It was a tiny blurb on ArtNet back in February, and if you weren’t paying attention, you could easily have missed it. That’s when news that heirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s eccentric aunt and cousin have sued an East Hampton gallery owner broke. The heirs claim a 1957 portrait of the former First Lady at age 19 and later sold by the gallery had actually been stolen from the infamous “Grey Gardens,” the 28-room East Hampton, New York mansion, whose almost surreal dilapidation was the subject the HBO movie by the same name. The story has now made its way around the tony beach community and is causing serious grief for some of its residents. But none more so than Terry Wallace, of course, the gallery owner in question.
What the gallery owner says
Wallace, the owner of the Wallace Gallery on Main Street in East Hampton, claims that the portrait, which was painted by Irwin D. Hoffman in 1948, had been commissioned by and given to Jackie by her father, John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III. Jackie later gave the painting to her riding instructor. When the riding instructor died in 1968, the painting was part of the estate inherited by the instructor’s daughter, Theresa Todd Mahoney, who was a partner at Village Antiques in East Hampton. And that’s where Wallace claims he acquired the portrait in 1990 for less than $1,500.
What the Grey Gardens heirs are saying
Bouvier Beale, Jr., a nephew of Edith Bouvier Beale, who lived in Grey Gardens until her death in 2002, is the executor of the estate of “Big Edie” (as she is known in popular culture). He claims Jackie’s father gave Big Edie the painting, and Big Edie kept the painting until it was stolen from Grey Gardens in a home burglary sometime in the late 1960s. The exact date of the burglary is unspecified, and no police report was ever filed. “Things were chaotic and the Beales didn’t trust the town,” writes Dan Rattiner, founder of Dan’s Papers, a leading local news source in the Hamptons. Don’t miss learning more about Jackie Kennedy’s incredible mark on history.
Where the case stands
The case was filed by Beale in the New York Eastern District Court in February. Currently, it’s bogged down in paper. The most recent filing was in June—a memorandum in support of Wallace’s motion to dismiss the case for Beale’s having failed to state any actual claim. Wallace, who Rattiner says “has many wealthy clients, has a reputation to protect and would never engage in stolen goods,” is “amazed” by the lawsuit. That being said, if it turns out the painting was, in fact, stolen, Wallace is willing to give it back to its rightful owner.
Fans of the beloved First Lady will want to check out these rarely seen photos of Jackie.