Wealthy New York couple say they were tricked into paying $50,000 for kid's finger painting

Michelle Heinemann and her banker husband Jon say their son's exclusive school rigged a fundraising auction and they had expected to bid $3,000

New York's well-heeled Upper East Side is agog over a row between a wealthy banker couple and their son's school over a child's finger painting.

Michelle Heinemann, the doyenne of a thousand exclusive gatherings and her husband Jon, an investment banker, are suing their son's school for $415,000 (£272,500).

The couple say they had intended to put in a winning bid for about $3,000 for the painting at a fundraising auction at the school their six-year-old son, Hudson Cornelius Heinemann, attended. But, say the couple, the Cathedral School of St John the Divine rigged the auction, landing them with a bill for $50,000.

"This is essentially a painting done by 5-year-olds," an unnamed source told the New York Post.

The Heinemanns were out of town - perhaps at their seafront mansion in Maine - when the auction occurred, so appointed a "Mrs Bryant", reportedly their son's first year teacher, to be their proxy bidder.

They were told that paintings usually sell for $500 to $1,200 and expected the winning bid to be a maximum of $3,000. But, they say, Mrs Bryant's desperation to get the child's painting landed them with a bill for $50,000.

For its part, the school claims the auction was valid and that the bidding for the painting had been more frenzied than expected. The painting features paper cut-outs of the hands of Hudson Cornelius and his 17 classmates, with each child's answer to the question "how do you feel when you are around art?"

The Heinemanns' lawsuit says they were already unhappy with the school, alleging that their son was "underappreciated", being subject to such indignities as "door holder", when he was ordered to hold the door for all of the other students.

The lawsuit goes on: "Plaintiff’s son was consistently left out of school exhibits and films ... and was made to go last at nearly everything."

The school had allegedly agreed to drop all of Hudson's door-holding duties if the Heinemanns donated $6,000 worth of "designer clothing items" to the auction - and if "renowned artist" Michelle helped to create the fated painting.

The Heinemanns have now withdrawn their son from the school and are suing for costs and compensation, including $20,000 tuition fees for a new school, forfeited class fees for his little sister Hyacinth Cornelia and the salary of Hudson Cornelius's $60,000 a year chauffeur, whose job they want to save.

"The Heinemanns tried to settle this matter without a lawsuit, but the cathedral had no interest in taking responsibility for their actions," the family's spokesman R Couri Hay told the New York Post, while the school was unavailable for comment.

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