WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?! …….. PIET MONDRIAN, chapter 6
Again, I had not set the alarm but I didn't sleep very late. When I did opened my eyes, I laid in the bed and let my thought processors awaken slowly. Sometimes it was better this way than using the shower and caffeine to do the trick.
I was just getting to the point where two plus two almost equaled four when the nicotine alarm went off. I threw my legs over the side of the bed, grabbed the tobacco pouch and took out a paper and rolled one. Took a long and satisfying drag and started coughing. Hey, it made me sure of one thing, I was still alive.
I got through the rest of the routine of putting the day in motion and was out the door at about ten and headed for the office. The climate that greeted me was a windy blustery summer day which sounds like a dichotomy of terms but this was Holland and very normal. No matter.
When I arrived at the office, Sassy was radiant in her good humor, "We have a new client, Wes?"
"Yes, Sassy, that we do."
"My that is pleasing! Your bank account was getting close to the bottom," she said seriously.
"Never fear, Sassy, like the United States postal service which claims neither rain, nor hail, nor sleet, nor snow, will impede the delivery of the mail and---I will add to that---nor an ex-wife will prevent me from paying you your wages---"
"You're forgetting last summer. Aren't you, Wes?" She said with a smirk?
"Hey, okay, I was a few days late---"
"You mean, a few weeks late---"
"Common on, give me a break. I've had only three cups of coffee so far today...I am not hitting on all the cylinders---"
"Don't go using all those American slang expressions on me. I know you think it diverts me from the matter at hand, but---"
"Enough...coffee! Now!" And I added for good measure, "Pleaseeee---"
Dutifully---after all, she was English---she got up from her desk, at the other side of the room, and headed for the small pantry like room. In the meantime, I gave some thought on how I should approach this Willem van den Valk. Should I diddle-daddle around the subject? Be direct? There was something to be said for both approaches. Of course, I was probably just wasting my time since a study of his behavior, in the first minutes of our meeting, would more than likely dictate my action or actions. I might first diddle-daddle and if that got me diddly-squat I'd probably go direct.
Sassy came back with a small tray. She put the coffee mug---with the image of Alfred E. Neuman on it---on my desk and returned to her side of the room and put the tray on the metal desk I had bought at an auction of office furniture. Hey, if you're goin' to hang POP art on your walls you can't afford antique furniture too. She took a small spoon and added two helpings of sugar to the tea in the fine bone-china cup. She picked up the cream pitcher, filled with skim milk and poured a dab into the mixture. Stirred it like she was mixing nitro with glycerine, that is, slowly and carefully.
I decided to interrupt this obvious reverence for the broth of the dried crush leaves by saying, "Aaah, do you understand that the 800 guilders is NOT a deposit for my services, but the statutory limit for them?"
"Boss, you can not be serious? Is this true or are you just having jest with me? You do know I do not appreciate this inane form of American humor..."
"Common, Sassy, you know I never joke about money!"
She looked at me with an incredulous expression and said, "No, you do not...and, now, you have just ruined my day!" She paused and I could see her mind reviewing what I had said. "But you never accept a case without a deposit."
"Yeah, and the exception makes for the rule...or something like that." I tried to mollify her by explaining my motivation to break the rule and summed it all up with, "We need the money!"
"Yes, we do! Well, I suppose, the Chinese axiom, 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step!' applies here."
"Kilometers, Sassy...And yes, it most certainly applies here."
"Kilometers? Do the Chinese use kilometers. I thought we British were there first?"
"No, not this time. Even the Jesuits beat the British."
"Well, it does not matter. You get the point." Yeah, she was right about that. I got the point.
The phone rang. Sassy picked up the receiver and said, "Wes Cord's office. May I be of assistance?" How British! "May I be of assistance!" Formality begins at home, or something like that.
"Just a moment, I will check to see if he is available." She pushed a button and turned to me and said, "A bloke named Lars Wetering says he is returning your call. Are you in?" At first, I wondered if there was a Lars Wetering I owed money too; then it hit me, it was the other art dealer I had called. The other "suspect" that Jansen had listed. I said I'd take the call.
