The Way We Lied

Charles sat opposite her, watching her the whole time she spoke. She continued to look at the painting and did not turn her eyes towards him. He had the impression that she was absorbing the image, memorising every single brush stroke. He was utterly entranced by her.
“Then I feel a very great sense of responsibility,” he said. “And I can assure you I will take great care of the portrait. But I hope you have some more of your father’s work to remember him by?”
“I have one other painting and some sketches. But very little was kept in the family. He was painting to make a living and sold his work whenever he could. But as far as I have been able, I have managed to trace his work to see it for myself. What still exists that is. Many of his early paintings were destroyed.”
There was a mix of sadness and anger in her voice as she continued. “You may not have heard of this, but he was denounced in Germany before the war and branded as a so-called degenerate artist. ‘Entartete Kunst’ was how those detestable Germans described anything innovative. In fact in the 30’s there was a famous travelling exhibition which was shown in German and Austrian cities, containing what they considered to be prime examples of so-called corrupt art, which they wanted to deride. It was utterly despicable and it seems unthinkable to us today. It included works by some of the most famous and celebrated modern artists of the time – Klee, Chagall, Max Ernst – it is astonishing now to think that they were so denigrated.”
Charles was both shocked this information and impressed by Mary’s evident passion. “I had no idea. I mean, I think I’ve vaguely heard about the condemnation of art and the curbs on artistic freedom, but I really know very little about the subject. Was your father’s work included in this dreadful exhibition?”
“No, he was not considered to be in the same league as those other more famous artists, but he was still condemned as one of the degenerates. And anyway he had left Germany by then. I believe he could see the way things were going and decided to leave. He came to England in 1934. He was in his prime as an artist, but he could barely afford food let alone paint and canvases. It must have been extremely hard for him. He worked as a decorator, finding the time and money for his paintings whenever he could afford to.” She sipped her wine and continued her study of the portrait.

to be continued May 16


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