Dyed in the Skin
The Passion of an art collector
In an interview, Rascha Peper described her characters as ‘people who are barely able to cope with reality, who hold onto a dream, an obsession, or a fantasy which makes it possible for them to lead their own lives outside of reality.’ In her novels she proves that the consequences of these kinds of passions can be dramatic – and neither do the characters in her new novel, Verfhuid, escape them.
Arnold Kee is an art dealer in Amsterdam. ‘Don’t even begin,’ his father, who had been in the business, urged his son when he saw that the latter was in danger of becoming too passionate a collector. It was advice that Kee took to heart. It was also his father who had told him about people who became so attached to a canvas that it may almost be considered a physical, or at any rate rapturous, love affair.
Peper’s novella describes, with pace and panache, the developing relationship of Kee, a childless, balding, ageing businessman, with one of his regular clients Terwindus, an altogether unapproachable, inconspicuous, and colourless man. Kee goes to Terwindus’ home to look at one of his treasures, an unknown painting by Caspar David Friedrich and discovers that his host, whose rooms are crammed full with art treasures, has fallen under the spell of this painting and the woman it depicts.
Kee in turn falls under the spell of the collector, who has the fascinating un-worldliness of many of Peper’s characters. To make matters worse, there are more and more indications that Terwindus’ collection consists for a large part in stolen art. Kee then faces a conflict with his own conscience: as an art lover he tends towards keeping an open mind, but as an art-dealer he has to observe strict rules. The constant mixing of pure business interest and personal fascination, of greed and compassion cloud Kee’s involvement with Terwindus. After some spectacular plot twists, the story draws to a dramatic conclusion.