The Art Forger's Daughter by Anita Belli
Cover design by Charlie Peacock
Author's Notes: The Art Forger's Daughter
Art Forgery in World War Two
The starting point for this book was the remarkable true story of Artist Hans Van Meegeren who was arrested after WW11 in Amsterdam for Collaboration. He was charged with selling the nation’s art treasures to the Nazis when a small Vermeer painting was found in Herman Goerring’s collection of looted art and was traced back to Van Meegeren. Collaboration was a hanging offence, so in his defense, Van Meegeren claimed that he had painted the picture. He was not immediately believed – nobody could paint like Vermeer - and the painting had provenance and authentication. He said that he could prove it by painting another and so he set about literally painting for his life. He proved his case and was sentenced to one year imprisonment for forgery, a light sentence which reflected public opinion; he had become a national hero for fooling the Nazi’s. Sadly he died in prison before his sentence was completed.
This story has been told in many books and even a film, so I was not intending to recreate it – but I wondered about the other ways in which Art can play a part in all areas of our life and even be used to save lives. Picasso’s now infamous painting ‘Guernica’ for example raised awareness and support across a largely non interventionist Europe of the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War.
This book is a love story, dealing with the reckless passion of first love, and a deeper, more lasting maternal / paternal love which echoes down the centuries. It tells the story of the unintended consequences of actions, memory truth and lies. How the past ripples through the generations to impact on the lives of those who come after.
The effects of trauma
It is well documented that trauma casts a long shadows after any war. What I am interested in is the trauma suffered by the women and children of war and the impact that trauma has on those who come after. There is much documentation about the Hunger Winter and the physical effects of starvation, which also rippled down the years causing both physical and emotional ill health throughout the lives of those who endured it.
The 1950’s was another planet and looking back even over such a short time, we can see the social changes in attitude and life styles, but none so much as in the treatment of Mental Health patients. Thanks to my brother, John Belli for his support in researching this aspect of the book and answering my unusual questions.
Learning how to forge pictures in the 1940’s and 50’s hasn’t made me rich! Detection techniques have improved dramatically and these forgeries of old masters would be harder to make today. Modern masters became easier to forge but fakes and forgeries are still prolific and continue to keep the law busy
Some of the places in the book are real, some are fictional and for the purposes of this book, I have taken a few liberties.
Severalls Mental Hospital in Colchester is a real place and was closed in 1997. Opened in 1913 and did indeed have extremely long, previously unglazed corridors. It’s gardens were documented as being amongst the best in the area.
The suburb of Shrub End in Colchester was built in the post war era, in common with many towns and cities around the UK.
The old Dutch quarter of Colchester still exists and is now much sought after. The Little House on Stockwell Street is fictional but is typical of houses in that area at the time. Stockwell Street doesn’t exist:East and West Stockell do, as does ‘Stockwell’.
The George Hotel has stood on the same spot for 500 years and I thought it an appropriate venue for Dr. Felix to stay.
Wrabness just along the tracks on the branch line between Manningtree and Harwich: I have taken a few liberties to suit the story but mostly thought it would be a great setting for these two ‘babes on the wood...’
The Port of Harwich remained busy during the war and passenger ferries resumed in 1946. It was the port which received the Kinder Transport, the Jewish children evacuated from Nazi occupied Europe, who were housed temporarily in a caravan park in nearby Dovercourt, Essex, being transported on to London Liverpool Street where a statue commemorates their journey. At the time of writing, there are still people living in Colchester and the surrounding area who first came to Britain on the Kinder transport.
Amsterdam as a setting because it is more likely that Dr. Van Gelder would live and work there. Following conversations with Johanna Brown, who lived in Holland as a child during the Nazi occupation and now lives in Manningtree, I set a scene in the more remote tree nurseries of Boskoop.
1st person alternating Beatrix and T’Ash. 3rd person other characters; multiple viewpoints give more scope for story telling; I love to hear a character's ‘real’ voice.
All fictitious and like most of us a flawed bunch who are trying to survive and thrive; who share a common humanity and I have tried to give them all some redeeming features. Their task is to learn and grow through the challenges which have been chucked at them..... So in reality, based pretty much on all of us...