The painter threw down his brushes in disgust. He stepped back to examine the canvas. Everyone said his talent was self-evident. So what was missing? His latest work was a portrait of an old family friend who was also his agent. Stefan had commissioned the work himself as he found it hard to see the artist struggle to make a living.
From a young age it was clear this painter was brilliant. Art school had confirmed this. A bright future was forecast. When they met, his wife had expressed her utter belief in him. Three years on and even she was beginning to lose faith.
His paintings exuded class and know-how… and yet. They simply would not sell. At least not for the price he needed to earn a crust. All who knew him were baffled. Artists who were far inferior had become internationally famous. He, however, was faced with penury or giving up on his life’s goal. In his heart, the painter sensed his work needed that elusive spark, but he could never discern what it was.
‘Darling,’ said his wife, ‘Stefan will love it.’
She rubbed his back reassuringly as he bent to pick up the brushes.
‘I hope so,’ he sighed. ‘But I can’t charge him what I need to.’
‘He can afford it.’
‘No. Look at how he has helped us. He’s lent us so much money. And he’s yet to see a penny back. I’m going to let him have it for free. Darling, could you fix me a drink?’
His wife placed his gin and tonic behind him on the table with his paints and left the room.
A minute later she heard glass shattering and her husband curse.
Months passed and it seemed he would have to give up on his dream. He began looking for a job, though the thought of actually taking one was tantamount to suicide in his mind.
He was typing out his C.V. when an email arrived from Stefan.
‘Hi Guys, I hope you’re well. I feel most embarrassed, but at the same time elated for you. I had this collector over for supper and he was so taken with the portrait! He wants to stop it going to auction. Would you be offended if I sold it to him? I know it was really a gift for me, but if I can get a good price…’
‘That’s great news,’ the painter typed back. ‘I must admit, I only ever intended it for you, but it’s your property. You can do as you wish with it.’
A week later an ecstatic Stefan arrived at the artist’s door. He announced that not only could the painter repay his debt, but there was a tidy sum on top, which he insisted on paying the artist.
‘Perhaps our luck is changing,’ said his wife later as they enjoyed a meal in celebration.
‘Yes, but I cannot understand why that particular painting attracted such a price. It’s no better than those before or since.’
‘I guess it just struck a chord with that buyer,’ said his wife.
‘Well, it’s a mystery to me.’
‘Just enjoy it,’ she replied.
As time passed it became clear this might be a one-off. Whatever he did, the painter could not repeat his success. He produced what he considered far superior works, some of which his agent friend was convinced would sell for more. Each one struggled to meet their reserve at auction, and he was once more faced with ruin.
One day, as the artist was shaving, his wife kissed him on the cheek.
‘Ow! Darling! Good morning. Much as I love your kisses, I’ve nicked myself.’
‘You know you maybe a wonderful artist, but you are so clumsy sometimes.’
‘I think I will take that as a compliment. I wish the buyers agreed with you though.’
She smiled and said: ‘I’ve a feeling things will begin to look up soon.’
Weeks passed, and the artist returned to tinkering with his C.V. Then an upbeat email arrived.
‘Fabulous News!’ the title read. ‘The study of the swans you asked me to put to auction in Geneva has far exceeded our expectations. An American dealer has bought it for twenty thousand dollars!’