“Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to? What does it say to you? Describe the experience.”
The Church at Auvers, Vincent Van Gogh
I used to creep through to my father’s workroom and
find the book, sandwiched
between Michaelangelo, Manet; sometimes leaning casually
against Rodin or even Leonardo De Vinci,
finally recognised as an equal amidst those masters,
and as I sat, turning the pages
I imagined a connection;
felt I had an understanding of Van Gogh’s angst;
his passion, his tortured existence.
I thought I could see in those tawdry copies
the beauty of his vision and the talent of his hands,
but I was a child,
and what I worshipped was no more than a faded reflection.
Twenty five years later, visiting Paris
I was so excited that I merely glanced at the Mona Lisa.
I didn’t even have time for Raphael or Vermeer
in my hurry to see Vincent’s paintings.
I entered the room to the sound of people quietly crying,
trying to wipe their unstoppable tears without being seen.
On the walls there was such colour,
so many shades of orange, blue, and gold,
and more hues of green than could be imagined,
and at last I gazed on the authentic spendour,
bringing tears to my own eyes;
such tragic beauty torn from the man’s heart;
brushed angrily onto the canvas, and
I realised that I had never known
this artist who had ripped my senses
merely with those inferior imitations I had found as a child.
I had never understood the glory of his art, or his genius,
and neither had he.
But there was more to be seen.
One wall was taken up with
an enormous painting of the church at Auvers,
and there was a door leading to the next room.
The picture looked as if it was lit from behind,
so I thought the purpose of the door
was to let us see the illumination,
but when I went through,
there were no lights, and nothing
to explain the vivid glow that eminated from the paint.
I couldn’t silence my sobbing;
I bowed in reverence to this painting
created by the greatest artist I had ever known,
who had not been recognised until he was dead.
Closing my eyes I whispered:
Thank you Vincent. Rest in peace,
please, rest in peace.
©Jane Paterson Basil