Wednesday 26 September 2018

Yesterday Uncovered - 1940's with Jennifer S Alderson & The Lover's Portrait

This month on Yesterday Uncovered we slip back to the 1940s

Sitting, in the shade, on a recliner at the side of my pool is Jennifer S. Alderson, the author of The Lover’s Portrait, so please help yourself to a glass of chilled bubbly, a plate of tapas, then make yourself comfortable and enjoy slipping back to the 1940s.

Tell us a little about yourself

Hi, Pauline! Thanks for the invite. I am an American-born journalist, website developer and art historian currently living in the Netherlands. I write travel mysteries and thrilling adventures set in one of the many countries I have been lucky enough to visit. When I’m not writing, you can find me biking around Amsterdam, in one of the city’s many museums, or sipping coffee on a canal while dreaming up my next book idea.

What inspired you to write about the 1940s?

While studying art history at the University of Amsterdam, the restitution of Nazi-looted artwork was a hot topic, both in my lectures and in the national media. Jacques Goudstikker’s heirs were in the process of claiming hundreds of paintings spread throughout Dutch museums and the lawsuit was quite controversial. We also spent many hours discussing an (unrelated) exhibition of artwork stolen by the Nazis, unclaimed paintings and sculptures still in the care of the Dutch government. The exhibition – Looted, But From Whom? – was meant to garner the collection media attention in the hopes the legal owners or their heirs would come forward and claim them. The Goudstikker claim and Looted exhibition merged in my mind and inspired the plot of The Lover’s Portrait.

Tell us little about the story and its plot without giving too much away

The Lover’s Portrait is a dual timeline mystery. In the present day chapters, American art history student Zelda Richardson is working at the Amsterdam Historical Museum on an exhibition of looted artwork. When two women claim the same portrait of a young woman, Zelda is tasked with finding out more about the portrait’s provenance (or its history of ownership).
About forty percent of the novel is set in the early 1940s when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam. Without giving away too much, the reader learns more about the girl in the portrait, the rightful owner, and how the painting ended up in the government’s care after the war.

Is any part of the story based on facts / real events?

The ways in which museums deal with restitution cases, the Nazi’s policies regarding modern art, as well as their way of legitimizing the theft of artwork from Dutch citizens, are all based on real facts. However, the portrait described is a figment of my imagination, as are the two claimants.

Are any of the characters based on someone real or are they pure fiction?

Many of the characters in the 1940s chapters are compilations of historical figures I had read about during my research. I made a point of not using any one person as the basis for a character. The only exception is a Jewish artist in my story, a young man named Lex Wederstein. I was so moved by the real story of a talented Jewish artist who perished in a concentration camp months before the war ended, that I gave Lex his background, aptitude, and promise of a rewarding career.

If research was necessary what did this involve?

Extensive archival research into Amsterdam’s World War Two history was crucial. As an American, I knew very little about the war in Europe. The Nazi’s policies regarding homosexuality, collaborators, resistance fighters and Jewish artists were all unknown to me. My Dutch husband’s family also shared their stories of growing up in occupied Amsterdam, how it was to see tanks rolling through the streets, bunkers on Museumplein and German troops on patrol. They really helped make these chapters come to life.

Many thanks for inviting me to your blog, Pauline!

You can find Jennifer on all of these links…

Thank you for stopping by and meeting Jennifer.

Next week we slip back to 1960’s so please come back and join us as we look at life from this amazing decade. 

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JSA said...

Thanks for including The Lover's Portrait in your wonderful Yesterday Uncovered feature!

Allegretto said...

Wonderful interview. My compliments!