The Case of the Purloined Portrait


The portrait, now recovered.

The Paris Review is renowned for our parties, and we take pride in that. But sometimes things get carried away. Literally. As Page Six reports, a party to launch our Summer issue last week was marred by petty larceny: someone absconded with a portrait of Günter Grass drawn by Tomi Ungerer in 1965.

Our digital director, Jeffery Gleaves, discovered the theft the next morning, when he noticed a Grass-shaped hole on the bathroom wall. (The portrait, like most of the Review’s valuables, was hanging near the toilet.) If you were here, reader, you may have noticed a single tear roll down Jeff’s cheek, as he vowed to “hunt the vermin down.” 

Cooler heads prevailed, and we set up an anonymous tips page, promising a reward in exchange for information on Grass’s whereabouts. And then … we waited. It was not our worst morning after. In the sixties, for instance, after a Spring Revel, two rental pianos were left outside all night in the pouring rain and had to be replaced. Suffice to say it was not our most successful fundraising event.

As for Günter, we started to give him up for lost. We checked our tips page, but hot scoops weren’t exactly pouring in. In fact, we’d received precisely zero. Even a taunt from the thief would’ve been welcome. Jeff paced the office, disconsolate, biting his knuckle.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we arrived this morning to find a package from an out-of-state address. Inside was our purloined portrait—along with two framed photos that, in all honesty, no one had noticed were missing. On a postcard of the Chicago skyline, the penitent partygoer had written a note in block capitals:

NO IDEA STAYS PURE.
EVEN THE FLOWERING OF ART ISN’T PURE.
AND THE SUN HAS SPOTS.
ALL GENIUSES MENSTRUATE.
ON SORROW FLOATS LAUGHTER.
IN THE HEART OF ROARING LURKS SILENCE.
SORRY FOR PURLOINING YOUR PICTURES.
—GÜNTER GRASS, 2017.

These lines, with the exception of the last, are from Grass’s Dog Years. An uncharitable reader might point out that they constitute another act of theft. But I’m not that reader. Instead, the Review salutes this “Grass” for doing the right thing and accepts his apology. From now on, like a cheap motel, we’re nailing the pictures down.

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.

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