Jennifer S. Alderson's Blog - Posts Tagged "art-crime"

The Man who Fooled the Third Reich by Maggi Andersen

Mystery Thriller Week brought me into contact with all sorts of amazing authors, including the lovely Maggi Andersen. She’s the author of twenty-four novels and several short stories, written in the contemporary Mystery, Historical Romance and Romantic Suspense genres. She’s even contributed to a non-fiction book about castles, customs and kings in Scotland!

It is my pleasure to share her article about one of my favorite Dutch personalities, Han van Meegeren. Find out now why the Dutch love this art forger, still one of the most talked about historical figures in the Netherlands.

The Man Who Fooled the Third Reich: Han van Meegeren, painter and forger extraordinaire

One of the most intriguing figures of the 1930s art world was in fact, a convicted criminal. (Han) Henricus van Meegeren, a Dutch painter. Born on October 10, 1889 in a small Netherlands community just outside of Deventer, he was strictly discouraged from any creative pursuits by his father, a history teacher. When his father caught his son drawing or exploring art, he’d force him to write “I know nothing, I am nothing, I am capable of nothing” hundreds of times on a sheet of paper. His father was determined that his son became an architect...

Read the entire article here:

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Travel By Book to Europe (focus on fiction)

Outwit Nazi soldiers in Italy, find a lost Dutch art collection, befriend an English jewel thief, run from a Russian spy, search for a missing artifact in Bulgaria, lead a double life as a Gestapo Commandant’s mistress, become a fugitive running from a European gang of psychopathic villains, and try to catch an elusive Greek underwear thief.

Or embark on a secret romance in Corsica, create a new life among Van Gogh’s sunflowers in Provence, experience a Finnish-English romance at the height of the Cold War, repair torn loyalties in the ancient Kingdom of Scotland, and discover your guardian angel on a Greek island!

Travel By Book to Europe with mystery, romance and historical fiction authors Jennifer S. Alderson, Pamela Allegretto, Daniella Bernett, Vanessa Couchman, Jane Dunning, Helena Halme, Dora Ilieva, Elizabeth Gates, Kathryn Gauci, Rob Johnson, Laura Libricz, Effrosyni Moschoudi, Katerina Nikolas, Sarah Ridout, Patricia Sands, Suzi Stembridge, and Stephanie Wood!

Read the rest of the post here.
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Chill with a Book Award for The Lover's Portrait

I'm thrilled to announce The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery won a Chill with a Book Award and the Book of the Month Award for January 2018!!

I am deeply grateful to all of the Chill With A Book readers :)

And the verdict was:

“Well written and well researched. I particularly enjoyed how Ms. Alderson described war time Amsterdam and how the city was changed during occupation. The story describes a brutal account of how the Nazis took everything they wanted, including lives. It is also a modern day story of determination to help find the families of the paintings and arts that were stolen and lost. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be looking out for more from this author.

Highly recommended.”

How amazing is that!

(post updated with second award on January 31)
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Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery won a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award!

Happy days! Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery won a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award!

Rituals of the Dead was read and evaluated by Chill’s readers against the following…

Were the characters strong and engaging?
Was the book well written?
Did the story / plot have you turning the page to find out what happened next?
Was the ending satisfying?
Would you recommend to someone who reads this kind of story?

Many thanks to the Chill with a Book reviewers for choosing my latest thriller!

Check out the award page here.

Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery

Stolen artifacts, a missing anthropologist, and a pesky amateur sleuth.

Art history student Zelda Richardson is working at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam on an exhibition of bis poles from the Asmat region of Papua – the same area where a famous American anthropologist disappeared in 1962. When his journal is found inside one of the bis poles, Zelda is tasked with finding out more about the man’s last days and his connection to these ritual objects.

Zelda is pulled into a world of shady anthropologists, headhunters, missionaries, art collectors, and smugglers – where the only certainty is that sins of the past are never fully erased.

Join Zelda as she grapples with the anthropologist’s mysterious disappearance fifty years earlier, and a present-day murderer who will do anything to prevent her from discovering the truth.

Genre: Historical / International Mystery & Crime
Pages: 237
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The Colonial Origins of Ethnographic Museums and Rituals of the Dead

Since finishing Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery, I have noticed an influx in news reports about the restitution of ethnic artifacts – a topic central to my latest mystery. So we are clear, I am not referring to antiquities such as the Parthenon Marbles (or Elgin Marbles, depending on your nationality). I’m talking about shrunken heads, painted shields, feathered headdresses, carved ancestor sculptures, ritual masks, and the like. The same objects currently filling western museums dedicated to anthropology and ethnography.