I began the conversation by graciously thanking him for the call back. I went on to say that I understood he was a private art dealer. He interrupted me by saying, "I deal in prints. Is it prints you are interested in?" Whoops. Prints. What did I know about prints. I had prints in my small collection. In fact, most of my small collection consisted of prints. They were cheaper than oils or drawings, for that matter. "Yes, prints, I meant to say. Of course, prints...Could we make an appointment?" There was a pause, I was getting the thought that he was seeing through my ruse and I was probably right because he asked the next question hesitatingly, "What particular period interest you Meneer Cord." Think..."COBRA!...The COBRA group." Why not? It worked before; and now I was somewhat literate on the movement. There was no pause this time, "I am not concerned with 20th century prints. I specialize in etchings and engravings from before the time they became bastardized by zeefdruk, lithography, photogravure and all these other mechanical methods---"
"Of course, of course, I could not agree more, but..." and I reached into my memory bank for a few names, hell, even one would do, and came up with William Hogarth, an English engraver, from the 18th century, of which I had a few examples. He had come to my attention when I was taking an intellectual property course at Law School. He was making engravings and because of his marketing success, people began to copy them and sell them as well. This cut into his sales. He petitioned the English Parliament to do something and they came up with the first copyright laws. The day was saved. Lars Wetering responded to Hogarth's name by saying, "I know of his work, of course, but I have no examples."
I thought for a moment on how to reply to that and came up with, "Oh! Yeah, well that's okay. You see what I am looking for is his Dutch equivalent. Someone here that was doing satirical work as well."
"Social or political?"
"Aaah...Either one. Both!"
"Yes. I see. Would a Romeyn de Hooghe interest you? He was German, of course, but he immigrated to Holland at a young age. I have a spotprent, second state, which is a very good impression, titled "Paye qui Tombe", done sometime during the 1690s."
"That sounds marvelous. When can I see it?"
We made an appointment for the following day. I was getting good at this!
At 15:45, I headed for the door and told Sassy to leave anytime she wanted. "Don't you worry, boss, I always do that!" The English could be impertinent. Maybe that's why they lost their Empire.
The ride, on my bike, from the Leidseplein to the Concertgebouw, took less than ten minutes and I entered the Cafe Keyzer with a few minutes to spare. It was a grand room that harkened back to the turn of the 19th century into the present one. It was all in brown wood with sturdy tables and well constructed chairs that had been made to last a hundred years and had. The Dutch built everything to last. I guess that had to do with the fact that they were a seafaring society and when you went sailing, you didn't want the boat breaking up on you. The tables were covered with pure white and stainless table cloths; and there was a small vase, on each, with a single red rose. The waiters were attired in black and white. Black pants and black vest against white shirts that were as bright as the table cloths. I stood at the entrance and scanned the room.
A man got up and walked towards me. He was tall. What is tall is always relevant to how tall one is themselves, of course. Maybe I should check what the average height of a male Dutch person is before making judgements not necessarily based on fact. He was dressed in what I would describe as American New England practical. Heavy weaved pants; a wool shirt---summer or not---and boots. Boots? Certainly not dressed the way I had anticipated an art dealer would dress. He had a bulb shaped nose which made him different from the average Dutchman that generally had a beak resembling the prow of a ship.
"Meneer Cord?" He asked in what could be described as a Hollywood style baritone. His presence added to the effect more so than it had appeared over the telephone wires. Maybe that had to do with his slicked back hair. I wondered if he used oil? The hair didn't go with the dress. go figure. I admitted to the fact that I was indeed "Meneer Cord." Then added, "Wes, is fine."
"Good! Call me Willem. Do you prefer sitting inside or on the terrace?"
"I am agreeable to anything."
"Perhaps inside would be better. It is a bit chilly today."
I followed him back to the table he had been sitting at. A waiter appeared immediately. He ordered coffee and while I thought the time reasonable enough for a beer, I thought better of it and, like Willem, ordered the same.
