PHILADELPHIA — A Norman Rockwell painting that vanished from a Cherry Hill, N.J., house more than 40 years ago found its way home Friday.
The adult children of the late Robert and Therese Grant beamed with happiness — and blinked back tears — as they accepted the artwork from FBI agents in Philadelphia.
“Our family has waited 40 years,” said daughter-in-law Mary Beth Grant of Ocean City. “We never thought this day would arrive.”
The oil painting — known as "Lazybones" or "Boy Asleep with Hoe" — disappeared after a June 1976 burglary at the Grant family's home. It had hung in the foyer of the Fox Hollow home since 1954, when Robert Grant bought it after poking a pool cue through the canvas at a friend’s house.
Family members never forgot the painting, which shows a barefoot boy dozing on grass with a hoe between his legs and a small dog nestled against his side. The work appeared on a cover of the Saturday Evening Post in September 1919.
“They always talked about that painting,” said Mary Beth Grant.
Her husband, John Grant, revived an investigation in 2006, approaching Cherry Hill police after he came upon an old photo of "Lazybones" in a folder. The family later recruited Bob Bazin, a retired FBI agent who had specialized in art-related crimes.
Bazin brought the case to current FBI agents, and a breakthrough came last year when authorities publicized the investigation on the burglary’s 40th anniversary.
A Philadelphia-area antiques dealer, who heard a radio interview about "Lazybones," told investigators he might have the painting, said Lou Lappen, acting U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia.
Lappen said the dealer purchased "Lazybones" shortly after the burglary, paying a few hundred dollars for a work then insured for $15,000, Lappen said.
“He thought it was a Rockwell copy,” Lappen said.
When the dealer could not find a buyer, he hung the painting in his kitchen for decades.
“His wife liked Rockwell,” Lappen explained.
In some ways, mystery still surrounds the painting.
Authorities on Friday did not identify the dealer, who is not expected to face any charges. No one was ever arrested in connection with the burglary.
Officials also declined to estimate a current value for "Lazybones," although one investigator on the case — FBI Special Agent Jake Archer — has noted a Rockwell painting sold for $46 million in 2013.
At Friday’s event, Archer also noted the emotional value of recovering a family treasure.
“This was on the Grant family’s wall,” he said, standing by the framed artwork. “They loved this piece and it was taken from them.”
An insurance firm, The Chubb Group, became the painting’s legal owner after paying the family’s claim in 1976. But it returned "Lazybones" to the Grants after recovering the $15,000 claim.
The company then donated that money to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., said Chubb representative Robert Poliseno.
John Grant, who was 15 at the time of the burglary, said "Lazybones" will be kept in a secure facility.
“I do and I don’t,” he said, when asked if he’d like to see the valuable artwork in his home.
He also offered a message to the anonymous antiques dealer.