Courthouse News Service
Couple Says Gallery Sold a Bogus Rockwell
HACKENSACK, N.J. (CN) – A Manhattan art gallery passed off a MobilOil advertisement as a “guaranteed” Norman Rockwell, for which it charged $347,437, a couple claims in court.
Barry and Isabel Knispel, of Saddle River, N.J., filed the complaint in Bergen County Superior Court against Gallery 63 Antiques and the owners of that Midtown East shop.
It was Gallery 63 that solicited the Knispels, who say they are “known art collectors,” 20 years ago, the Dec. 23 complaint alleges.
Those negotiations allegedly led the Knispels to purchase multiple paintings from Gallery 63, “including a piece represented to them by Gallery 63 as an original Norman Rockwell, titled ‘Mending His Ways.'”
Emphasizing that they “never visited Gallery 63’s New York location,” the Knispels claim to have negotiated via telephone, mailed the gallery a check and had the painting delivered to their home, where it has hung ever since.
On Oct. 8, 1994, the same day that the gallery issued the Knispels a $347,437 bill of sale for the painting, it had a specialist appraise the artwork.
The Knispels say the now-deceased Laurence Casper examined the painting, holding “himself out to the public as ‘an art historian by academic training at the graduate school of New York University.'”
“A purported ‘Certified Appraiser by the Appraisers Association of America,'” Casper also held himself out as “a specialist in American painting of the 19th and 20th century,” the complaint states.
The complaint quotes Casper’s written appraisal as stating that “the brush strokes, the painting texture and the draftsmanship [are] consistent with Rockwell’s technique.” (Brackets added.)
“The type of faces and expressions are typical of his characters in other paintings as well,” Casper allegedly wrote.
“The painting is not recorded and I believe the painting was commissioned for an advertisement and never used,” the appraisal allegedly continues. “In my opinion, [the painting] is an original by Norman Rockwell with all the humor and artistic quality that Rockwell created in all his works.” (Brackets in original.)
Based on the Casper appraisal, and a guarantee from the gallery’s bill of sale as to the “originality” of the painting’s oil, the Knispels have maintained a $1.75 million insurance policy on the painting, according to the complaint.
The Knispels say, in connection with a 2013 policy renewal, that their insurer wanted the purported Rockwell painting and other art in the couple’s collection re-examined for authenticity.
New York Fine Art Appraisers thus examined the painting at the request of the Knispels, but their report “reveals the painting is not an ‘original oil on canvas by Norman Rockwell’ as represented by defendants,” the complaint states.
“Rather, the painting was determined to be an illustration for a MobilOil advertisement by Harold Anderson, titled ‘Patching Pants,'” the complaint continues. “NYFAA noted that the Rockwell signature was painted over the signature of the original artist and that this alteration is (and should have been) open and obvious to any appraiser with training and experience similar to Casper’s.”
The Knispels say their fake Rockwell “is now valued at only $20,000.”
“Defendants Gallery 63, Casper and Casper Fine Arts should have discovered and notified the Knispels of the obvious evidence of forgery and that the painting was not, in fact, an original Rockwell,” the complaint states.
The Knispels seek punitive damages for breach of contract and fraud.
Gallery 63 Antiques is named as a defendant, as well as its Cresskill-based owner Lawrence Sepenuk, and the Estate of Rochelle Sepenuk.
In addition to the Estate of Laurence Casper, the complaint also names Casper Fine Arts & Appraisals Inc. as a defendant.
Donald Ottaunick with Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard in Hackensack represents the Knispels.