Chapter 48. The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
I remember it was a Sunday afternoon, about 1964. My dad took my younger brother and me to an old, abandoned farmhouse not far from where we lived in Castlereagh, Northern Ireland. The building had not been occupied for many years. Inside, remnants of past habitation were strewn about and, amid the debris, I found a small unframed oil-on-canvas painting with a large scratch across its surface. I cant remember why we were there, other than to perform some nostalgic homage to a place that had meaning for my dad. Only later did I discover it had been his boyhood home.
I asked my dad if I could keep the painting, and he said yes. I also asked if he knew who painted it, and he said he didnt, but he thought it was done by a relative. It was initialled and dated in the lower right, M.S. Nov 1910.
When I got home later that afternoon, I took out my oil paints and tried to cover up the scratch with what I thought was the right shade of colour. My attempts were unsuccessful, and the scratch became a noticable slash of viridian green across a modulated sky. I decided to keep the painting anyway, because I liked the imagery: fishermen in two rowboats out on a seemingly calm sea or lake, at dawn or dusk, as evidenced by a beautifully painted rising or setting sun.
On the stretcher at the back of the piece was written, in pencil, what appeared to be a name and address. However, try as I might, I was unable to read these. More than a decade later, about 1977, I had the painting restored by a qualified restorer who did an excellent job. I also had it framed, and hung it on my living room wall.
As a budding amateur art historian, I tried from time to time to research the signature and date and identify the artist. All I had to go on, from my dad, was that the artist was a relative with the initials M.S. and that he or she had painted the piece in 1910.
Over many years, my efforts were in vain. I did discover a relative, my grandfathers sister Mabel, whose married initials were M.S. However, she was born in 1898, and would have been 12 years old in 1910 and unmarried, so her initials would still have been M.F.
Fortunately, several members of my family had an active interest in geneology, and I was therefore aware of many ancestors dating back to 1770. Although for a time I lost contact with those instrumental in creating and updating our family tree, I recently reconnected with its makers by accident, on the Internet, and discovered that the tree had been expanded with new information.
And so at last, more than 50 years later, I think Ive solved the mystery of the identity of the artist. A brief review of the updated family tree suggests that the artist was probably my third cousin, Minnie Somerset, born about 1876.
Ars longa, vita brevis.
Next: The Case of Clarences Chateau-Gaillard