A portrait holds the key to recovering a cache of looted artwork, secreted away during World War II, in this captivating historical art thriller set in the 1940s and present-day Amsterdam.
When a Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.
After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later. When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one it is and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it all.
Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.
Alderson alternates between 1942 and 2015 in this gripping mystery that explores the provenance of artwork that was hidden from the Nazis during World War II and reappears in 2015. Intern Zelda Richardson’s work at an Amsterdam museum changes focus as she seeks to prove ownership of a painting stolen by the Nazis and uncovers a mystery. As the narrative unfolds and the truth is revealed, the suspense is intensely magnetic and the characters equally captivating.
Date Submitted: August 04, 2016
5 stars: Excellent read! This book is a mystery/ thriller/ detective story which deals with the restoration of art to their rightful owners (if they can be identified) following theft by the Nazis during the Second World War.The story kept me engaged from the start, it deals with a fascinating time and an emotive subject. It's well written and has been well researched. I must admit it's a subject that fascinates and infuriates me equally. I can't understand how people can treat others so badly, and continue to do so over many years.Great setting too. I've never visited Amsterdam before, but I think I'll add it to my 'to visit' list!Zelda is a great lead character and I look forward to her future exploits.
5 stars: For me, a good historical novel must comprise fully developed characters, a compelling narrative, and absorbing information about the particular era referenced in the story. “The Lover’s Portrait” by Jennifer S. Alderson fits all these requirements.The protagonist, Zelda Richardson, is a resilient, gutsy, ethical art history student who just might be in over her head when her search for truth entangles her in a 70-year-old web of stolen paintings, blackmail, and murder.The author’s exemplary research into art works stolen by the Nazis during World War 2 is evident. However, she does not overdo facts; but rather, she seamlessly weaves the thought-provoking information into her tale.I highly recommend “The Lover’s Portrait” for artists, art lovers, history buffs, historical novel fans, and anyone else looking for a well-written, enjoyable read.I have not yet read Ms. Alderson’s first novel, “Down and Out in Kathmandu,” but halfway through “The Lover’s Portrait” I knew I wanted to read more of Ms. Alderson’s work, and so I ordered a copy and am looking forward to the read.
4 Stars Intriguing.
I loved how the author put her own experiences into the story. I didn't read the first book, but after reading this one, I will make my way to the first Zelda book. This historical references are great and bring a reality to the story. It's an intense and highly well written story about Zelda's investigation into a painting's history. Great story. Highly recommended and Alderson just found herself a new fan.
Well written mystery about stolen Nazi artwork. Alderson constructs a credible tale, that could have been ripped from current headlines of a young art student, Zelda Richardson thrust into a uncomfortable position working with a hostile colleague on a project attempting to reunite artwork with original owners. When two women claim ownership of the same painting, she finds herself thrust into danger and intrigue as she tries to unravel the tangled past. Informative and fast paced, this is an interesting read written by an author who clearly knows her subject. Three dimensional and well developed characters with the added bonus of the Dutch location. I look forward to seeing what Zelda will tackle next in her art world journey.
4 stars: The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery had me excited from the get-go. I have been reading a lot of art books lately—just sort of fell into it, and I have always loved a good mystery. So this novel seemed to be the best of both worlds. It is set in Amsterdam, so my Vermeer meter was on high. Turns out no Vermeer, alas, but the first two chapters hooked me immediately. The first chapter is a murky and mysterious flashback of artwork being hidden during WWII. The next chapter brings us to current times and Konrad Heider, a secretive man who is fruitlessly but lovingly continuing the search for his late uncle’s stolen art collection. As with many novels referencing WWII, the tone is often melancholy and bittersweet. So much was lost. While many novels focus upon the human loss, and it was disastrous, there is yet another aspect of loss: important and irreplaceable art and architecture. This novel focuses upon returning recovered artwork and the trust, love, and hate inspired by the desire of possession. We learn of the difficulty involved in providing evidence to claim recovered work, and it is intensive. Getting a mortgage is easier. And there is something in art that can spark a special greed: the desire to have something so precious kept just for oneself. Fortunately, many collectors want to share the joy of viewing and considering a fine work, and we have well-endowed museums. But what happens when a museum acquires works without established provenance and donation? Hence the plot premise that the Amsterdam Museum is running an exhibition in an all-out effort to locate owners of recovered art. From this, two plots build upon each other. The first centers upon matching the works using scholarly research and provenance to true