My husband, Dimitri, felt compelled to write an article on my blog.
Whilst his personal blog Sorcery of Scent is related solely to his passion for perfumes, we feel this is the ideal platform to introduce you to an 'unknown' artist - one with an interesting story at that -: Béla Husserl.
In September we spent the Northern summer in Europe. Nothing pleases us more than to reconnect with family and friends, and enjoy the comforts and wonders of the continent. This year, whilst travelling through Vienna, Austria, we chanced upon a small antiques market right outside the Viennese Opera House in the 1st betzerk. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and we spent the best part of an hour hovering over tables and peering through vitrines that held treasures both rich and rare.
Perhaps the most charming piece - in my eyes at least - was a lovely framed Art Nouveau pen and watercolour illustration which swiftly took my eye. I loitered by the seller's stall for many minutes, admiring the artwork... its decidedly Art Nouveau organic lines and enchanting subject matter. Despite the paper being slightly foxed with age, it was perhaps the faraway stare in the eyes of the woman in the turbin that sold me. Was she in Venice, or perhaps just dreaming of Venice? Was she fictitious, or was she someone the artist loved?
I had to have it. It was returning to Perth with me.
The lovely woman from whom I bought the painting told me she had cherished this piece for approximately 40 years. She had hung it in her bedroom where it could be admired daily. I assured her that in turning this piece over to me, it would be treasured with an equal measure of devotion. The sale was made, and we left for home.
Several weeks later... today in fact, I decided to look into the artist. I like to explore the provenance of our artwork... to dig through the past as one might examine a trunk in an attic. A signature in the bottom left corner proved difficult to read, but with some helpful advice (and the keen eyes of a number of Austrian/Germanic friends), the artist's name was revealed: Husserl, Béla. 1921. I was assured the name was Hungarian in origin, despite the frame-maker's mark on the back of the artwork confirming it was framed in Vienna.
So off to google I went. Béla Husserl. One hit. Just one.
I clicked on the link which brought up a page in German (unfortunately not one of my spoken languages). "A Letter to the Stars" it read.
I opened the page in my browser, and activated the auto-translate field.
My heart sank.
"A Letter to the Stars" is an Austrian website memorialising holocaust victims and survivors.
The title read "VICTIMS" in obnoxious red, and beneath just a few lines:
Deported: Ybbs / Hartheim on 20.08.1940.
I sat for a few minutes and allowed the information to wash over me. Could this Béla Husserl be the very same Béla Husserl? The gifted artist who succeeded in capturing this marvellous image from the impending Art Deco age? The same man who rendered this lovely scene of a woman in a turbin with a captivating gaze. Could this be the same Béla Husserl whose life was taken at one of WWII's most horrific Nazi Euthenasia killing compounds: Schloss Hartheim? A wretched blight on the earth that housed the souls of 18,000 physically and mentally handicapped people before they were murdered?
The reality of the Haulocaust was chilling.
I may never know if this man was indeed the same man... but what I do know is that whoever he is, his art should be celebrated. I look at this illustration beneath hand-blown glass and I see an insight into his happiness. A window into his life, his dreams, his fantasy.
Was he perhaps at one time in Venice, or perhaps just dreaming of Venice?
Was the woman fictitious, or was she someone the artist loved?
If you, dear reader, recognise the name, or the art, or the signature, I ask you come forward. Béla Husserl - whoever he was - deserves an ongoing legacy.