The Arrival

'My dear Theo,

  Don’t be cross with me that I’ve come all of a sudden.  I’ve thought about it so much and I think we’ll save time this way.  Will be at the Louvre from midday, or earlier if you like.  A reply, please, to let me know when you could come to the Salle Carrée.   

  As for expenses, I repeat, it comes to the same thing.  I have some money left, that goes without saying, and I want to talk to you before spending anything.  We’ll sort things out, you’ll see. So get there as soon as possible.  I shake your hand.

  Yours truly, 

  Vincent'  (VGM)

 

"Oh, no."

"Bad news, Theo?"

Theo sits on the edge of the bed.  "Oh, dear God.  No!”

"Someone has passed away, unexpectedly?"

"No.  It’s worse!  My brother, Vincent.  He’s come early!  He’s not supposed to be here until June!”

 Theo flops back on the bed, his feet still on the floor.  Holding the note up and reading it again, “He’s at the Louvre and wants me to pick him up as soon as possible!  And this note is hours old!” 

Looking at the boy with malice, “It’s already midday!" 

The boy normally waits for a tip for as long as it takes, but due to the fact that he was delayed because he stopped for lunch, was unable to pronounce Theo’s last name, and now, with Theo having the crazed look of a man at the end of his tether…  It is too much.  The boy runs away.   

Signac makes an optimistic proposition, hoping to avoid any negative discussion during his meeting.    “Monsieur, this is good news.  Family is always welcome.  And you don’t have to be here for the meeting.  I tell you what, take this 20 franc note.  Go to Le Chat Noir.  Have a nice catch-up!"

"You don’t understand.  Vincent can’t be here until June, there isn’t enough room…  My landlord will have a fit…  I have another business appointment at 2…  Meeting a friend for dinner…  He doesn’t know about Marie…"  Theo closes his eyes as tightly as possible, overwhelmed, and repeats the last sentence as if squeezing his eyelids together hard enough would make the situation go away.  "He doesn’t know about Marie!"

 Realising he also needs to talk to Signac about Marie, Theo rises on one elbow, "Uh, Marie, my, uh, friend...  Do you mind if she comes to see this painting?  She’s got the idea she wants to be a painter.  It would be a great personal favour to me."

Signac accommodates, "Oui, oui.  As long as it is before or after the critic is here.  Again, he and I must be alone, so I can fully explain the significance of this work."

Theo stands, "Of course.  Thank you, for trusting me to provide this service.  For now, I must run.  In case I don’t return in time, here’s a key.   I know you’re a man of substance.  I know you’ll be responsible for all my paintings, uh, wherever they are...”  Theo stops to think for a second and grabs an extra hat and coat.

Signac is puzzled by the extra clothing.

As he takes the 20 francs from Signac and is moving towards the door, Theo stops, attempting to explain his actions.  "My brother is, ah…  Uh…” 

Momentarily rendered speechless, trying to describe his brother in a few words, Theo realizes it’s impossible.  “I’m sorry.  With Vincent there is no way to make a long story short.  I must hurry."    

 

 This will be Vincent’s third time to live in Paris. On the two previous occasions, he was employed by the same firm for which Theo now works.  Of course, Sunday is the day he would be at the Louvre.  Every Sunday has free admission. 

As Theo is entering the Salle Carrée area, he hears a group of schoolgirls giggling and knows, instinctively, Vincent cannot be far away.

A lady with an ermine wrap is listening intently to her gentleman companion when her eyes fall upon a pitiful sight. Apparently, some sheepherder who must’ve delivered fresh meat to the staff’s kitchen has wandered down the wrong corridor, opened the wrong door, and was here, amidst the world’s most beautiful and expensive paintings, studying them with all the concentration the poor soul could muster while trying, inconspicuously, to find the nearest exit.

The lady points in Vincent’s direction and asks her friend, "What sort of hat do you think that is, on that poor misplaced drover in the Guernsey hide jacket over there?"

"Looks to be a cross between shepherd and beagle, I’d say".

Theo hears and interjects, "I sincerely believe it is dead tomcat, and I’ve been after him for years to bury it in the nearest pet cemetery."

The couple laughs but can’t make out if Theo is serious.

"Vincent!"

"Theo!"

Polite, but sincere, handshakes and hugs ensue.  Despite frequent letters to each other, the brothers haven’t actually been together since their father died, almost a year ago.

"Vincent, you’re a sight for sore eyes!  How are you?"

"Well, old man, I’m much the better now from seeing you!"

"Excellent!  Your trip was satisfactory?"

"Yes, although I lost my easel.  The idiotic fireman thought it was firewood, broke it up, and threw it in the stove when I wasn’t looking!  I tried to rescue it…"  Holding up his scorched sleeve, "But it was too late.  Blasted idiot.  Theo, has it turned so cold you need an extra coat and hat?"

