“Dieter,” Mark started to say as he pulled a stool up to a rudimentary table that lined the side wall, “I know we were a bit mysterious when we talked earlier, but I thought this was something we should talk about privately.” Tyler pulled up a chair as well, and Mark set Dieter’s grandmother’s photo album in front of him. “I have a few questions for you that I hope will confirm my suspicions.”
“What is this about?” Dieter asked, placing his hand on the album. “And what does this have to do with Gram’s pictures?”
“I’ll explain everything I suspect, I promise,” Mark told him, and Dieter nodded, his eyes focused on Mark.
“Did your grandmother ever tell you the names of her parents?” Mark asked him, and Dieter could tell he was quite excited.
Dieter opened the cover of the photo album, turning to the page that had the picture he wanted. “Gram said their last name was Meinauer. This is Gram’s dad, Joseph, and this is her mother, Anna. That’s Gram sitting between them.”
Mark’s excitement seemed to ramp up, and Dieter saw him glance toward Tyler. “Did she ever tell you what happened to them?”
“Gram said her mother died after she’d been sick for a while. After that she said her father wasn’t the same. She told me that when she was about twelve, her dad came to her after she had already gone to bed and told her to be very quiet. She said he led her through the house and out the servants’ door. They got into a car and made their way through the streets. She told me her father took her out of Austria just ahead of the Germans. Gram told me stories of how they survived in Switzerland during most of the war. She said they were lucky because her father managed to take some of his wealth with him, at least enough that they were able to live during the war. Her father died still in Switzerland after the war, and she came to the US where she met Gramps.”
Mark appeared to listen intently. “Do you know who this is in this painting?” Mark pointed to the one hanging on the wall above them in the picture.
“Yes. That’s Gram’s mother. Gram said she was a real socialite and spent a lot of time with artists and writers. Gram said her mother had commissioned that painting for her father. But it was lost in the war,” Dieter explained, remembering how Gram had said that everything from her family was gone except these pictures. “She told me that these photos were in the bags her father packed when they left Vienna. Why?”
Mark seemed to get more excited and pulled out a heavy book from the stack on the table. “Does this look familiar?” Mark turned to a page with a piece of paper in it, letting the book fall open.
“That’s…,” Dieter stammered as he looked at the full color plate and then back at the photograph in Gram’s album. “That’s her. That’s Gram’s mother.” Dieter could hardly believe it. “But Gram said it was gone.”
Maybe gone to her, but the painting survived,” Mark explained. “This painting is entitled Portrait of Anna and is by a very famous Austrian artist named August Pirktl. I looked through your photo album, and I was able to identify four other paintings by Pirktl in the backgrounds. All of these paintings are in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna.” Mark closed the book. “Dieter, you need to know that Portrait of Anna is also known as The Lady in Blue and is world famous. This painting,” he said, pointing to the photograph in Gram’s album, “is one of the most important paintings of the early twentieth century and is considered an Austrian national treasure. I had a poster of the painting on my dorm room wall when I was at art school.”
“Oh.” Dieter didn’t know what else to say.
“I did some more research online, and there are a number of sources that say that the painting was confiscated during the war and that it was given by the Nazis to the Belvedere. These other four paintings I was able to identify by Pirktl are also hanging in the Belvedere.”
“What are you saying?” Dieter asked, as Mark looked like he was about to bounce off the chair.
“I’m saying that these paintings may not belong to the Belvedere. If the Nazis confiscated them and gave them to the museum, then the museum may not own them.”
“Then who does?” Dieter asked.