"Are you here in Holland as a visitor or on business?"
"Actually, I live here."
"Oh? And for how long?"
When I told him he raised his theatrically shaped eye brows---where they plucked? I wondered. As to the expression conveyed, I knew what that meant. I quickly added, "Yeah, I know. Why am I not speaking Dutch? Well, I am taking Dutch lessons. However, they just don't seem to be taking---"
"Quite all right. I am comfortable with English...Now you mentioned COBRA. Do you own any examples?"
"Not at the moment. You might say that they only recently got my attention." Yeah, like yesterday, when I was on the telephone.
"Good. It is a good time to buy. The current recession has hurt all segments of the art market and especially the COBRA group since it is not that well established. These factors make examples a very good investment, not forgetting the aesthetic considerations, of course. How much do you know about the movement?"
"Ah, well, it sorta got people’s attention at the time. Lot of them said it looked like children had made their paintings."
"Indeed. And that was the point. The founders, there were five who drew up the manifesto 'La Cause Était Entendue', do you know French?" I shook my head indicating, No. "In English it is 'The Case Was Heard.' It called for complete freedom of color and form. The working method should be based on spontaneity and experiment. These are all elements that children naturally practice. And they did draw inspiration from children's drawings as well as primitive art forms. This was in 1948. The group you might today describe as multinational: three Dutchman, a Dane and a Belgian. COBRA is an acronym for Copenhagen, the "CO," Brussels, the "BR," and, of course, Amsterdam, the "A." Karel Appel, Constant and Corneille were the Amsterdam contingent. Eventually there would be about eleven artists that would be considered the prominent participants. My personal favorite is Pieter Ouborg. Do you know his work?" I admitted that I didn't. "I will gladly show you examples. At the moment, I have nearly ten pictures by his hand."
I said, I was interested. But I really wasn't and while this discourse had been informative, it was more than I ever thought I wanted to know about the COBRA school. I did like the principals of the manifesto though. It sounded, to me, like they wanted to get the bullshit out of art and put a little color into it. Was that a bad pun? Damn, I 'm getting off the subject here. I need to get back on track...my track.
"One of your colleagues suggested that I talk to you---" Yeah, "suggested," "demanded" would be the more proper word. But he interrupted me before I was able to say more.
"Which colleague might that be, Meneer Cord."
Well, here goes..."Jan Jansen---"
"Jan Jansen?" he blurted out with an incredulous look on his face. He seemed to catch his breath and, again, said, "Jan Jansen?"
"Did I say something wrong?"
"I have no idea why Jan Jansen would mention my name. We do not deal in the same areas of art. We are no more than casual acquaintances. And I prefer it that way."
"Yes, I see. Well it sounds personal---"
"Assume what you want!"
"Okay. But it seems he has lost a Piet Mondrian oil and thought you might be able to enlighten me as to its present location."
"Piet Mondrian is an artist I would like to deal with, but alas, the prices for his linear abstractions have been impressive for the last few years. Way beyond my modest means for investment. Nor, unfortunately, do I have knowledge of anyone who might own one. They are rare. He is mistaken. Nor do I understand why he mentioned my name."
"Okay...okay, but it wasn't a linear abstraction. He said it was from an earlier period. The luminosity or naturalistic one."
"That would be an area that would be more conceivable for me. But, again, sorry. I cannot help."
"He said he bought it at auction about six months ago---"
"Now that rings-a-bell. That's an English expression, isn't it?" He looked down at the coffee cup with an intense stare. "Do you have a photo." A photo? I hadn't asked Jansen if he had one. He had an x-ray. So why not have a photo as well? I made a mental note to ask him.
"Sorry, I don't."
"No matter. I do recall seeing a Mondrian at a kijkdag sometime last winter. But the word was out that it wasn't good. I didn't pay much attention. Mondrian is not an artist that I have studied closely. If you wish to talk to me about the COBRA’s, I am at your service..." He paused again, then said, "Would you like to see the Ouborgs, Meneer Cord?" I said I would call him.