At first, I thought it was a side effect of my research; I was simply noticing these kinds of articles more often. After all, I’d just spent months pouring over accounts of anthropologists, missionaries, and colonial administers who brought Asmat artwork – specifically bis poles – back home from Papua New Guinea and donated or sold them to Dutch ethnographic museums.

[Caption: Papua New Guinea display in Mission Museum Steyl. Decorated human skulls, women’s lances, men’s spears, and knives made of bone (according to the exhibition texts) are visible in this photograph.]

“African Heritage Cannot be the Prisoner of French Museums”

However, I now believe this recent increase in news coverage has everything to do with a promise French President Emmanuel Macron made on November 28, 2017 while in Burkina Faso. He announced the restitution of African artifacts was a priority, stating, “I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural patrimony of several African countries is in France. There are historical explanations for this, but there is no valid, durable, or unconditional justification for it. Africa’s patrimony must be celebrated in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos, and Cotonou.”

He later reiterated his statement by tweeting, “African heritage cannot be the prisoner of French museums”. Many believe this pledge was in response to Benin’s request for the return of thousands of “colonial treasures” taken at the turn of the century. A French court of law denied Benin’s claim.

Macron’s remarks shines a spotlight on the origins of western ethnographic museum collections and have re-invigorated calls for restitution. Almost all of these cases concern objects collected for western museums from colonized nations in Africa, South America and Oceania between 1900 and 1970.

Exotic Representations of “The Other”

These artifacts were acquired as representations of the indigenous group’s “otherness”. Anything and everything was shipped back home – ancestor statues (such as bis poles), shrunken heads, decorated skulls, kitchen utensils, weapons, shields, musical instruments, sleeping mats, bowls, and even door frames. The weirder, the better.

These objects were desired by both museums and private collectors. Public displays emphasized the primitive nature of the indigenous groups’ artistic expression or spiritual beliefs. These exhibitions were also a way of asserting western superiority over these regions and peoples, used to justify their colonization and the (often forced) conversion to Christianity of those living within these colonies. In pretty much every case of colonization, the church was there from the beginning, busy converting locals in the belief they were saving their souls, while helping them adjust to western culture, customs, and technological advancements. Papua New Guinea was no exception.

My summary probably seems harsh to you because society has progressed and our attitudes have thankfully changed.

[Caption: Bis pole displayed in the Tropenmuseum’s Light Hall.}

Decolonization and Western Ethnographic Museums

Decolonization in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in a new call for equal rights by indigenous peoples – within their own lands and abroad. It also meant that some of these ‘exotic’ peoples were now immigrating to the colonial motherland. In the Netherlands, their presence dictated a change in the ways these people were represented in the country’s ethnographic museums.

Many of these museums’ showpieces were removed from public displays and hidden away in their depots. New exhibitions were created which focused on geographical and statistical information, as a way of introducing these post-colonial nations to western viewers. They were often neutral displays, heavily dependent on photographs to illustrate aspects of daily life, such as the ways homes were constructed, fields were sown and the types of clothes locals wore.

Only in the last decade or so have these older artifacts been brought back out of storage. However, they are no longer displayed as examples of a people’s “exotic otherness”, but as sublime examples of their cultural and artistic traditions.

[Caption: Example of Asmat artwork whose design is heavily influenced by Christian teachings. Part of the Mission Museum Steyl’s collection.]

Reasserting Cultural Identity

One of the side effects of the conversion to Christianity was the disappearance of these indigenous groups’ artistic traditions. Sometimes they were voluntarily given up by peoples no longer interested in keeping the “old ways” alive. In other cases, such as Papua New Guinea, their traditions and rituals were banned by Christian missionaries and colonial governments, as part of the pacification process.

Nowadays, the objects collected in the 1900s and displayed in western museums are often the finest examples of an artistic tradition that has died out in its country of origin. Pride of culture has led many recently-formed nations and indigenous groups to try and revive these traditions, as a way of reasserting their cultural identity. Their desire to see these historically-significant artifacts returned has also grown stronger.

An increasing number of countries in Africa, South America and Oceania are submitting claims on these precious examples of their ancestors’ craftsmanship and artistry. So far, the response has been mixed. More often than not, their claims have been denied.

