One of Norman Rockwell’s most iconic paintings is of a happy family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. Now, a family feud has sparked a legal tussle after one of its members saw the artist’s original drawing hanging in the White House on a 2017 television program — artwork he believed he owned.
The story of the controversial artwork begins in 1943, when Rockwell created a sketch called “So You Want to See the President” that was published in the Saturday Evening Post, where he worked as an illustrator for 47 years. The same year, Rockwell Stephen T. Early presented the example to Sr., who was President Franklin D. was Roosevelt’s press secretary, according to legal documents.
But what happened next — and who owned the art — remains a matter of controversy, with Early’s descendants fighting over the four artworks, which depict people ranging from military officers to senators, waiting to see FDR.
While watching a 2017 television interview with former President Donald Trump, Thomas A. Early, one of Stephen Early’s three children, saw the Rockwells hanging in a hall in the West Wing of the White House, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
While watching the TV show, the lawsuit alleges, Thomas A. Early “learned for the first time that the Rockwells were in the White House.” Died in early 2020.
While it’s unclear how the family feud will be resolved, one thing is certain: The Rockwells are likely worth a tidy sum. A Rockwell painting was sold a decade ago $46 million – Although the controversial pieces are unlikely to bring anything closer due to sketches and drawings.
The artwork is by Thomas A. Early’s sister, Helen Early, was supposed to be kept at the Elm home, where the family agreed it should be stored, the lawsuit alleges.
Instead, Helen Early Elam’s son, William Elam, “took the Rockwells to the White House to conceal the removal of his artwork … and for the Rockwells to hide for a significant period of time ‘washed’ or ‘washed’ the artwork, in an attempt to gain sole ownership, ” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit claims that Elam took the artwork to the White House in 1978 — during the Carter administration — “where they were placed on loan, with the lender listed as ‘anonymous lender.'”
After watching a TV show in 2017, Thomas A. Early “immediately informed” the White House curator that he owned one-third of the Rockwells and that he wanted his children to inherit his stake after his death, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit does not accuse the White House or any officials of wrongdoing. The White House declined to comment on the “personal dispute.” According to Politico, in 2022, the Rockwell artwork was taken down and replaced by a portrait of President Joe Biden.
In a separate lawsuit, William Elam alleged that he was actually the sole owner of the artwork.
According to Elm’s lawsuit, FDR’s press secretary Stephen Early allegedly gave the images to his daughter Helen when she graduated from Pratt Institute in New York in 1949. He then gifted the artwork to his son, William, claiming.
Elm’s lawsuit also claims that his uncle, Thomas A. The estate of Arley, who saw the artwork on TV in 2017, did not include the paintings in his list of assets after his uncle’s death in 2020.
The suit, which claims Elam hid the art in the White House, is seeking $350,000 in damages as well as a judgment that ownership is shared by family descendants, while Elam’s suit is asking for a court ruling that the artwork belongs to him.