Fact Check

Dead Son's Portrait

Person who buys unwanted painting at estate auction inherits entire estate?

Published Jan 30, 2000

Glurge:   Person who buys an unwanted painting at an estate auction inherits the owner's entire estate.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1999]

A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art. When the Viet Nam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.

About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, "Sir, you don't know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you, and your love for art.

The young man held out his package. "I know this isn't much. "I'm not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this."

The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture.

"Oh, no sir. I could never repay what your son did for me. It's a gift."

The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected.

The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection. On the platform sat the painting of the son.

The auctioneer pounded his gavel. "We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?"

There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, "We want to see the famous paintings! Skip this one!"

But the auctioneer persisted. "Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?"

Another voice shouted angrily, "We didn't come to see this painting! We came to see the Van Gogh's, the Rembrandt's! Get on with the real bids!"

But still the auctioneer continued. "The son! The son! Who'll take the son?"

Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. "I'll give $10 for the painting." Being a poor man, it was all he could afford.

"We have $10, who will bid $20?"

"Give it to him for $10! Let's see the masters!"

"$10 is the bid, won't someone bid $20?"

The crowd was becoming angry. They didn't want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections.

The auctioneer pounded the gavel. "Going once, twice, SOLD for $10!"

A man sitting in the second row shouted, "Now, let's get on with the collection!"

The auctioneer laid down his gavel. "I'm sorry, the auction is over."

"What about the paintings?"

"I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets every thing!"

God gave His son 2,000 years ago to die on a cruel cross. Much like the auctioneer, His message today is, "The son, the son, who'll take the son?" Because, you see, whoever takes the Son gets everything.

Origins:   Although this tale has been popularized on the Internet, it long predates that medium, as we found it in a book originally published in 1954. In that long-ago version, there was no mention of a father and son who loved collecting art, or of a son who died serving his country, or of a portrait painted by a comrade-in-arms; the tale began with the death of the rich man and the auction of his household goods. The only person to bid on a photograph of the dead man's son was an elderly woman dressed in shabby

clothes, who was later revealed to have been the dead child's nurse. Her charge, we are told, died at an
early age, yet she had loved the boy dearly and so wanted his likeness as a keepsake. In that telling of the legend, when the poor woman examined at home the photograph she had just bought, she noticed a bulge in the heavy paper on the back of its frame. She made a small cut into the backing paper and pulled from the opening an envelope containing the wealthy man's missing will. Said document clearly stated that his estate was to go the one who still held dear the memory of his beloved son.

This parable is similar in plot to that of a couple of common urban legends: one about the only attendee at a funeral inheriting the decedent's entire estate, and one about a son who discovers hidden wealth in the graduation gift he spurned. However, the tale's ultimate meaning transcends the mere acquisition of wealth expressed in those versions — it is a parable that illustrates the riches to be earned by accepting the son of God into one's heart. The person who cherished the son rather than sought to plunder a wealthy man's riches was the one who was rewarded with untold wealth, just as the one who accepts Jesus will earn entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Last updated:   24 February 2008


  Sources Sources:

    Powell, Ivor.   Bible Windows.

    Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1954.   ISBN 0-82543-522-6   (pp. 27-28).

    Tan, Paul Lee.   Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.

    Rockville, MD: Assurance Publishers, 1979.   ISBN 0-88469-100-4   (p. 239).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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