John Limpert is searching for this portrait of his mother, which was last seen on Thistle Patch Lane in North Haven in the 1990s.
By Mara Certic
For the most part, ads in local newspapers offer business services, sales or other specials. But at the end of August, an ad appeared in the pages of The Sag Harbor Express that was looking for something a little more obscure.
The ad, placed by John Limpert, was searching for a missing portrait of a lady, a portrait Mr. Limpert said he always loved. It was a painting of his mother, done by an artist whose name is long forgotten. According to Mr. Limpert, the portrait was painted toward the end of World War II, by a woman who lived next door to his family.
“We lived in Prospect Park South in Brooklyn, [the artist] wanted to do a portrait of my mother,” he said. After finishing the painting, “she brought it over and hung it in our living room and turned to me and said ‘What do you think, Jack?’” Mr. Limpert recalled.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s Mother,’” Mr. Limpert said. And he loved the picture from that moment on.
But when his father returned home from work that evening, he hated the portrait.
“My mother suffered from manic depression,” Mr. Limpert explained. “She had some severe episodes, some of them required hospitalization. But when she was up, she was fabulous,” he said. “We always urged her to have parties, because she was at her best when she was entertaining,” Mr. Limpert added.
The portrait shows a despondent woman, looking off into what seems to be nothingness. It was a part of her that her husband rarely saw; according to Mr. Limpert, his mother always made an effort to be her bubbly, vibrant self when her husband came home from work.
“The portrait is very wistful, that’s the expression she wore all day. He didn’t see the other side,” Mr. Limpert said. “But I loved it right from the beginning,” he added.
Much to his father’s dismay, the painting remained in the living room until his mother’s death in 1984. Mr. Limpert said he “dimly remembers” that his sister, Elaine Limpert Horak, brought the portrait to the funeral service.
After the funeral, the painting ended up going back with Ms. Limpert Horak to her home on North Haven’s Thistle Patch Lane. No one remembers the exact address of the house, merely that it had a fenced-in swimming pool and “it was only two or maybe three houses in on Thistle Patch Lane,” Mr. Limpert wrote in an e-mail.
Ms. Limpert Horak had worked at Time magazine as a researcher and was, according to her brother, the first American woman accepted to study and work in the Comédie Française when she lived in Paris.
“She was interested in theater,” Mr. Limpert said of his sister. She founded the Professional Theater Wing in New York City, and even “put on something at Lincoln Center,” her brother said. She was also a very accomplished pianist, he said.
“She had more brains than her three brothers combined,” Mr. Limpert added.
Ms. Limpert Horak lost her battle with leukemia in 1995 and with her death, the painting disappeared. Mr. Limpert said he didn’t know when the portrait of his mother was lost, but speculated “it probably disappeared at some point in the early 1990s.”
“I also dimly remember that at one point she said to me, ‘I have a friend who’s crazy about this portrait.’ She may have sold this portrait. I’m sure she felt the portrait is as much hers as anyone’s,” Mr. Limpert said.
For years, the Limpert family accepted they would never see the portrait of their matriarch again. “About two years ago my sister’s son called me up and said you’re not going to believe what I’m going to tell you,” Mr. Limpert recounted.
His nephew, Philip A. Amara, had found a Polaroid photograph taken of the portrait years before, when they had been conducting a full inventory of the house. “Only today’s computer technology enabled us to have a decent facsimile,” Mr. Limpert said, adding he was able to get the Polaroid enlarged.
And once he had made decent copies, he decided to put in an ad looking for the portrait of a missing lady. He knows it’s a very outside chance; Mr. Limpert remembers very little from his sister’s life here, other than the road she lived on and her house’s fence and pool. He doesn’t remember what she did here, how she spent her time, or whom she might have given that painting to, but Mr. Limpert’s trying nonetheless.
“Finding the portrait was always a long shot,” he said. “but it has been gratifying to make the effort.”