The Last Van Gogh

The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman

Book: The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alyson Richman
Tags: Fiction, General
the time, Paul.” Papa clicked his tongue to show his annoyance. “Monsieur Van Gogh has not come here to teach, but to paint and to recuperate. Isn’t that right, Vincent?”
    “I plan on painting Mademoiselle Gachet today,” Vincent said, smiling back at me. “As long as the doctor doesn’t mind.”
    Paul’s left eye began to twitch, the lid fluttering like the wing of a magpie. I saw him kick the ground with his shoe.
    “I’m insisting that she does not change. I want to paint her just as she is.”
    Papa suddenly looked alarmed. “You can’t possibly want to paint Marguerite today!”
    “Yes, I most certainly do.”
    “But I thought…I thought you might want to do a more formal sitting…a more—” Father stopped in midsentence. “Where do you want to paint her?”
    “In the garden, near the rosebushes and the geranium blossoms.”
    Father nodded his head and sighed.
    H E painted me in the midst of the garden, between two sections, where the turgid rosebushes intermingled with the vines. I covered my hair with a yellow bonnet and stood waist high among the blooming tendrils, my muddy hem cast behind a veil of forgiving shrubs.
    That afternoon the light was golden, with the shadows of the chestnut trees casting long fingers on the lawn. I stood against one of the blue-stained posts that divided the terrace, staring into my garden. I knew where each bush began, where each set of roots mingled with its neighbor, and where one stem was blooming and the other was just about to bud. I felt the soft warmth of summer on my face and a soft breeze rustling across my bodice. I suddenly couldn’t help myself from smiling. I was elated that Vincent had asked to paint me among the very things that I had spent years cultivating, toiling and tending with my own hands.
    “Could you extend your hand, mademoiselle?” he called out from behind his easel.
    I raised my right arm and opened my fingers slightly.
    “Yes, that’s it….”
    It was difficult to remain in this position for a sustained period of time, but I didn’t want to disappoint him. So for nearly three hours I stood there, lowering my hand on occasion to avoid a cramp, but careful to resume the exact position I had held moments before.
    He painted quickly, as he always did, his head popping out every now and then from his easel. His palette was suspended in front of him, the mounds of pigment piling over the canvas like rosebuds, his wrist flexing in an exuberant dance.
    I wished that I could be in two places at once, still maintaining my position as his subject, but also seeing how he was progressing with the painting. I could not stop wondering what the finished canvas would look like. Would he simply try to capture my physical resemblance, or would he try to go beyond that and reveal something in me that I had not even seen in myself?
    Father and Paul came out to the garden just as the sun was beginning to dip under the clouds. I could feel the moisture beginning to penetrate the air. The daylilies were beginning to close, and the crickets were beginning to chirp.
    Vincent remained hunched behind the canvas. His oil rag was dropped on the ground and his brown boots were spotted in paint.
    I felt as though my legs were about to crumble. I was exhausted but I refused to give in to my weary limbs. I would wait until he was done.
    He did not announce when he was finished, though I knew both Papa and Paul were expecting a wild “Fini!” to emerge from his lips. Vincent did as I suspected he would. He placed his brush on the lip of his easel and stepped away and looked at the canvas. He nodded to me, then wiped his hands with a rag.
    “Thank you, Mademoiselle Gachet,” he called out. “I hope I haven’t exhausted you.”
    “Oh, no,” I gushed and I began walking toward him.
    I came closer, my feet treading softly over the grass.
    I was silent for several seconds as I examined the painting. It was not what I had expected. He had not taken pains to

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