The Con-Artist from Peekskill

As told by Robert C. Vose, Jr. (1911-1998)

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)
Jason and his Teacher (detail)
Private Collection

In the fall of 1973 a stocky man possibly in his forties called on us and said he was interested in some paintings. On November 14th I drove to Peekskill, New York, and called on him at 196 Furnace Dock Road to show him photographs. The house was a remarkable one built as a one-man residence by Jacky Gleason. Everything was circular. The bed-room (and bed which was about ten feet in diameter), the shower which was enclosed in glass, his desk (semi-circular) etc. His desk chair was on a swivel so that he could turn around and play the semi-circular organ. He composed music. The gutters on the roof funneled water to a stream that ran down beside the stair and eventually out doors to a gold fish pond.

The house was filled with expensive paintings, silver, furniture, books, etc. I remember seeing Thomas Benton’s big Suzannah & the Elders hanging there. Anyway, everything suggested great wealth. “Wertz” asked me to send down nearly $100,000 worth of paintings: Maxfield Parrish’s Jason and His Teacher, Arthur Dove’s Green, Black & Gray, and Jack Levine’s Quartet at Copley. On November 27, 1973, Terry Vose delivered and hung those three paintings.

Not getting anywhere with repeated calls and letters requesting either a check or decision not to buy, I made an appointment to call on the client. On May 24, 1974, I drove to Peekskill, was greeted at the door by a pleasant young man who offered me a cup of coffee and showed me the house which was absolutely and completely empty!

“Wertz” was apparently a top-notch con-man and had absconded with everything. The FBI did a fine job of locating the loot and on June 27, 1974 I had to appear before a Grand Jury at the Federal Court House in Foley Square in New York City to testify that the three paintings were indeed ours. It was another five years after the FBI recovered the paintings that they returned them to us. In the meantime the Parrish family was very patient. Max, Jr. even said if we never got Jason back, not to worry. We had done so well for the family they would expect nothing.

A letter from Maxfield Parrish, Jr. to 
Robert C. Vose, Jr. 

The consignor of the other two paintings was less understanding and said that the theft was our problem and he wanted his money. This meant that we had to come up with $55,000 for him. That was a particularly poor bit of timing for us as, at the same moment, a client had renigged on a definite purchase from us of a Stuart Washington that was on consignment. The owner of the Stuart was in the process of buying a Rolls Royce hearse (!) and had asked me for a statement in writing that his Stuart was sold. I told him that I certainly didn’t need word in writing from this particular client. Anyway, we had to come up with $95,000 to the Stuart owner.

Eventually we dug our way out, selling the Stuart to the Museum in El Paso, the Dove and Levine to a private collector, and the Parrish to a local dealer.

Letter from Maxfield Parrish, Jr. to Robert C. Vose, Jr:

June 5, 1974

Dear Bob:

Your last check to the “Heirs of Maxfield Parrish”, way up there into the five figures sums, was of course most welcome, but the sad news about No. 88, “Jason’s Teacher”, and your $45,000 picture, takes almost all the joy out of the munificent offering.

What a blight! Driving all the way out of Peekskill and finding the house empty suggests to me that your “friend” or client has been living too high and all his goods and chattels have been attached by the authorities in perhaps, bankruptcy. All I can offer of condolence is that you mustn’t worry about our picture. It will come to light in time, and your $45,000 one is worth a lot more than ours, and the two will “surface” at the same time and place no doubt, and when they do, well, ours will have appreciated in sales value all that more, so I am not over worried about the delay in selling it. In other words, don’t hurry on our account….

Best wishes to all, and good hunting when next you are in Peekskill.


Maxfield Parrish, Jr.

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