In light of Macron’s promise, how Western museums respond to these new restitution claims will be telling. How deeply-seated are feelings of colonial pride in the present generation? And are western museums willing to give up the best pieces in their ethnographic collections – and risk becoming obsolete – to help these former colonies establish their own cultural institutions?

Author’s note: This is a brief introduction to an extraordinarily complex topic. It is based on research I conducted while working as a collection researcher for the Tropenmuseum, writing my master’s thesis, and my novel Rituals of the Dead.

References to French President Macron’s promise to return African art mentioned in this article can be found on these news sites: La Monde Afrique, Hyperallergic, New York Times, and the ArtNet News.

Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery is available as paperback, audiobook (June 2018), and eBook via Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble NOOK, Google Play, Smashwords, or your favorite retailer.
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Restitution of Nazi-Looted Artwork after WWII & The Lover's Portrait

Before moving to Amsterdam, I knew very little about the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War Two, a topic that plays a central role in my novel, The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery. Sure, I’d read about controversial cases in newspapers and wondered why museums didn’t hand over the artwork immediately when legitimate claimants appeared on the scene, but also why it took the relative of the legal owner so long to submit a claim.

Only after moving to Amsterdam to study art history did I begin to understand the complexities involved, for both the claimant and the cultural organization or government tasked with caring for the artwork until the legal owner is found.

The ‘Monuments Men’
As an art history buff, I was quite familiar with stories about the ‘Monuments Men’ discovering crate upon crate of masterpieces stored in castles, salt mines, and abandoned train carriages. This international group of civilian museum curators, art historians and other cultural specialists were officially part of the ‘Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program’ (MFAA), recruited in 1943 by the Allied Forces to track down and recover hundreds of thousands of artistic and cultural treasures stolen from art collectors, cultural institutions, businesses and individuals all over Europe.

These precious objects – sculptures, paintings, furniture, religious relics and artifacts – were brought to a series of collection points, where the ‘Monuments Men’ attempted to determine which country their former owners hailed from. In rare cases, documents were crated up with the artwork which clearly identified its last legal owner. However, the artwork’s destination was often based on a ‘best guess’ by the plethora of well-educated and well-meaning MFAA experts.

Dutch Artistic Treasures Returned from Germany
But what happened after the artwork was returned to their suspected country of origin, in this case the Netherlands?

Try to imagine it’s October 1945 and you are in Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands. Five months earlier, the city was freed from five long years of Nazi occupation. Hundreds of thousands of locals are missing or dead. Many homes are empty shells; anything of value – from furniture to floorboards – has been torn out by desperate looters, leaving rat-infested ruins behind.

The trams haven’t run in four years, not since the Nazis banned public transportation. And even if they were able to, any wood used to hold the rails in place has been torn up and burned for heating and cooking. Oil and gas are non-existent. Food has been rationed for years and most daily household products are simply unavailable.

Many government offices have been closed for months, due to a lack of sufficient personnel and the resources to keep the lights on.

And then from the far reaches of Europe, a plane full of precious artwork and artifacts lands at Schiphol airport on the morning of October the 8th. Days later, truck load upon truck load of irreplaceable paintings, sculptures, religious icons and relics, begin arriving at the Rijksmuseum, delivered into the chaos that was once the lively, well-organized city of Amsterdam.

Despite all the hardships, the Dutch government organized the first traveling exhibition of looted artwork, entitled Dutch Artistic Treasures Returned from Germany, in the spring of 1946, in the hopes of reuniting these pieces with their legal owners. In 1950, the Rijksmuseum also organized a heavily publicized exhibition of all of the artwork still unclaimed.

In order to claim their property, the claimants had to provide definitive proof of ownership in the form of a title transfer, purchase agreement, or a similar document. Considering the exorbitant value of many of these works of art – paintings by Rembrandt, Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Frans Hals, and the like – the Dutch government wasn’t making an unreasonable request.

Thankfully, many claimants were able to give their important paperwork to friends who weren’t considered ‘undesirable’ by the Nazis before the war broke out, or took them along when they went into hiding. They were the lucky ones.

Too many more of those attempting to claim their property had lost everything during the war, literally. They were sent to concentration camps, their homes stripped clean and sold off, belongings stolen, clothes burned, and loved ones murdered. They had absolutely nothing and no one left. How could they fulfill the government’s seemingly simple requirement?

