Zelda Richardson, having finished her Art History Course, is now waiting to be accepted for an MA Course in Museum Studies. Over the summer she takes an intern job at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum which is running an exhibition of art work stolen by the Nazis during the war, in the hope that they may be recognised and returned to the descendants of the original owners. Originally employed to work on the website, she becomes embroiled in the ownership of a painting Irises, when two women come forward to claim it. Zelda oversteps the mark in her research into the painting and puts herself in danger as someone is willing to murder to get the painting and a collection of modern masterpieces missing since 1942.
1942 A Dutch Art Dealer is being blackmailed by a member the Nazi SS. He decides to hide his collection, and that of some of his friends, to stop it from falling into the hands of his blackmailer. He pays for his actions with his life, but without telling anyone where the art is hidden. Somewhere in Amsterdam there is a large collection of modern masterpieces probably lost forever, until Irises by Lex Wederstien turns up at the Amsterdam Museum.
As well as reading and books in general, my other passion in life is art, so I was very excited to read A Lover’s Portrait. I think that everyone who studies Art History and is then lucky enough to work in the field, dreams of finding a lost masterpiece, or a cache of art lost during the war which is the premise of this book. It might sound like a fantasy but this did happen in 2013 when Rolf Nikolaus Cornelius Gurlitt was found to have hoarded millions of pounds worth of art stolen by the Nazi’s. I should point out that Jennifer S Alderson wrote this book before that event.
The plot is written in the third person and from three different perspectives. In 1942 we see Amsterdam under the Nazi regime and their procurement of ‘degenerate’ art via the story of art dealer Arjan van Heemsvliet. In present day Zelda is the main protagonist and we are privy to her search for the details of the painting and the people who claim ownership. Finally there is Konrad Heider who has been looking for his uncle’s art collection lost during the war. All these separate threads slowly knit together, until they become one and solve the mystery. As well as the main characters there is an interesting supporting cast, all with their own back story that enhance the plot; the curator who has a history with possessions lost during the war; Rita Brouwer one of the claimants for Irises who left Amsterdam during the war; Karen, the rich American widow who also makes a claim, but all is not as it should be. I really enjoyed the fact that all characters had a back story gave them credence in the story. Not surprisingly Zelda was my favourite character, I loved her exuberance for life and for art. I have to say I was slightly jealous of her being able to study n Amsterdam and being able to be part of the search for the art.
Jennifer’s attention to detail in her writing is brilliant. She is able to bring Amsterdam, both in the present and in the past to life with vivid clarity, I felt I was back in the Museumplein, looking at the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. The same detail is given to her descriptions of the art, the reader gets a real sense of the images, and how they were painted.
There are plenty of clever twists and turns in the plot as Zelda races towards the truth of the ownership of Irises and the secret cache of art. The suspense an tension are kept throughout, and will keep you engaged until you turn the last page. I found The Lover’s Portrait to be and erudite and compelling read, full of suspense and culture; a perfect combination of history, mystery and art.