The mystery behind Hemingway’s summer of love and missing paintings

Ernest Hemingway once wrote in a letter to legendary actress Marlene Dietrich that he had truly been in love with only five women, the 4th…
The mystery behind Hemingway’s summer of love and missing paintings

Ernest Hemingway, Beatriz Davis and bullfighter Antonio Ordoñez pose for a photo taken in Malaga, Spain in 1959. The story of missing  (Hemingway Collection/Harvard)

Ernest Hemingway once wrote in a letter to legendary actress Marlene Dietrich that he had truly been in love with only five women, the 4th Infantry Division and the Spanish Republic of the 1930s.

Perhaps that is why he stayed away from Spain for so long after its civil war, finally returning in 1959, just two years before his death when he went there to write about the bulls again, to celebrate his 60thbirthday and score his last love affair.

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It was Hemingway’s last hurrah and now one that has come under increasing attention in a mystery surrounding some of the contemporary art that adorned the walls of the extravagant hacienda where he stayed in Malaga, in the South of Spain and the birthplace of Pablo Picasso.

La Consula had plenty of Jackson Pollock art

The art in question were paintings by abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock that belonged to a wealthy American expatriate — Nathan William Davis, known as Bill by his friends – who had befriended Hemingway in the 1940s.

Davis and his wife Annie loved to entertain celebrities and the literati, from Noel Coward to Laurence Olivier, at La Consula, the villa where they hosted the Hemingways for months in 1959 and 1960.

Those guests, though, could never have guessed that the masterful Jackson Pollock pieces — with his famed “drip” painting technique — they admired on the walls were then the apparent target of an art hunt by Davis’s ex-wife, a Colombian American socialite named Beatriz Diaz.

She maintained that when their marriage ended, Davis ran off with the paintings from their San Francisco home and that they were half hers under California’s joint property ownership law.

In 1959, as Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary had virtually taken over La Consula, who would finally catch up with the Jackson Pollocks was the Davis ex-wife Bea Diaz.

Hemingway, evidently taken by all things Hispanic, was smitten and insisted that Diaz accompany him around Spain that summer documenting a series of mano a mano bullfights featuring the world’s two top matadors at the time: Antonio Ordoñez and Luis Miguel Dominguín.

Beatriz Diaz leaves Spain without the paintings

According to several accounts, Hemingway and Diaz also carried on a torrid love affair.

But at summer’s end, Beatriz Diaz apparently left Spain without the paintings.

Diaz, who later remarried, died in 2006. In 2011, her estate auctioned a trove of memorabilia and items she brought back from her trip to Spain – but did not include any Pollock paintings.

In fact, little definitive information is known about those Jackson Pollocks or what happened to them.

The heirs to the Davis estate, who were only children at the time of the Hemingway visits, say they do not recall – or perhaps never knew – what their parents did with the artwork.

Then in 2011, a Canadian collector inherited a Jackson Pollock that had belonged to his great aunt – a Pollock painting that he believes once belonged to Bill Davis.

Jackson Pollock Paintings showed paint dripping.

Jackson Pollock’s “drip” paintings became his iconic works. They were also the subject of an art hunt by divorcee Beatriz Diaz Davis. (Photo of painting by Tony Castro)

What happened to the paintings?

According to Thomas Ranco, his late relative came into possession of the artwork around 1971, evidently buying it from Davis.

There is also documentation that Davis owned several Jackson Pollocks – his daughter believes he may have been one of the biggest Pollock collectors of his time.

But records from that time – from the Betty Parsons Gallery, Pollock art benefactor Peggy Guggenheim, and Davis himself – leave an unclear trail as to the paintings the Davises owned, as well as exchanges he sought to make.

For instance one gallery catalogue of Pollock artwork lists a painting called “Comet” that clearly was sold to Bill Davis but may have been switched for another.

Thomas Ranco believes his Jackson Pollock may be the one that Davis received when he switched paintings.

For Ranco, this became part of a monumental headache when he looked into selling the painting he owns in 2013. At that time he learned that experts from the International Foundation for Art Research who examined the painting did not think it was an authentic Jackson Pollock.

The plot thickens with forgeries

The issue of authenticity has been further complicated by a string of Jackson Pollock art forgeries.

Earlier this year an East Hampton, New York painter was arrested in connection with some 60 fakes that had sold for a total of $1.9 million, a pittance of the value of authentic Jackson Pollock paintings.

In Seville, police have arrested a Spanish art dealer wanted in the U.S. as a central figure in a related art swindling case involving fake masterpieces by painters like Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and our Jackson Pollock.

For no less than a fortune is at stake if the painting Ranco claims came from Bill Davis is real. In 2013 a similar-size Pollock painting sold for $58.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction.

After first being called into question, that painting was authenticated using crime-scene-style tracing analysis of fragments found in the painting, not just on the paint itself.

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Understandably, Ranco was unconvinced by the experts who denied his painting’s authenticity and continued trying to established the authenticity of the Jackson Pollock he owns – a painting with a history almost as valuable as the artwork itself.

“I have reason to believe,” says Ranco, “that I have compelling evidence that this still may indeed be a work by (Jackson Pollock), and am working on establishing provenance from before the time this painting came into my family.”