Mystery as Swindon festival chief gets art back

Swindon Advertiser: Matt Holland with one of his late father  Leslie’s paintings, which was given back to him thanks to the Adver Buy this photo » Matt Holland with one of his late father Leslie’s paintings, which was given back to him thanks to the Adver

SWINDON Literature Festival organiser Matt Holland has a smile on his face and a spring in his step after a mysterious series of emails led to him being reunited with one of his late father’s paintings.

Matt’s father Leslie, who died in 2005 at the age of 97, was just three when it was recognised that he had a natural artistic gift.

He won several scholarships and in the 1930s gained a place at the Royal College of Art in London.

Matt believes much of his dads artwork is now scattered around the world and so he was overwhelmed when he received an email from a woman in Cromer, Norfolk last month.

The woman, who worked for the Royal British Legion, discovered the painting among the belongings of a resident who died at the RBL 10 years ago.

He had worked for the diplomatic service for M11 and with royalty while abroad – and may even have been a spy.

She was about to put the painting up for sale on eBay when she decided to Google ‘Leslie Holland’ and discovered an article on the Swindon Advertiser website. She got in touch with Matt and the painting has now been returned.

Matt said: “It is all thanks to the Adver that the painting has found its way back.People moan about the internet but it doesn’t half do some amazing things.

“I get hundreds of emails all the time, but there was something special about this email of how this painting by my destitute father struggling to make a living with a family of six children, had ended up with this man – it is the wonder of the internet.

“My father would have loved the story, of how it found its way back but in re-telling it, he’d have embellished it. It’s brought a smile to my face and put a spring in my step, lifting the pressure of my current deadline-driven Litfest planning days.

“I wonder how many of his other paintings are knocking around.

He was in the habit of giving his art away, he thought art should not be something on a pedestal, it should be shared, even though we would always tell him to make a living for us.”

Matt believes the painting was done by his father while in Paraguay in South America in 1958, where he lived for a few years.

He says the painting in question is of street vendors, likely to have been in the capital Asuncion.

“The woman said maybe this man knew my father in Paraguay. She wrote in her email ‘Who kows, they may be looking down on us now sharing a G&T – that was his favourite tipple,” he said.

“I just love the mystery around it all, and I love the style in which this woman writes to me.

“It is so blunt and mysterious – she won’t give me the man’s name, but she said she once asked him if he was a spy and he didn’t deny it.

“It is such a remarkable story, that my father’s painting ended up with a Royal guard, possibly a spy, whose name can’t be divulged and has now found its way back.

“My father would love it, he’d be absolutely intrigued.”

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