The story begins with a man in New Jersey lining up a pool shot. He draws his cue back too far and punches a hole in a painting on his host’s wall.
The pool shooter, one Robert Grant, owns up to his miscue by buying the painting from his friend. He pays between $50 and $100 for it; the passage of time has obscured the exact amount.
Turns out the painting is an original by Norman Rockwell, who produced more than 300 illustrations for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post back in the first half of the 20th Century.
This painting, one of Rockwell’s earlier works, depicted a farm boy catching a nap against a tree and went by the title “Taking a Break” among others.
The billiards blunder occurred back in the early 1950’s. In 1976, thieves broke into Robert Grant’s Cherry Hill, N.J. home and stole the painting.
Chubb Insurance wrote a policy on the painting though and paid off Robert Grant’s claim, for $15,000. Under the terms of the policy, the title on the painting transferred to the insurer when the claim was paid.
Decades went by, give or take a few years. One day, according to the New York Times, Robert Grant’s son John got an introduction to Robert Bazin, a retired FBI agent, who agreed to take up the search for the lost painting.
The elder Grant passed away in 2004. Besides missing their father, the Grant family evidently still felt the loss of a favorite family possession quite keenly.
Bazin contacted the FBI, which put out a press release in 2016, asking for information on the painting’s whereabouts. An art dealer who wishes to remain anonymous contacted the FBI and handed it over.
“The work was in the collection of a dealer who didn’t realize there was an issue with the provenance,” said Laura Doyle, an assistant vice president and North American Collections Management Specialist with Chubb.
“There are often occurrences where we can’t bring it back, but when we are able to, it is an important part of our service.” — Fran O’Brien, division president, North American Risk Services, Chubb
Doyle, a graduate of the University of Richmond, holds a certificate in fine arts appraisal from NYU.
According to Fran O’Brien, division president, North American Risk Services for Chubb, there was a clause in Grant’s insurance policy that allowed for the title for the painting to revert to the Grant family if they agreed to pay back the $15,000 they got for the original claim.
Done deal; and so it came to pass that the Grant family reclaimed a painting, once purchased for less than $100 and now worth possibly as much as $1 million.
Chubb in turn, donated the $15,000 to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
It’s a great story, and Chubb’s O’Brien said there are some good lessons to be taken from it.
Owners of art collections should consider insuring them with a valuable articles policy, rather than relying on their home owner’s policy, she said.
“Even with modest collections, they should be thinking about a valuable articles policy, whether it’s hundreds of millions or $100,000, it’s important to know that there is a better solution out there,” O’Brien said.
A good fine arts policy solution also includes support from fine arts specialists who can give advice on the safest way to store and display valuable art works.
Keeping a Modigliani above the dining room table might make the owner warm and proud, but probably isn’t the best idea, particularly if it can be seen from the street.
That protection can be as specific as an individual asset alarm for particularly valued pieces. Insurer support can also include advice on confirming the chain of title ownership for a piece that has changed hands a number of times.
“We advise that collectors request information on provenance, which would detail any prior owners and art galleries or auction houses where the work was sold,” Doyle said.
This fine arts insurance story had a very happy ending, because the Grant family got the painting back. But it often happens that treasured pieces of jewelry or art are never seen again.
“Part of our business is to restore memories,” said Chubb’s O’Brien.
“There are often occurrences where we can’t bring it back, but when we are able to it is an important part of our service,” O’Brien said.