CLEVELAND (CN) – A Tennessee couple took an art dealer to court Wednesday, saying he got their 94-year-old family matriarch to consign a pricey painting they were storing at her house.
Represented by attorneys at Cavitch, Familo & Durkin, the couple Richard and Becky Hearty filed their complaint with a federal judge in Cleveland. The famed American landscape artist George Inness painted the artwork in question, “Shades of Evening,” in 1877.
Hearty says his father, Richard J. Hearty Sr., gifted the piece to Hearty and his wife in the early 1990s.
Though the couple live in Cross Plains, Tennessee, they say they kept the painting in storage for the last five years at the Akron, Ohio, home of Hearty’s mother, Mary Hearty.
The storage arrangement began, according to the complaint, soon after the Heartys opted not to complete a $270,000 consignment deal with the Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland.
This past November, however, the Heartys say they learned that Bonfoey president Richard Moore induced Mary Hearty into a new consignment agreement.
“Despite knowing of the Hearty’s ownership of the painting, and despite his previous dealings with Richard J. Hearty Jr., Moore never contacted Richard to confirm Mary Hearty’s authority to enter into the consignment agreement on Richard’s behalf,” the complaint states. “This is true despite the very significant differences between the 2012 consignment agreement, and the consignment agreement presented to Mary Hearty, which differences accrued to the benefit of Bonfoey.”
Describing the new consignment agreement as more favorable to Bonfoey than the 2012 iteration, the Heartys say it stipulated that Richard would receive a “NET amount of $200,000” when the painting sold.
Mary Hearty was going on 94 years of age when she entered into the agreement with Bonfoey and Moore, according to the complaint.
The Heartys say Bonfoey and Moore shipped the painting to a Florida-based art dealer based in Florida, and that this dealer purported to have found an unidentified buyer by the time the Heartys demanded return of the painting late last year.
Bonfoey, Moore and the Florida dealer, Neil Morris, are accused in the complaint of replevin, conversion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, breach of bailment, civil theft and civil conspiracy.
A representative for Bonfoey declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached by phone on Thursday morning.
Gem Ventures Inc., a Jacksonville Beach, Florida, business owned by Morris, is also named as a defendant.
The Heartys are represented by Max Dehn of Cavitch Familo.