Through the few times I had come across the genius I had never been too courageous to inquire about his art. The first encounter was barely a greeting followed by us parting ways, back to our opposing homes. The second time I was running an errand for the town, distributing information door-to-door in regards to the annual fair, and he had been incredibly blunt with his ignorance: A simple, “I have work to finish, I have never cared for carnivals anyhow,” he said. The third time, I had spotted him in the town square and rushed over in a feverish anticipation to say, “Hello,” to the mysterious man.
“How do you do?” he replied.
“Quite well, I noticed some of your work lying outside your home this morning,” I began, “If it’s not wanted, I’d be happy to take a piece myself.”
“Please, take the rubbish,” he said as he pivoted on his heels and retreated into a shop.
It wasn’t until the fourth time I talked to the man that I mentioned my passion for drawing and painting. I stood outside my residence one afternoon admiring my daisies and waiting for my friend Elisabeth’s company to arrive, when the man opened his front window, across the street and accidentally made eye contact with my person. I approached him and in an unanticipated turn of events, I received an invitation to meet with him and discuss our mutual love of impressionism later that evening.
A few hours later, I made my way across the dark street to my neighbours’ door. I wore a navy dress with a white collar and carried a visitors gift, a bottle of red wine. I knocked on the splintered door and slowly, the inside of the house unveiled itself.
“Hello, sir.” I straightened my back and smiled.
“Good evening. Come inside,” he said plainly.
I made my way into the studio. It was small, you couldn’t see the floor because it was covered in debris, but leaning against every wall were stacks of portraits, not just portraits, but works of fine art. Hundreds of them. I lifted the one closest to me and examined it carefully. It was an oil painting of the Auvers-sur-Oise Catholic Church, equipped with the most precise brushstrokes I had ever seen.
He took the bottle of wine and set it on a dusty table. “I finished that painting yesterday,” he explained, “I have only visited the church a few times, I painted it from memory.”
“Exceptional,” I whispered into the canvas. “I speculate anyone who will ever see this masterpiece would sell their soul for it’s company.”
He sat down on a wooden chair and sighed, “You would be the first person to say that.”
I studied the path that lead to the bleak church, “And these strokes, what brush did you use?”
“That thin? It must’ve taken you quite some time.”
He slouched comfortably in his chair, “I have had much experience. It does not take me that long anymore. This month so far I have painted more than 23 works. The month before that I created 37 paintings and 52 sketches.”
There was something concerning this man that both disgruntled and captivated me. For the first time, I ignored the talent set in his mind and gazed upon his physical appearance: he was no more than 40, with bright red hair and ragged costume. His eyes appeared tired and his nose crooked. He seemed quite desolate which is what brought me to change the topic of conversation, as I was apparently boring him, “Does your family live near?” I asked, “They must be thrilled with your work.”
He tittered to himself, “Only my brother, Theo.”
“Is he a good man?” I inquired.
“The label ‘good’ would be an understatement. My youth was gloomy and cold and sterile and his friendship kept me wholesomely sane. I am in great debt to my brother. A debt in which I am afraid I will not be able to repay.”
He looked at his dirty shoes and took a deep breath, “My brother is ill and I’m afraid he doesn’t have much time,” The man’s weary eyes gazed up and met mine.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Illness is God’s greatest fault. I’m terribly apologetic.” I pulled a stool nearer to the man and sat.
“Tell me, my dear. Have you ever felt like you missed an opportunity? That there was a time when you could have become great, but you were too caught up in leisurely affairs to pay attention?”
“Why yes,” I straightened my skirt, “I used to sketch tremendously when I was young. I’d sit up in my room and only leave to eat dinner. One summer, I drew over 400 sketches and looked up, exhausted, only to realize that my parents had thrown themselves into a strenuous state; I hadn’t noticed how shielded I had kept myself until my father left permanently for Italy and I didn’t make any emotion of it. I was too focused on what I considered to be important, when I found out later it was only a menial passion of mine.”
He looked at me uneasily, “I understand what you mean by art becoming menial. I have spent a fair portion of my adulthood practicing painting and no success or recognition has ever come from it.”
“Have you ever sold your pieces?” I questioned.
“Art is not meant to be sold for money, it is meant to be shared and stolen for its beauty.”
Later that evening, I sauntered back to my abode and crawled into bed. It was more than a few minutes I lay there, thinking about my night. I could see a little bit of myself in that man as I was as abandoned and dependant as he was. I drifted off shortly past 10.
In the morn, I woke to the faded sound of muttering people. I quickly dressed myself and peered out the door to see what was the matter. Directly in front of my house was a clump of pedestrians and an old woman casting a shadow atop my shasta daisies.
“Pardon ma’am, the sun is highest in the sky and you’re depriving my daisies!” I didn’t mean to sound so shrewish, but my daisies are my equivalent of any pet.
“Oh hush, they’re bringing out another piece,” she said.
I gazed over the crowd and saw a large man on a pedestal holding up my friends Auvers-sur-Oise oil painting.
“This piece will begin at 500 dollars!” he yelled.
“$550!” yelled a man.
“$600!” yelled another.
The old woman I was standing next to muttered something unintelligible to herself and then shrieked at the top of her lungs, “$1000! I bet a thousand dollars!”
The man on the pedestal smiled to himself, “Going once… going twice… and it’s sold to the woman in the back!”
Flabbergasted, I turned to the woman, “That’s my friends masterpiece, it is not for sale!”
She scoffed at me, “Oh, yes it is! Auctions are every woman for herself! C’est la belle époque Mademoiselle, you better make the most of it.”
I was growing sick of this woman’s materialism so I pushed my way through the crowd and gradually approached my neighbours residence to consult him about this incessant madness. I passed the man on the pedestal, reached the door and knocked furiously. The door swung open and out came another man carrying more of my friend’s priceless works. Why did he give these men permission to sell his paintings? He distinctly advised me with the fraudulence associated with commercializing such work. Art isn’t meant to be sold, it’s meant to be shared.
I cut off the man carrying the art, “Excuse me, that’s my friends work. Why are you taking it?” I must say, the courage I bore towards this stranger surprised me.
“Ma’am, dun’t ya know?” he began, “The gentleman was found dead in Mr. Picker’s field this morn. Bullet in chest and gun in hand.”
The man looked at me for a few seconds and then simply strode to the auction grounds with an oil painting depicting a blue sky filled with stars. I watched closely as the eyes of the patrons lit up with envy for the new piece. The man on the pedestal took the painting and read the title on the back:
“The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh!” he shouted.
I lifted my hand and shouted back, “500 dollars!”
Written by Erin Mclaughlin @fun6001