A Family Scene Rockwell Wouldn’t Have Painted

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

When Norman Rockwell published a retrospective of his work in 1961, he heaped praise on Kenneth J. Stuart, the longtime art director of The Saturday Evening Post who had showcased Rockwell’s homey scenes on the magazine’s covers. Inscribing Mr. Stuart’s copy of the album, Rockwell wrote: “Everything I am, everything I have ever done, everything I hope to be, I owe to Ken.”

Their business relationship had flowered into a strong friendship, and for Mr. Stuart, a family fortune, as he took possession of more than a dozen Rockwell paintings during his 20 years at The Post. Now that fortune, built upon iconic images of American family life — including “The Gossips,” “Walking to Church” and “Saying Grace,” considered by many to be the illustrator’s masterpiece — is tearing Mr. Stuart’s own family apart.

When the urbane Mr. Stuart died in 1993, he left everything to his three sons — Ken Jr., William and Jonathan — in equal shares. The artwork was the crown jewel of an otherwise middle-class man’s estate, and by all rights, dividing three paintings among three brothers ought not to have been hard.

But two of the brothers, William and Jonathan, have spent 13 years fighting in court against their older brother, Ken Jr., saying that he took advantage of their ailing father, forcing him to sign papers to gain control of the entire fortune. The younger Stuarts charge that Ken Jr., who has been self-employed since 1991, used estate assets to enrich himself at their expense and support a lifestyle that included alimony for his first wife, a $5,000 Rolex for his soon-to-be second wife, $44,500 for a cello and bow for his daughter, and a $16,000 time-share for himself in New Orleans.

comments powered by Disqus