Restitution of Stolen Artwork influenced by Swiss Bank Scandal
Over the years, the thousands of yet unclaimed cultural treasures entrusted to the Dutch government have been spread throughout the Netherlands, lent to regional and national museums to care for and display. As time moves on, some of these objects’ backgrounds are forgotten and they are seen as part of the museum’s collection, not a looted object whose owner still needs to be found. Some paintings and sculptures even became the highlight of the museum’s permanent collection and grace marketing posters and gift shop items. Yet many pieces ended up in depots, never to be seen by the general public again.

Fast forward to the year 2008. A shift in attitude had taken place a few years prior. Dutch museums and cultural institutions – as most of those across Europe – are now actively searching through their collections for works with a dubious provenance, earmarking any pieces which were potentially stolen from their rightful owners by Nazi troops or officers.

This was a direct result of a shocking revelation in 1995 that several Swiss banks knew they held ‘dormant Jewish WWII bank accounts’ – as they would later be referred to in court documents – yet refused to return the money to the surviving relatives because the claimants couldn’t supply the bank with a death certificate. Those murdered in German concentration camps never received one, leaving the families powerless. Only after the World Jewish Congress took up the case on behalf of several Jewish organizations, were they able to reach a settlement with the banks in November 2000, which finally agreed to return money owed to the account holders’ relatives.

Suddenly no institution – cultural or otherwise – wanted to risk being stigmatized as profiting from the atrocities of the Second World War.

Archival Research and Digital Collections
Museum researchers made tracing the histories of paintings, sculptures and relics with a suspicious past their priority. Newly-formed teams began the tedious process of reconstructing the provenance of artworks and objects, often searching through archives and libraries all over Europe to trace the paths these pieces had taken in their lifetimes.

Simultaneously, museums were beginning to digitize their collections, for the first time allowing the public access to all of their objects, including the majority hidden in their vast depots.

With all of this media interest and new information available, heirs began hiring private investigators and conducting their own research into these digitized collection databases, in the search of a loved one’s piece.

Strangely enough, Hitler’s policies have aided both Dutch researchers and the heirs of the unclaimed artwork. Adolf Hitler held the Dutch people in high regard because he considered Germans and Dutch citizens to share a common linguistic and cultural heritage. That meant his troops weren’t officially allowed to seize art or cultural objects from Dutch citizens, as they were given free rein to do in other countries, with Poland probably being the most horrendous example of their unabashed looting. Here, they had to ‘purchase’ the artwork – often from owners who were placed under duress or were blackmailed into doing so – and create official purchase contracts for the transactions. The title transfers and purchase agreements created by the Germans became important aids for researchers working to find the rightful owner, and family members trying to claim their missing pieces.

In most cases, the art and the owner’s heirs were reunited and both the museum and family found peace. Occasionally claims were fought by museum directors, who steadfastly asserted the painting or sculpture had been gifted by a reputable donor with the proper paperwork. These kinds of cases ended up in court and after long legal battles – more often than not – the claimant won.

In exceptional cases, two or more parties have submitted seemingly legitimate claims on the same object or collection. These are the ones which garner the most media attention. Stories passed down from one generation to the next, fading photographs and old letters with vague references to the painting in question are all brought into play, argued over and re-interpreted by numerous museum personnel, documentation experts, and art historians before judgement is finally reached, always leaving one party certain justice has not been served and vowing to fight the claim to the bitter end.

Author’s note: This is a brief summary of an extraordinarily complex topic. To find out more, I suggest reading any of the Dutch and English language resources I relied upon when writing The Lover’s Portrait, as well as this article. You can find a complete list in the appendix of my art mystery or here on my blog: ‘Interesting & Obscure WWII references’.
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Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion!

I am extremely grateful to IndieBRAG readers for choosing to award my artifact mystery with this lovely medallion. This book was a passion project; it really makes me happy to see readers connecting with the characters and story!

You can find it on IndieBRAG’s site here.

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On NetGalley - Marked for Revenge!

My latest novel - Marked for Revenge: An Art Heist Thriller - is on NetGalley this month! It's an adrenaline-fueled adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, Luxembourg, and Turkey about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance. If you do read it, I would love to know what you think of it.

Marked for Revenge An Art Heist Thriller by Jennifer S. Alderson
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Published on April 03, 2019 12:22 Tags: art-crime, crime-fiction, heist, mart-theft, mystery, netgalley, new-release, thriller

Jennifer S. Alderson's Blog

Jennifer S. Alderson
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