"Elsa the Dognapper in Custody"

Caterina Heimlichsen

The noted Depressionist portraitist Caterina Heimlichsen was the daughter of the jailor of Fleming, in what is now partly Belgium. According to Flemish law convicts were documented along with the evidence of their crimes. In the days before photography this was done by a local artist as little more than a sketch. Since Caterina and her family lived in a house on the jail property, as was the custom, she was able to devote considerably more time to her own indictment portrait as well as those of other miscreants, sometimes producing oil paintings of considerable skill and detail.


Noting her talent, her father Jan arranged for her to take criminal art courses at the famed Flemish Bureau of Investigation, where she studied with Pieter Boggle, another Flemmer who was later to make his mark as a documenter of public waste and fraud.


In the subject painting we see the unfortunate Elsa Hoefnagel, who apparently had an uncontrollable urge to steal dogs (kleptocanomania), which often brought her into conflict with the law. On this occasion she had stolen an entire litter of Chauvedoggen, or Mexican Clueless, from the yard of the mayor of Fleming, who of course had her promptly arrested, calling her a Fleming nuisance among other, more colorful terms.


Elsa was eventually cured of her obsession by channeling her feelings into writing poetry about dogs, a skill she had learned in prison. Although never a major Flemoid poet, one of her works is still quoted today, beginning, "In Flanders Fields the Puppies Grow."


Caterina's career went downhill after she was married to Horst Vlaxxenboorch, who became notorious as the Flanderland Philanderer. She eventually murdered him in a fit of despair, and her self-portrait, "Caterina Contemplating the Head of Horst" is considered by some to be the definitive work of criminal art.

 

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