"Vincent, we need to talk."  The words are spoken in no uncertain terms as Theo ushers Vincent towards a hallway with a large rubbish bin.

As they pass the couple commenting on Vincent’s appearance, speaking loudly, Theo asks, "Vincent, do you think Delacroix with his modern approach to colour is able to capture the simple life of peasants as well as, say, Millet?"  Directly to the lady, "He’s in costume, very eccentric artist."

As Theo and Vincent walk away, “Theo, you know very well my feelings on Delacroix and Millet.  What you may need to know, though, are my thoughts on the difference between someone who is eccentric and someone who appreciates the value of money.”

As Vincent is explaining his viewpoint on keeping in fashion versus the cost involved, they approach the rubbish bin.  Theo does not agree with any of Vincent’s ideas on the subject, but instead of reminding him of their uncle Cent’s position, he jumps right to the main point.  “Vincent, you have no right to be here.  Here and now…  I have no room!  I just sent you a letter explaining all of this, again.  I won’t have space until June!"

"Theo, all this is academic.  I am here.  I am here to stay.  It will be beneficial for both of us.  Please don’t argue about something that is clearly seen and perfectly sensible.  Let’s go to your apartment and I’ll show you.  It’ll be fine."

"You don’t know the situation."  Looking at his pocket watch, "Right now, I’m almost late for an appointment with a client and there’s a meeting in my apartment in two hours.  Something that might change the whole course of the appreciation of what art is.  Something that might benefit you and all the Impressionists in making your mark in the world.  It could be something that could be huge in the entire history of art!"

"Now, this is most intriguing.  Something to do with the Impressionists?  You’re in the midst of a big sale?"

"No.  Nothing like that.  But it is big and, most definitely, requires you to not be there!"

"It requires me to not be there?"  Vincent is upset by  the frustration he hears in Theo’s voice but cannot grasp how his mere presence has the possibility of ruining everything.  

"I’ve even been given 20 francs to take you to an early dinner to ensure privacy for the meeting.  I’ll tell you everything when we eat.  Then, we can figure out what to do with you.  But, first, you must start dressing appropriately."

“Oh?  Is that what this is about?  These clothes have kept me warm and dry for years.”

“You remember what Mother used to say, that you create squalor simply by entering a room?  Your clothes are hand-me-downs from miners who received them as hand-me-downs!  They’re second-hand, second-hands!  But, no, in this case as inappropriate as your clothes are, it’s not the reason you can’t come to my apartment this afternoon.  It’s a very sensitive meeting.  That’s all.  And you need to dress better!”  He hands his extra hat and coat to Vincent. 

Vincent reluctantly takes off his hat and coat and exchanges them with Theo.  Looking at the hat Theo has just handed him, "A bit formal, don’t you think?"

"Not at all.  Look around you."  Several of the hats could be seen, but the gentlemen wearing them were all in suits in contrast to Vincent’s well-worn, working-class clothes.  "Just try to make the best of it.  We have to start somewhere."

Theo, unceremoniously, rolls Vincent’s dead cat hat into the Guernsey jacket, stuffs them in the bin, and starts walking away, "Come we must hurry."

As they walk, Vincent’s mind turns from the present to the future and thoughts of the Impressionists.  "In Antwerp, they are saying Edouard Manet is the Father of Impressionism even though he is not one of them.  Do you share this opinion, and if you do, could you tell me why?  Or are there examples here that demonstrate that he is or isn’t?  During his life, I didn’t think much of him, but after he’s gone, people can’t stop talking about his revolutionary approach to painting.  I must say, I’ve only seen a couple prints of his work just a couple of portraits, and they didn’t strike me as anything special.  Maybe the subject material was more important than his technique?"

Theo looks at Vincent as though Vincent knows where they are going.  "It is positively incomprehensible how you do this."

"Do what?"

"You know, every so often…  Well, more often than that.  Often enough to be positively the most impossible thing to understand.  You say something that is directly related to something I know is going to happen, but you wouldn’t have the slightest idea about."

 Vincent ponders what Theo has said…  "Is this related to the times when I know absolutely nothing about that of which you’re talking?"

After a slight pause, Theo responds, "In this case, yes, I think so."

Vincent looks at Theo wondering what he could possibly be talking about.  Theo looks at Vincent wondering how in God’s name he could know where they are going.  Both appear hoping for Divine Intervention to answer the question each had asked the other several times before.  Vincent finally breaks the silent stare only brothers can have.  "Well?"

"It’s another case of you asking me something that is directly related to where we are going even though there’s no way you would know anything about it; where we are headed.  Eugène Manet has asked me to stop by his house and give him my opinion on the value of some of his brother’s works.  Eugène’s wife, Berthe Morisot, is one of the original Impressionists and has several of Edouard’s paintings in her studio."

"How would I know this?"

"Of course, you wouldn’t!  That’s the whole point!  Sacra Bleu!  We must go!  We’re going to be late!”