A long-lost portrait of Jackie Kennedy as a teenager has been found in the Hamptons, and now it's at the center of a legal battle. Terry Wallace, owner of Wallace Gallery in East Hampton, is selling the 1950 Irwin Hoffman painting of 19-year-old Jackie, but Kennedy's relatives claim the work of art was stolen from Grey Gardens.
Grey Gardens, of course, was the home of "Big" Edie and "Little" Edie Beale, Kennedy's aunt and cousin. Their eccentric, reclusive lives were chronicled first in a 1975 documentary and later in a 2009 television adaptation of that documentary starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.
According to the New York Post, the painting was given to Big Edie by Jackie's dad, John Vernou Bouvier III, and it might have been stolen in 1968, when Grey Gardens was robbed while Edies made a rare appearance at a friend's party.
"They entered Grey Gardens to find $15,000 worth of heirlooms stolen," New York magazine reported in January of 1972, though the article did not detail which items were missing from the home.
According to the Post, "the Edies were reluctant to report the theft in the midst of a long-running battle with local authorities over the downtrodden state of their home."
Kennedy's family is now suing to get the portrait back. Lawyer Megan Noh, who represents Little Edie's estate, says the family is "seeking justice and wants to reclaim this important piece of its legacy."
"After the gallery repeatedly denied its requests for return of the Jackie portrait and for information about its provenance — information regularly provided to art buyers in the ordinary course of business — the Estate was forced to commence this action," Noh said.
But Wallace claims he obtained the work of art legally.
“I got the painting 30 years ago from a very reputable art and antiques dealer. I can’t give you the name but I can only tell you they were reputable. They were in the Hamptons and the painting came with a very good title. It has a very good provenance,” Wallace told the New York Post.
When further asked about the provenance and whether the Beale family was "in the chain of ownership," Wallace simply said, "It didn’t come from those people," but he has not identified the dealer he bought it from.
Wallace also says that if wrongdoing occurred, he would gladly make things right, but he doesn't believe that's the case.
"If the painting was stolen I would cheerfully and gladly return it to the right owner, but that’s not the case. The Beale family insist they own this painting but there’s no evidence of that," he said.
"If someone came to me with the proof I would turn the painting over to them because I have a responsibility. I’m not interested in dealing in any stolen merchandise."