I like lost-and-found stories – if they have happy endings.
“But,” you might say, “if what was lost is found – isn’t that a happy ending?
And I’d say, “There’s found – and then there’s found.”
Here are two recent lost-and-found stories that caught my eye, and have me wondering how the stories will end.
There’s not much information provided – two original paintings from 17th-century European artists somehow ended up in a roadside dumpster in southeast Germany.
According to the article,
“The framed oil paintings were found by a 64-year-old man at a highway service station in the Bavaria region last month. The man later handed the paintings to police in the western city of Cologne, the police department said.
“Officers have launched an appeal for the owner of the paintings. An initial assessment from an art expert concluded the paintings were likely original works, police said.”
Here are the paintings:
The painting on the left is a portrait of a boy by Dutch artist Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678), date unknown. The painting on the right is a self-portrait by Pietro Bellotti (1625-1700) showing the Italian artist smiling, dating to 1665.
The German captions say, “Who can provide information about these works?”
According to this article:
“The auction record for a Bellotti is $190,000, achieved at the Swiss house Koller Auktionen in 2010…Works by Van Hoogstraten have sold for as much as $788,000 (at Christie’s Monaco in 1993).”
What we know: These are two 17th-century paintings of not-insignificant financial value by known artists.
What we don’t know: The paintings’ journey from the 17th-century artists’ studios to the German dumpster.
Here’s my theory:
When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they began confiscating art – paintings, ceramics, books and religious treasures – from all over Europe “for the greater good of the state.”
Meaning, for Hitler’s self-aggrandizement:
The confiscations continued till the war’s end in 1945, and included hundreds of thousands of items from museums, and from private collections, many of those collections belonging to Jewish families.
Hitler was particularly fond of “Old Masters” – works he considered “traditional,” done by painters of skill who worked in Europe before about 1800. And while the works of Van Hoogstraten and Bellotti aren’t as well-known as those by, for example, Rembrandt or da Vinci, these two paintings would have checked all the boxes on Hitler’s shopping list.
Many of the artworks looted by the Nazis were recovered, but many are still missing.
I’ll suggest that the two paintings by Bellotti and Van Hoogstraten were among the looted. After World War II they somehow passed from hand to hand until the paintings ended up stashed somewhere, like in someone’s attic.
Someone whose descendants didn’t want to explain how they came to possess the paintings, and instead tossed them in a highway service station’s dumpster.
My happy ending? The descendants of the lawful owners come forward with proof that the paintings belonged to their families before the war, and the paintings are returned to them.
And that could happen. Seventy-six years after World War II ended, looted artworks are still being returned to the rightful heirs:
Only then will the paintings be truly found.
Here’s my second lost-and-found story:
OK – a collection of items with British author names including the Brontës, Walter Scott and Robert Burns might not set your heart aflutter, but rest assured it’s got plenty of people hyperventilating.
The “lost library” in the headline, which vanished from public view in the 1930s, is referred to as the Honresfield Library, a private collection assembled by Alfred and William Law, brothers and Victorian industrialists (their home was Honresfield House). It consists of more than 500 manuscripts, letters, rare first editions and other artifacts.
Why did the collection vanish from public view?
According to the New York Times, the Law brothers never married. After their deaths, the collection passed to a nephew and,
“…after his death in 1939, the originals fell out of public view.
“By the 1940s, the collection had become ‘well-nigh untraceable,’ as one scholar put it at the time. In recent decades, some artifacts from the collection…have come up for auction. But the whereabouts of the rest remained unclear.”
That’s all rather vague, and the sellers, who are family descendants of the Laws, wish to remain anonymous.
So while my curiosity will go unsatisfied, I am satisfied that the collection was lost – and is now found.
Only to be lost again – to private collectors through multiple Sotheby’s auctions:
But wait – the collection may be found again, if a consortium, the Friends of National Libraries, can raise $21 million to acquire it and allocate the items to institutions around Britain “for the benefit of the public”:
And Sotheby’s, to their credit, has agreed to delay the much-publicized auction of this “lost library” of British literature treasures. Sotheby’s would not disclose the time frame of the auction delay, which it said had been agreed to by the two parties.
But we know the clock is ticking.
My happy ending?
The Friends of National Libraries raise that $21 million, keep the Honresfield treasures out of private hands and put them into British institutions.
Where these treasures can then be found – by everyone.