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Anton Mauve: a repatriation mission to New Zealand

"On a Friday afternoon in 1988, my grandparents sat listening to the radio while enjoying a glass of sherry. After the six o'clock news, a talkshow about the Dutch artist Anton Mauve (1848-1888) began, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of his death. "Anton Mauve... Jeanne, that's the painting we gave to Truus & Jan in New Zealand!", my grandpa Henk said with concern. With the prospect of a large sum of money, he convinced his wife to pay a visit to their friends in New Zealand, which turned out to be a covert repatriation mission. They kept it all a secret from their four sons, who were not to be informed of the details.

Anton Mauve, Ploegende boer Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Anton Mauve, Plowing farmer, approx. 1885, watercolor, 45,8 x 60 cm, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Emigrating to New Zealand

In 1955, like many others at the time, my grandparents emigrated to New Zealand to start a new life. As a memento of their home country, they brought along an artwork by Anton Mauve. The painting depicted a farmer with two horses tilling the Dutch soil. They reached New Zealand after several weeks, passing through the Panama Canal, where they soon found work and a place to live: Henk in the harbor and Jeanne as a secretary. It became clear early on that they wouldn't stay permanently in Wellington. Jeanne started feeling homesick. During the three years they planned to live there, they saved diligently with the goal of buying a house upon their return. In 1958, when their first child was on the way, they emigrated back to the Netherlands and purchased their first home in Heemstede. They gave away their possessions, including the Anton Mauve painting.

Repatriation Mission

Thirty years later, my grandparents set off for New Zealand once again, this time by plane instead of a boat. The journey did not go smoothly. On the second day, my grandma fell and broke her shoulder, requiring surgery. After a two-week delay, with the Anton Mauve painting constantly on their minds, they finally arrived at Truus & Jan's doorstep in Oakland. They were greeted with surprise and quickly settled into the familiar warmth of their friendship. Later in the evening, my grandpa asked about the Mauve painting. "Oh yes! Such a lovely piece, we enjoyed it for years. But recently it hangs in the garage were had a garage sale about two weeks ago, so I'm not sure if we still have it," Truus explained. Anxious and with a pale face, Henk rushed to the garage, where he found the Mauve painting covered in dust and cobwebs. Truus had no objections to Henk and Jeanne taking the artwork back to the Netherlands since it was originally given by them. Laden with their belongings, especially the painting, the two embarked on their journey back to the Netherlands.

Once they were home, their task was to gather more information about the artwork. Jeanne arranged to meet with a staff member at the RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History) in The Hague, who referred them to the Anton Mauve exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. After exchanging several letters, they were warmly received by the curator at the exhibition. He had a surprising revelation in store for them. To their amazement, Henk and Jeanne saw "their" artwork hanging on the wall. Although it had different dimensions, the composition was exactly the same. The curator had to disappoint my grandparents. Their artwork turned out to be a reproduction of the original, which had been donated to the Rijksmuseum in 1910 by the Drucker-Fraser couple.

It is clear that my grandparents had no knowledge of art. However, their perseverance is admirable and an important quality that proves valuable in the art world. Although the journey to New Zealand cost more than it yielded, the story is a meaningful addition to our family chronicles. Meanwhile, my grandparents are in their nineties, and the Mauve print hangs on the landing beside the stairs, a memento of an exciting time."


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