Mystery - Painting - Treasure?
Updated: May 13
A Mystery Behind a Beautiful Painted Landscape
Is it lost art, a found treasure, an espionage message from WW2, or is it just a beautiful painting of a picturesque landscape? This painting on display, amongst many others from an art collector’s gallery, stands out, above all others and draws the attention of a consumer. The attraction is not just from the scenic beauty of Austria, Hinderbarenbad, the Kaisertal, the Kaiser Chain Mountains, or the quaint Antoniuskapellethat made it noticed. It was not even the well-known artist’s name, or even the painter himself. This oil landscape captured the heart of an art appraiser due to a little piece of paper, that was attached to the back of the painting. It piqued a curiosity and intrigue, as if it had belonged in an Agatha Cristy mystery.
The beginning quest for answers came after searching for the artist’s signature, MOSER, written all in capital letters. Although Moser is a well-known artist, the signature on this painting was not a match for any other artists of the same name. The puzzle began and It became clear that the only way to find the original story behind this painting, was to follow the small message on the back of the stretcher. This might be a trace to its roots. It was this old typewritten message that first caught collector’s eye. The message read: “Painting: Capt. Maier said it was Hinter Baerenbad Kaiser chain mtns.”
The quest for answers originated with trying to determine who Captain Maier might be, the location of the church in the Kaiser Chain Mountains, and the purpose of the old typewritten message. There seemed to be many dead-ends. Many of the Internet searches produced some information, but then fell short of supplying any further clues; the search for Captain Maier produced the name Heinrich Maier, and the search for Hinter Baerenbad led to the conclusion that the name had been misspelled and should have been Hinterbaerenbad. Since it appeared that the painting might be from the first part of the 20th century, a good start would be searching for information around World War 1 and World War 2 officers. This led to the first disappointment. An email from the Austria War Museum confirmed that there was no Captain Maier during WWII. Although there have been hints that art was used to send messages, during the war, the museum conveyed that there was no confirmed evidence of this. Should the search end here, or was it merely the wrong information source?
Rather than being discouraged, the search for history became more intriguing; more questions came to mind. Could it be that Heinrich Maier was a captain in the religious resistance and supplied messages through espionage to the OSS? Could the artist, Moser, painted this for a purpose? Why is the O and the E underlined in the artist’s signature? It became clear that the story that was held within the painting was just as important as the information about the artist. It appeared that the next step was to determine if this was just a naïve painting, with a simple message on the back? If this was only a simple painting, then why were there misspellings in the name of the location and was there a point to the incorrect capitalizations in the letters? As curiosity deepened, the search for the answers continued.
While searching for clues, a deeper thought emerged; the knowledge that during World War II a lot of valuable art went missing or stollen. Some artists were commissioned to paint as a means for propaganda. This awareness led to additional questions. Could artists also paint for the purpose of espionage? It seemed unnatural that an artist would be out in the wilderness painting this scenic landscape in the middle of devastating war. He was only miles from the German border. At this point, an additional question developed: What impact did the Kaiser Mountains have in WW1 or WW2? It became clear that a key to the painting might be to investigate the history of that fascinating message, that first captivated the collector.
While reflecting on a story about a famous man in Italy, it seemed unlikely that this was an innocent piece of art, painted during a devastated, war-ridden country. The Italian, Gianfranco Briani, who founded Volleyball, in his home country, had been a heroic, brave, twelve-year-old boy during WW2. Gianfranco’s brother had been captured. Like many people, though-out this time of invasion, the boy summoned his courage to travel at night, on his own, from Rome to Vienza (Venice). As most of Italy was under a curfew, this was particularly dangerous. Another important thought came to mind: What other acts of bravery would be accomplished, as people looked for ways to subvert attacks?
The investigation seemed to circle back to the beginning: Who was Captain Maier and why were the letters O and E underlined? Was it possible that our subject was the famous Heinrich Maier? Could the artist’s Captain Maier, have been this same Heinrich Maier, who was one of the most heroic leaders of the religious resistance? The aim of this group was to bring an end to the horrific regime, by military defeat, as soon as possible. In addition, to re-establish a free and democratic Austria. Maier is purported to have sent coded messages to OSS and UK under the codes, during the war. He is remembered for outsmarting the Gestapo for many years and providing the allies with information to save Austria. If he was the famous resistance hero, could this have been a coded message? Might the author’s signature, all in capitals, with the O and E underlined, have been part of a cipher? Also noted, was the off-center en within the type-written message. Another memory surfaced; it was of a who-done-it mystery with the code within a code; the possibilities seem endless.
While it has been said that the value of this painting is for the beauty of the landscape, rather than the intrigue of the message on the back, one cannot dismiss the coincidence of the name and the chances that there is more to this painting than the art itself. It is true that it is a beautiful landscape, but as you look more deeply, it stimulates an interest in a time of courage and bravery for preserving freedom.
Please contact us with more information for this piece in helping us solve this mystery. We are assisting this art collector with gathering more information so it can be appraised accordingly.
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