My father was always a big dreamer. One of his dreams was to find hidden treasures, priceless antiques and pieces of art. He was very much influenced by his father who had an intriguing life. Grandfather worked for Baron Max Von Oppenheim (1860−1946). He was engaged as Oppenheim’s secretary for most of his expeditions in the Near East region. He wrote detailed journals about the Bedouin tribes they encountered, the excavations they undertook and the ancient scripts they copied by hand. Fascinated by his father’s stories and voyages, Dad had big plans for every one of us, including himself.
“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of Dad’s greatest findings was an old oil painting that featured a noble man and was signed “Titian.” Dad bought the painting from a junk shop that obviously did not know its real value. He brought his treasure home and showed it to us in a religious way. The painting was in a dreadful situation with lots of cracks in the canvas; it was almost falling apart.
Back then, in the late 1980s, there was no Internet or Google, so Dad searched hard for books about Titian (1490−1576), an Italian master painter. But he could only find one that briefly described his work, depicting just a couple of his paintings. This kept us puzzled for a quite some time especially since the “painting” was done in a similar artistic style. Dad also asked some experts who were supposed to know about old paintings. They all confirmed its old age, but none seemed to have seen it before in books or elsewhere.
As no one could verify that the painting was authentic, Dad decided to preserve his treasure, hiding it in a safe place, waiting for the right moment to reveal it. Sadly, it was my duty to kill my dad’s dreams and tell him the bad news that it was just a replica.
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” – Langston Hughes
In 1999, I went to Austria to visit a good friend and spent two weeks in Vienna and Salzburg. While in Vienna, I visited most of its museums and in particular the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I have always been a big fan of Vincent Van Gogh, so I looked at the map to find how to reach the impressionists’ rooms. I followed the map, and in the first hall I entered, there stood my Dad’s famous painting! My heart stopped beating for a while. I sat on a bench and stared for half an hour at that magnificent drawing, very similar to the one at home, with the same colors and the same size. Simply the same, only it’s in a better condition. Tears came to my eyes while thinking about Dad’s crumbling hopes. Why did it have to be me to break his heart!
Afterward, I went to see Van Gogh’s paintings but could not concentrate or enjoy them. My mind was still there in Titian’s room. I went back to that hall, sat and looked at the “Portrait of Jacopo Strada.” (Strada was an Italian contemporary of Titian’s, a painter, goldsmith, architect, inventor and linguist.) Then I bought a book about Titian from the museum where Dad’s painting is depicted, and took it home with me.
A year later, Dad offered me the painting as a gift when my husband and I moved to our new home. I took the old replica to a restoration artist who worked beautifully on it and brought it back to its splendor. The restored painting—so what if it’s a replica?—was very popular in the artist’s shop, and many customers offered to buy it. My answer was an emphatic NO. My dad’s dream was not for sale. This painting which now grandly hangs on the wall of our home is a constant reminder of Dad and a good lesson that without our dreams and hopes, we lose the excitement of possibilities.
“I prefer to be a dreamer among the humblest, with visions to be realized, than lord among those without dreams and desires.” – Khalil Gibran