Investigator trying to find missing Rockwell painting

This Norman Rockwell painting, titled “Willie Gillis in College," disappeared from an Atherton home.

Daily Post Staff Writer

An international art recovery firm and a private investigator are looking for a 1946 Norman Rockwell painting that disappeared 16 years ago from a home in Atherton during a “chaotic” divorce.

Dennis Farrey is identified as the owner of the painting, called “Willie Gillis in College,” according to Atherton Police records. The Post attempted to contact Farrey, but all phone numbers found for him were disconnected or no longer his.

It’s believed that the painting disappeared while either Farrey or his wife were moving.

“Of course he accused the wife and she denied it, no one could find it, so the insurance paid out the claim,” said Chris Marinello, the CEO of Art Recovery International, which is looking for the painting.

Willie Gillis

Willie Gillis was a fictional character of Rockwell’s who was featured in 11 paintings that adorned the covers of the Saturday Evening Post from 1941 to 1946. The Gillis paintings took viewers through the young man’s life, first serving as a solider during World War II, to coming home, dating and going to college. “Willie Gillis in College” was Rockwell’s final painting in the Gillis series.

After the painting disappeared in April 2003, Farrey’s insurance company paid the claim. But after the insurance company pays out the insured for their losses, the company begins to look for the lost property on its own, to recoup the loss, Marinello explained. Marinello would not identify his client, which is the insurance company that paid Farrey for the lost painting.

Mark Kochanski, a private investigator hired by Marinello, said he thinks the painting has not been destroyed, and pointed out that the painting, on an 11- by 10-inch board, can be very easy to hide.

“Someone could be keeping this in their house, enjoying it on the down low, and who would be any wiser? Or it could be stashed in a closet or whatever. But eventually they (paintings) resurface,” Kochanski said.

Difficult to sell

But Kochanski said if anyone tries to sell this painting, which is registered as missing, it would have to be through the black market. Any reputable art dealer wouldn’t touch a stolen piece of art with a “10 foot pole,” Kochanski said.

With sending out this notice, Kochanski said he’s hoping to “shake something loose,” and get some answers regarding the missing piece.

Marinello said he thinks everyone involved is still in the area, and would “like them to do the right thing.”

Kochanski said the painting was valued under $1 million in 2003, and estimated that it would only increase in value. In 2012, the first Willie Gillis painting fetched $2.8 million at a Chicago auction, according to Reuters. The painting sold for less than anticipated. It was estimated prior to the auction to be worth $5 million, according to the Reuters report.

Kochanski sent out a notice to reporters last week letting them know of the renewed search, in hopes some publicity may “assist in a positive outcome and the opportunity to put years of rumors and innuendos to rest.”

Anyone with information about the painting is asked to contact Kochanski at (619) 972-0231 or Marinello at +39 (329) 693-2606 or at [email protected]