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The Case of the Missing Painting

Published: March 6, 2010

In response to our online feature on Anton Otto Fischer, an artist known for his stunning seascapes, a reader e-mailed us the following question regarding a Fischer painting in her collection:

“On the back it is labeled ‘A Goboto Night.’ Do you have any information about this painting?”

Dear reader:

Well, the words “Goboto Night” meant nothing to us when we first read your question. But for form’s sake, we referred to the archives, where we found a handwritten index card in flowing script by a long-forgotten clerk: “ ‘A Goboto Night,’ by Jack London” (no less) and the date: September 30, 1911. We retrieved the old issue, and sure enough, the story (which you can read below) was illustrated by Anton Otto Fischer.

The original illustration by Anton Otto Fischer as it appeared in the Post.

The original illustration by Anton Otto Fischer as it appeared in the Post.

In the story about the island Goboto, we see a small black & white illustration. Four men are sitting around a table by the sea. The caption reads, “Life at Goboto is Heated, Unhealthy and Lurid.”

Then the painting’s owner, Susan Geer-Smith, e-mailed us a photo to confirm, and the illustration came to life before our eyes! Flesh tones, blue sea, Anton Otto Fischer’s signature multimasted ship in the background. It’s a beauty.

Post reader Susan Geer-Smith sent in a photo of Fischer's original painting. Notice the ship on the far-right.

So how did Susan end up with a painting that illustrated a 1911 Saturday Evening Post story? About 12 years ago, her mother purchased a realty company and remembered the painting being there for at least 20 years. Susan herself started working there about three years ago. “I found it in a closet and fell in love with it,  Susan remembers. “When I asked my mother about it, she told me to take it …” The painting had simply been there from as long ago as anyone could remember. How it got from the artist to The Saturday Evening Post to the offices of a realty company that began in 1916 remains a mystery.

If you have a painting that you suspect is affiliated with a Saturday Evening Post story, we’d love to hear from you. It’s a delight seeing an original black and white illustration as the artwork it was meant to be. Fischer alone did hundreds of illustrations for the Post.

Thank you, Susan, for letting us ogle your painting. Oh, and if you know anything about a painting by Fischer that shows “a man pointing a gun at eight other angry men in a boat,” let us know. Another reader is looking for that one. E-mail: d.denny@saturdayeveningpost.com.

P.S.: Goboto is a fictional island where traders come off their schooners and “assume shoes, white duck trousers and various other appearances of civilization.” At this questionably progressive place “mail is received, bills are paid, and newspapers, rarely more than five weeks old, are accessible.” This is “A Goboto Night” by Jack London, published in The Saturday Evening Post on September 30, 1911.

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  • howard

    Does anyone have any info on a painting by Anton Fischer called “Into The Night”?

  • Ben Frederick III

    This painting was in the conference room of my family’s real estate business for over 20 years. My grandfather started the company in 1916. He was in the property management business. The story I always heard was that he found it, left behind be a tenant that had moved out (or been evicted). Remember, 1916 was a terrible economy when a lot of businesses went under.

    Many clients enjoyed this painting when they came to visit my office. I always enjoyed the facial expressions and we often conversed about what the men would be thinking and saying; wondering if they were negotiating a real estate deal on the islands!

    Kudos to Susan Geer-Smith for taking the time and effort to research this history of this painting. I admire her tenacity, curiousity, and respect for history.

  • Susan S.

    Wow, that’s awesome Diana! Thank you so much for running this story. You did a great job. I feel very lucky to own “The Goboto Night” painting. Once it is restored it will be even more beautiful. Looking at It makes me want to own more of them. Anton was such a great painter. Anyone that owns one of his paintings should consider themselves very lucky to have owned a piece of his history.

  • Verna Bryant

    I always enjoy the interesting true stories in the Saturday Evening Post. I have loved reading it for many, many years!