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Rockwell painting fetches record $15.4 million

Story Highlights

• "Breaking Home Ties" was found this year behind a wall in a Vermont home
• At $15.4 million, the painting breaks a record for Norman Rockwell at auction
• The painting's buyer chooses to remain anonymous
• Earlier buyer had made a copy and hidden the original, for which he paid $900
From Chris Kokenes
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Found hidden behind a wall this year, the Norman Rockwell painting "Breaking Home Ties" broke a record for the artist when it sold for $15.4 million at auction this week.

The painting sold on Wednesday for more than double its estimated price of $4 million to $6 million, according to a Sotheby's auction house release.

The buyer chose to remain anonymous.

"Breaking Home Ties" was discovered earlier this year in a secret hiding place behind a wall in the Vermont home of cartoonist Don Trachte, who died last year. He had bought the work from his friend Rockwell in 1960.

The painting depicts a father -- with a weather-beaten face and blue jeans -- waiting with his son, who eagerly looks for a train that will take him off to college. It first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on September 25, 1954.

Also fetching a record price at Sotheby's was Edward Hopper's "Hotel Window," which sold for $26.8 million to an anonymous buyer. The 1955 large-scale canvas smashed Hopper's previous record of $2.4 million for "South Truro Church," set in 1990.

Painting's hidden past

While divorcing his wife, Trachte presumably made a copy of "Breaking Home Ties" to protect his children's inheritance, according to Sotheby's.

That copy was exhibited -- as the original -- at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 2003. It was billed as the first time the painting had been on public view in 25 years, according to the museum's Web site.

Although "museum and other experts noted discrepancies between the painting and The Saturday Evening Post tear sheet," the Web site says, "the impeccable provenance of the work as well as a long-held understanding among Rockwell experts that the work had been damaged outweighed these concerns."

After Trachte's death in May 2005, his four children found various clues -- including photos -- in his studio that led them to believe he had made a copy of the original.

A search of the house uncovered a space behind a wall panel near where the copy had hung for years. In the hidden space, they found the original Rockwell along with several paintings by other artists.

Trachte had paid Rockwell $900 for "Breaking Home Ties," the museum Web site said.

Rockwell died in 1978.



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