Who painted the landscape of the mountains behind what’s now the UWI Mona campus that we recently received as a donation? We knew he was said to be a World War 2 internee at Gibraltar Camp near Kingston, Jamaica. The signature on the painting looked like ‘V.A.Cattaneo’ – but if so, who was he? Back then, during World War 2 (1939-45) the area now occupied by the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona was known as Gibraltar Camp – a haven for evacuees and refugees from Europe; whose northern end was carved off to create a low security, civilian internment camp, the Mona Family Camp, in 1943. German and a few Italian families, long separated in male and female camps, were reunited there, in an area where the (UWI)’s Rex Nettleford Hall abuts the Mona Rehabilitation Centre.
Provenance is the trail of information that lets us authenticate artifacts. With regard to this painting, the donors Johnny & Lorraine Neale, provided family and personal history through UWI alumna Cecille Depass. They said the painter was a detainee at Gibraltar Camp, but knew nothing more about him or how the painting came to be owned by Johnny’s aunt, Mimis Desnoes, who gave the painting to her sister Clara Neale. They got it from Johnny’s parents in the mid-1970s.
UWI Museum Curator Suzanne Francis-Brown, who did her PhD thesis on Gibraltar Camp, was able to locate a list of internees from the main male detention centre, where the men at the Mona Family Camp would have been resident before being moved in the summer of 1943. That list includes an entry for a mining engineer named Umberto A Cattaneo (‘U’ not ‘V’), whose next-of-kin was listed in Milan, Italy. He was 34 years old in the early 1940s. The fact that he was in the Mona Family Camp suggests that he may have had a family also in Jamaica. Several hundred Italian and German civilians, many of them working in construction or agriculture, had been sent to Jamaica in 1940 for safekeeping after being interned in British Cameroon, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
It’s a little more than we knew before…! If anyone knows more we’ll be happy to hear it.