For years, one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings—an American Dream-esque painting of a father and son titled “Breaking Home Ties”—seemed a bit off, boasting too many inconsistencies to make sense to art experts.
When the owner of the painting passed away in 2005, though, a search of his house revealed the secret behind all of the flaws in the painting many had seen over the years.
It turns out, the one many believed to be the original was actually a fake.
Breaking Home Ties is the picture of the American Dream. Painted in 1954, the Rockwell original shows a weary, blue-collar father resting his arms on his knees at a train station, waiting with his bright-eyed son to send the younger generation off to college.
It was the perfect picture of what many in the 1950s were doing—sending their children off to post-secondary education for the first time, breaking down the schooling barrier after centuries of college being only for society’s most elite classes.
For decades, though, the painting—which hung in the Normal Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts—seemed off to art experts. It looked like a Norman Rockwell painting, sure, but was just wrong enough that they weren’t sure how it could possibly be an original.
The colors, for starters, were off; the hues used didn’t seem to line up with those used by Rockwell in his art, looking a bit too faded. The wrinkles and shadows in the clothing were also inconsistent, although no one had been able to prove it was a fake until recently. They had simply shrugged it off as a victim of restoration damage.
Now, they know the truth.
In 1960, cartoonist Don Trachte had purchased the piece from Rockwell, who was a neighbor and friend of his. The price he’d gotten for the painting, a mere $900, was considered to be an absolute steal.
It turns out, Trachte had used his own artistic skills to create a near-perfect replica—giving that one to the museum, while hiding the original away in a secret compartment in his home.
“We have lived with the tragedy of believing that this piece had been damaged all these years … it’s a thrill to know that the original exists,” said Laurie Norton Moffatt, the museum’s director. “It was like having a child come home. The instant you look at it, you know.”
So how did they eventually figure it out?
In 2005, Trachte passed away, leaving no indication that he’d forged the painting—but when cleaning out his home following his death, his son stumbled across the hiding space. Upon opening it, he found the original painting, where it had stayed hidden for decades with no one but his father being any the wiser.
“[Trachte] had been worried [the paintings] would be taken away from the family,” suggested his son, searching for the explanation for the replicas.
It wasn’t the only original hidden away, as seven other works of art had been squirreled away in the hiding space, while Trachte had created duplicates. It’s an incredible discovery—but for Trachte’s sons, it’s also a fascinating discovery of their own father’s talent.
“Right now,” son Don Jr. explained, “I believe he could have painted the Mona Lisa and fooled the world.”
Photo Credit: Getty Images | Joe Raedle (Missing Norman Rockwell Painting Found After 35 Years).
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