I’m not sure when we first connect to art as something more than a scribble our parents put on the refrigerator. Somewhere along our personal timeline, we recognize our own feelings in a painting, and wonder if the artist felt the same way. Even works created decades, or centuries before we were born. Skip ahead to college dorms, and you’ll find Max Ernst and Edvard Munch hanging side by side expressing angst and romanticism. There are times in our lives when images convey more than the OED could find the words to explain.
During WWII, art took on political meaning, and for many Nazi leaders, rising to power meant amassing collections of the masters, and giving their Furer the best of the lot, as the wide-scale looting and confiscation moved hundreds of thousands of pieces of art– renaissance masters to modern impressionist– from museums and private collections to train cars, salt mines, remote estates, to anywhere it could be hidden. The old masters were revered, the new free expression and bold interpretations of life created by artists such as Paul Klee, Picasso, Otto Dix, Max Lieberman, Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Munch, and Ernst were labeled degenerate.
I’ve read accounts of bon fires, where works by these artists were rendered to ashes, others auctioned off to feed money into the Nazi war machine. Why were these marked for destruction? Adolf Hitler felt that anyone who painted in this style must be physically inferior to see the world and colors in this way. If the works he detested didn’t meet this definition, then he labeled it politically subversive.
The stories told within these images are now layered in stories of what happened to the art, and where it has traveled in the last 70 years.
Right now, stolen art is hot. Not for being stolen, but for the publicity generated by the news such as the cache of art discovered inside the walls of a Munich apartment, the trial of art thieves in Amsterdam which resulted in the destruction of priceless works by Gauguin, Matisse, and Monet, to the upcoming film directed by George Clooney, Monuments Men.
I think that’s why Jade Weeks, the main character in my art mystery series, is so entwined with her pursuit of art. She uses the stories inside the paintings to explain the disjointed memories that flash through her dreams. Recovering a stolen masterpiece recovers a part of herself. In the next series installment, she is tracking the history of a Paul Klee painting that belonged to her great-grandfather, and was last seen with her grandmother just before she disappeared near the border of France and Germany towards the end of WWII.
Jade is reluctant to get caught up in the search, but John Young, the undercover FBI agent who pushed her to solve her father’s murder in Wired, is determined to engage her help. Even though it feels like a set up, Jade can’t stay away. When she tries to strike out alone, a shoot out, and cryptic text messages push her right back into John’s path.
As she tries to push away the memories of her father’s death and her life before his murder, she recognizes a kindred spirit in her grandmother, Anna Blume.
~ Stay tuned for updates and previews of Enigma, book two in the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series.