Legal proceedings to determine the ownership of a 1943 Norman Rockwell painting will begin in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on April 5.
All litigants are the grandchildren and possible heirs of Stephen Early who served as press secretary for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During FDR’s tenure, Norman Rockwell, a Massachusetts native, was invited to the White House to sketch and chronical the day-to-day scene in the West Wing.
His time in and around the oval office resulted in a painting titled “So You Want to See the President” which first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on November 13, 1943.
Ultimately, Rockwell gave the work to press secretary Early who considered it priceless.
Mr. Early died in 1951 and his wife passed away in 1978. They had three children–two sons and a daughter–who have passed away in recent years.
The daughter’s son, the defendant who is currently in possession of the piece, claims that his mother received the painting from her father in 1948 as a college graduation gift. She then gave ownership of the painting to him (the defendant) in 1999, prior to her death.
Despite claiming sole ownership of the piece, both Mr. Early’s daughter and her son allowed the painting to remain at the White House from 1978 until the summer of 2022.
The plaintiffs are the grandchildren of Mr. Early’s two sons. They challenge the claim that their grandfather gifted the painting to his daughter in 1948. Instead, they contend that ownership passed from Mr. Early to his wife and, upon her death, to all three children. This would make them, the plaintiffs/grandsons, part owners of the work.
Their complaint asserts that the painting was housed at the White House “for a significant time period to ‘launder’ or ‘wash’ the ownership of artwork, in the effort to obtain sole ownership.”
According to their filing, the plaintiffs assumed the artwork was in storage until it was seen hanging in the West Wing Hallway during a 2017 televised interview with President Donald Trump.