Bert Pfeiffer never met Ava Gardner, and he was not the typical fan. Captivated by Ava’s performance as a statue who comes to life in the 1948 film One Touch of Venus, he vowed to paint one portrait of her each year. His works incorporated whimsical signature touches that include a bumble bee, a dragonfly, a waterlily, a locket containing Pfeiffer’s portrait, playing cards that spell “AVA”, and a little brown mouse running up Ava’s arm. Over a period of fifty years, Pfeiffer also amassed an impressive personal collection that includes European press clippings, slides, negatives, photographs, movie posters, and autographed images of Ava Gardner.
Born on October 15, 1930 on the island of Java (Indonesia), Bert Pfeiffer was the oldest of two sons of a German father and Dutch mother who had left recession-plagued Holland in search of employment. After returning to Holland and completing his high school education and military service, Pfeiffer enrolled in the Academy of Arts at the Hague. In 1956, a year before he was to graduate, he was diagnosed with a rare hereditary disease -- acute intermittent porphyria. The illness caused his hands to be permanently paralyzed and drawn into fists. After 30 months and a series of rehabilitation efforts, Pfeiffer regained some of his abilities, learning to paint by holding his brush with his fist.
Prior to her death in 1990, Ava Gardner received three of his portraits as gifts and displayed them in her London home. Following Bert Pfeiffer’s death in August 2001, family and friends completed his wish to donate his collection to the Museum, adding to the twenty-six portraits previously purchased by the Museum’s founders, Tom and Lorraine Banks.
In 2014, Our State Magazine chose a portrait by Bert to be the cover of the magazine, which included a feature article on the Ava Gardner Museum.