For the love of art – Part 3 January 2019
Ellen sat staring at the Irma Stern painting on her calendar. Her thoughts miles away from her task of updating the houses on the website. She loved the emotion held in the Fisherman’s eyes. It was day four and she hadn’t heard a peep from the Covents at no. 12. She had sent them a text message, to make sure they’d found the keys, and indeed they had. They would leave the keys under the pot on their departure. Bonita, her colleague, and Jeremy, her boss, knew nothing about this little side rental she had enabled and profited from. Ellen still felt nervous. What would she do if someone did find out? She hadn’t really thought about the ramifications of her actions when she’d decided to swindle her boss and her client. Ellen stood up and went to make herself some tea. As she poured the water, she decided it was time to rethink what she was doing with her life. She could do an art course or study art history. She had this little nest egg now, and if she rented no. 12 a few more times, she could definitely choose to do more than this job. She walked back to her desk, a little hum escaping her lips.
Ellen held her breath as she opened the door to no. 12. The Covents had left and she needed to clean up. The sliding door to the balcony was slightly ajar and the curtains fluttered as the draught from the front door gained momentum. “Silly people” muttered Ellen as she went to the sliding door, stepping out onto the balcony and checking the garden below. Everything was in order, except, a leaking garden tap. That was very irritating, especially in times of drought. She returned inside, closed and locked the sliding door, sniffing the air like a blood hound. The house smelt of detergent, strange she thought. She was going downstairs to switch off the tap the Covents had left running.
Luckily the tap was dripping very slowly. Ellen used both her hands to close it tightly. A milky substance covered the paving stones. Why had they come down to the garden to use a tap? Ellen turned in a circle to take in the garden. Nothing unusual. Best to go back up and recheck everything was in the kitchen drawers. As she walked towards the house, she noticed the metal gate to the lower apartment wasn’t closed. Her heart jumped into her mouth. Carefully she made her way to the gate, slowly touching it. It was cold against her sweaty hot hand. She opened the gate and then the door. The room was dark, the only light coming from the edges of the boarded-up windows. Ellen felt against the wall for a light switch. Fwap fwap zzzzzz, the old fluorescent light switched on. The large room was packed with old furniture and boxes, except for a space that had been made in the centre of the room, in which stood an easel. A large golden frame housed the biggest Pierneef painting Ellen had ever seen. It was probably priceless. Ellen stared open mouthed at the painting, before slowly walking up to the picture. She sniffed the air again. Turpentine. To be precise, oil paints and turpentine. She poked her nose out towards the painting and drew her glasses closer to her eyes. The oils were wet. She walked around the back of the easel. A box cutter lay abandoned on the floor. It seemed the Covents were talented thieves who liked to replace their stolen art with excellent fakes. What an interesting turn of events. Helen tucked her hair behind her ears and slowly turned and looked around the room. In the far corner of the storage room the Fisherman’s eyes stared back at her. The very same eyes she looked at daily on her calendar. Tentatively, Ellen walked towards the painting, and then knelt on the cold floor, taking the frame in her hands, gently lifting the artwork to her eyes. In the right hand corner she read, Irma Stern. Her red signature perfectly clear. Carefully she turned the frame to view the back. Then the front again. This was not a print, and the oils were dry. Another picture lay behind. She placed the Stern on the floor, she knew it was an early Walter Battis before she had read the name. There was another and another. South African artists she loved. Here in this dark room. Unseen. Unappreciated. Carefully she placed them back as they had been. She walked back to the Pierneef. The rendition was perfect. Yes indeed, she thought to herself, what an interesting turn of events. Carefully she closed the door and the gate, before returning to the main house.
This was first published in the Billboard Magazine in January 2019