Rockwell-not Case Review: Knispel v. Gallery 63 Antiques

By Chris Michaels*
Screen shot 2015-01-13 at 1.53.22 PM

Yelpers report… Gallery 63 Antiques is no more.

How much would you pay for a piece of classic Americana? According to a complaint filed on 23 December 2014, twenty years earlier, in 1994 Barry and Isabel Knispel were willing to pay $347,437 for an original Norman Rockwell oil painting titled “Mending His Ways.” In early 2013, however, the Knispels learned that the oil they purchased and thought was by Rockwell was, in fact, painted by Harold Anderson, an American painter and illustrator, known for his Christian-themed images.

Pursuant to the complaint, in 1994 the Knispels, New Jersey-based art collectors, were solicited by a New York City art gallery, Gallery 63, to purchase several paintings, one of which was represented to be an original Norman Rockwell painting. The Knispels paid the purchase price of $347,437 and, at the time of sale, Gallery 63 arranged to have the painting appraised by Casper Fine Arts & Appraisals to authenticate and value the painting. Laurence Casper, now deceased, provided a written appraisal of the painting, which confirmed its authenticity as an original Rockwell, although it noted that the painting had not previously been recorded as a Rockwell.

The Knispels, relying on Casper’s appraisal and Gallery 63’s guarantee that the painting was an original Rockwell, completed their purchase. Ever since the purchase, the Knispels have displayed the painting in their home and have maintained insurance coverage for the retail replacement of the painting, which was valued at $1,750,000.

CM jan2015

Harold Anderson’s “Patching Pants” as displayed in a 1940 MobilOil advertisement.

In 2013, insurance company which provided the insurance policy for the Knispels’ painting, required that paintings in the collection be examined to ensure authenticity and value. It was not indicated in the Complaint why an appraisal was needed at this time or why one was not conducted earlier. The New York Fine Art Appraisers examined the painting and determined that it was an illustration by Harold Anderson for a MobilOil advertisement, titled “Patching Pants.” With the new attribution, and to the understandable dismay of the Knispels, the painting was thus valued at only $20,000.

The complaint filed by the Knispels avers that the defendants should have discovered that the painting was not an original Rockwell because the forgery was “open and obvious” and that the defendants breached their obligations under the sale contract by failing to deliver an original Rockwell. The complaint also alleges that the defendants knowingly and deliberately provided the Knispels with false information or were grossly negligent in their appraisal abilities.

In this case, Plaintiffs potentially face a statute of limitations defense based on the fact that approximately 20 years have passed between purchase and identification of the misattribution, as well as claims of forgery. The complaint notes that the forged signature was “open and obvious” to appraisers, so this raises the question of why the forgery went unnoticed for so long. As an aside, this issue should be viewed as a warning to collectors who have not had their collections appraised recently. Not only will retail replacement values likely change over the course of 20 years, getting an independent appraisal of a collection allows sophisticated collectors the chance to pro-actively address any issues that may arise.

Plaintiffs are represented by Donald A. Ottanuick, Esq., of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard, P.A. of Hackensack, New Jersey. Defendants may still be looking for council. It appears that they being named as a defendant previously, also in a case dealing with a break of warranty and misattribution.

Sources:

  • Complaint, in Knispel v. Gallery 63 Antiques, et al, Sup. Ct. N.J., (Filed on Dec. 23, 2014).
  • Levin v. Gallery 63 Antiques Corp., No. 04-cv-1504 (KMK) (S.D.N.Y., Sept. 26, 2006).

About the Author: Chris Michaels is a litigation attorney in the Philadelphia office of the Atlanta, GA-based law firm, Cruser & Mitchell, LLP, where he actively pursues his interest in the field of art law. He may be reached at (518) 421-7238, chriswmichaels@gmail.com, or on Twitter @CMichaelsartlaw.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.

One thought on “Rockwell-not Case Review: Knispel v. Gallery 63 Antiques

  1. Re: Rockwell-not Case Review: Knispel v. Gallery 63 Antiques

    This is indeed a most perplexing story in which the Claimant/s apparently and rather surprisingly, never heard the term: “Caveat Emptor”.

    In fact in 1969 the National “Norman Rockwell Museum” had already been established. According to Wikipedia:
    ________________________

    “The Norman Rockwell Museum is an art museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, dedicated to the art of Norman Rockwell. It is home to the world’s largest collection of original Rockwell art.
    History-
    The museum was founded in 1969 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where Rockwell lived the last 25 years of his life. The museum has been at its current location since 1993. The museum building was designed by architect Robert A. M. Stern.
    Collection-
    In addition to 574 original works of art by Rockwell, the museum also houses the Norman Rockwell Archives, a collection of over 100,000 various items, which include photographs, fan mail, and various business documents. In 2014 the Famous Artists School donated its archives, including process drawings by Rockwell, one of its founding faculty members in 1948, to the Museum.” etc. etc.
    ______________________

    Thus there were numerous sources and methods existing at the time Claimants purchased their alleged “Norman Rockwell” to establish whether the painting was indeed by Mr. Rockwell or some other artist who worked in a similar style.

    The price they paid would likely approach over a million dollars in today’s money. One might assume that before making such a purchase the Claimants would have taken the precaution of properly vetting this anticipated addition to their Collection.

    In addition to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Norman Rockwell had three adult Sons who were quite familiar with the famous illustrations their famous Father had painted.

    All that said, perhaps the Claimants were so in love with this particular work of Art/Illustration that they felt no need to delve too deeply into its past provenance and/or true authorship.

    Or for those who are more cynically inclined, one might imagine that the Gallery involved may well, (like many Art Galleries throughout the world), have subscribed to the title of the famous W.C. Field’s 1941 movie:
    “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break”, which statement has often otherwise been expressed as (and erroneously attributed to famous Circus impresario, P.T. Barnum as: “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

    The money the Claimants will likely now expend on litigation fees would probably buy them an authentic ‘Norman Rockwell” painting.

    But then- that is a whole other matter.

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