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The Mystery Painting


A fascinating true life account written here by another student from Holland Park School, which perfectly captures exactly what we are trying to achieve on Silver Robin.
At the beginning of 1939, Josef Delitz (my grandfather) moved to England to escape Nazi Austria. He came from a family of artists in Vienna – his father was a successful portrait painter, and had been brought up as Lutheran but his maternal grandmother was Jewish so it became increasingly obvious that it was only a matter of time before this was spotted. He also had no wish to fight for the Third Reich and was already being harassed by the Gestapo for not supporting Hitler. So, as a plan to escape, he voted for the Nazis, was given a Swastika badge, bought a map and walked over the border to freedom in Switzerland. He then came to England to join his parents, who had lived here since the 1920’s. Until a month ago, we thought that he had come in September 1939.  Josef joined the British Army, taking army advice to change his German name to something more English, hence Deliss, my surname.

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Recently, in the middle of a rainy Sunday afternoon, an Oxford academic with a big black bag under her arm appeared on our front door and said, “Do you know someone called Josef Delitz?”
We invited her in and she pulled from the black bag an oil painting of somewhere in London, clearly signed ‘Josef Delitz’ and dated ‘Spring 1939’.

The painting showed a street scene with various hatted figures, obviously in spring as the blossom was just about to bloom on the various trees and bushes in the picture.  There were a few signposts but the street name is unclear. The Oxford academic explained that she had found the painting in an antiques shop in Streatham in South London and, being in the research business, had researched Josef Delitz and that the trail she found had led to us.  She said she loved the painting but had no idea where it was and wondered if we did.

My husband thought that it might be St. John’s Wood, where his mother and older brother had lived during the war and where my father had spent his childhood after that but he didn’t know where. We emailed a photo of the picture to his older brother, who thought it might be in Hornsea, where a lot of émigrés lived during and after the war.  But, an intensive search with my father and the Oxford academic on Google maps and street view and my uncle on the phone, failed to conclusively prove where the street was.  Maybe it had been bombed during the war?  Maybe demolished in the 1960’s?

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That’s where you come in. Since it was painted at the beginning of the war, when you would be children and London wouldn’t have been bombed yet, I wondered if any of you “oldies” know where it is. Key points to jog your memory: a spire and dome in the background, a sold sign and large building with a poster on it in the distance. Anything familiar? If you do know where it is, please let me know.

Here’s the picture.

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