owners, especially when there are multiple claimants, not all of whom seem quite in the right. In the second plot, keeping one’s word and upholding the responsibility of protecting artwork is weighed against self-preservation and family. The plots mirror when characters have to determine to what lengths they will go to obtain or preserve possession and to consider means and ends. The reader's opinion is definitely courted. The novel provides fodder for the discussion of who deserves to “own” art?And it is worth considering. There may be artists who choose to keep their works and sell a few pieces to cover life's expenses, but most are hopeful of an appreciative audience. Throughout history, artists had patrons, who allowed the artists an opportunity to grow their skill and refine their style. But that meant that the very rich, and usually noble, had the lion's share of works. There are those unfortunates who were not appreciated in their life time, such as Van Gogh, and whose artwork did not see much light of day. With Van Gogh, his works went to his brother's widow. Thankfully, she had PR skills and Van Gogh's artwork came to prominence over time. But had she not been married to Theo Van Gogh, what then? As it is, Van Gogh's paintings are very, very expensive, if not invaluable. Museums hold lavish fundraisers, and major (and very rich) families have members on museum committees, so in a sense what is purchased, displayed, and made available to the public is "curated" by the wealthy. Sometimes the works were pure investment purchases, and others were tasteful acquisitions. Suffice it to say that while the general public may have access to view selected pieces of art, how many of us have the means to have legitimate pieces in our homes? What would it be like to have a real piece of artwork hanging over our couch? Do most people really know how to look at art? An even bigger ponder-moment is how much artwork has gone by the wayside because the artist had no Theo or Jo Van Gogh? One of the most endearing points of The Lover's Portriat is the consideration of why an artwork may come into creation and the personal, as well as artistic, value that work possesses. Value means different things to different people. At the heart of this novel is a worry over which claimant is most deserving rather than who may have most legal right, and I don't want to use a spoiler alert, so I will say nothing further than we do become emotionally invested in a particular painting because of its subject matter rather than monetary worth. Our desire to see this particular piece come home keeps us turning the pages.The story really gets going when we are introduced to Zelda, a hopeful arts program candidate, who begins a disappointing internship at the Amsterdam Musuem. She hopes to parlay her internship into an arts program acceptance. But, rather than being directly involved in an historic effort to reunite art to the true owners and help set aright some of the Nazi era damage, Zelda is relegated to proofing translated American English text for the Stolen Objects exhibition catalogue. There is a subtext, if you will, about the value of being multilingual and how even a proficient translator can go awry with national vernacular. But to return to the novel, some characters evidence rather strong Nationalism, which underscores on a far different and limited scale the very effects of Hitler's, shall we say, lack of international appreciation. Enter Bernice Dijkstra, the project manager for the exhibition and Huub, a senior curator and key exhibit organizer. Bernice is a great character who brings level headedness and professionalism to counter Huub Konijn's insularism and personal baggage. The interplay between these two creates part of the tension in the novel as policy and passion duke it out. Anyone who has ever been caught up in office politics will feel Bernice's headache. Major intrigue enters when two claimants vie for a seemingly inconsequential painting that has a storied past and may prove valuable far beyond its subject matter and artist. Bernice and Huub spar as much as the claimants. Zelda, meanwhile, goes rogue. Combining passion and intellect, and pretty sturdily bending some rules, she embarks on the finding the truth. The plot is engaging and there are some good, believable twists. A point in favor of this novel is that the author has good control over her plot threads. The novel moves smoothly between omniscient flashbacks and the limited omniscient present. Another is that the author lays out most of her characters’ traits and develops them, such that when events take a turn, it is usually in keeping with the character involved. But there is a bit of a thorn here, and that is the main character—Zelda. She has a textbook case of rationalization and sometimes loses a bit of appeal this way. Her actions are sometimes heedless and create greater problems, but hey, if she wasn't so driven, there wouldn't be much of a plot. The novel provides thoughtful, engaging reading that keeps you eagerly following past events and present predicaments. Tying back to the art background connection, Zelda shares with the reader her knowledge about paintings hidden beneath paintings and WWII lost art lore. These bits are quite enjoyable and interesting. It is clear this novel was authored with the same love and passion for writing that Zelda exhibits for researching art. The Lover's Portrait creates both respect and delight. (4 stars)
A fuzzy, yet lovely, depot photo of The Lover's Portrait: The Art Mystery being entered into the Stedelijk Museum's library collection (location: 211 C 33). When in Amsterdam, come visit this amazing contemporary art museum and stop by the library to peruse through my book!