheby's said the price eclipsed a previous Rockwell record set by "Homecoming Marine," which it sold for $9.2 million in May.

"Breaking Home Ties" was included in a sale of American paintings.

"Breaking Home Ties" became a centerpiece of Trachte's collection after he bought it for $900 in 1960. He made a replica of the painting in the 1970s, displaying it in his home while hiding the original behind the fake wall.

"I think he just wanted to tuck these in the wall for his kids," his son, Donald Trachte Jr., said when the discovery was made in April.

Experts said Trachte probably made the copy in about 1973, when he and his wife were going through a bitter divorce. The settlement let him keep the Rockwell.

Trachte died last year at 89 and apparently never told anyone the secret about his prize painting, which had appeared on the cover of "The Saturday Evening Post" in 1954 and was voted the second-most popular cover in the magazine's history.

The canvas shows a father and son sitting on a truck's running board as the boy leaves for college. Scholars of the folksy painter consider it one of Rockwell's best works.

Experts and Trachte's family had puzzled over inconsistencies between the Post cover and the canvas they assumed was the original. Among other things, the coloration and boy's face seemed different, but experts blamed poor preservation and sloppy restoration work.

The original was discovered while his two sons were scouring their father's studio. David Trachte noticed a gap in the wood paneling, and as the brothers pulled it out, they discovered the real Rockwell and other paintings.
 


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