Vincent by
(24 Stories)

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At 53, if someone had asked me who Vincent Van Gogh was, I’d have said, “he’s the guy who cut off his ear.”

Shortly after my first divorce, I took a lady on a date to the Getty; see some art and go to dinner. We looked at paintings of famous old dead men and pretended nuance was part of the experience.

Walking into one of the impressionist rooms we followed the other viewers counter-clockwise, taking time to let the impressions flow over us. Stepping in front of Vincent’s Iris painting, some form of gravity gathered me in. The foreground is brown, for dirt, but one brush stroke is red, probably to suggest clay. For an instant I saw the brush move forward and touch the canvas. I started crying—not bawling or simpering—just tears.

My date was self-conscious. I told her I didn’t know what was wrong. But I sat down, gathered myself and circled the room again. This time, in front of Vincent, I just smiled and let the tears flow.

A couple years later while visiting Europe, I made a day trip to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I expected to spend a few hours in some sort of undefined reverie. I was emotionally devastated and lasted just over an hour.

Since then, I’ve visited the Musee d’Orsay, twice, specifically to stand in a room with seventeen Vincents.

All of his paintings affect me, but his self-portraits auger holes in me. I know him.

Profile photo of richard c rutherford richard c rutherford

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. I love this story, Richard…so glad you wrote it. Somehow your reaction to Van Gogh doesn’t surprise me.

  2. Marian says:

    Very moving story, Richard. Art can evoke such reactions, and as you can see in my story, they can be unpredictable. You saw into another’s soul and your own.

  3. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Richard. I love Van Gogh too, although I didn’t write about him in my story. I have a reproduction of one of his Sunflowers paintings hanging in my house, and it makes me happy whenever I look at it.

  4. Me again Richard. Why not add one or more of Vincent’s paintings to your story, that would be lovely!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Yes, Richard. Art speaks to us in astonishing ways, if we take the time to really look. As I commented to Marian, I cried when I saw Michelangelo’s David; the sheer physical beauty of it overwhelmed me. I can understand how Vincent engulfed you emotionally and you two connected so deeply.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    A great testimony to the power of art to touch us in deeply personal ways.

  7. John Zussman says:

    Love this, Rick. An eloquent testimony to the emotionally devastating power of great art. And though longer than many of your pieces, it retains your trademark linguistic conciseness.

  8. It’s a good thing your writing is not very long, Richard, because a reader can get lost in thought for a very long time after reading a sentence with this predicate: “and pretended nuance was part of the experience.” Thanks for giving us a lot to chew on.

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