Mr. Levitan and Me by Emmanuel Aronie
Mr. Levitan, Isaac. I stopped in front of your portrait in the Tretyakovskaya Gallery in Moscow, or should I say ‘our portrait’, because I am not even sure we’re not the same person, you know, past lives and all that stuff. Plus, we have a lot in common. We’re both of Jewish heritage. We’re both serious men and, I have a little story to tell that might even show that I too have some artistic talent, like you, though of course, your Russian landscapes are masterpieces far beyond my meager talents.
I look at our picture together and I think, ‘Well Isaac, when you’re as old as I am, you will likely lose all that dark bushy hair, which actually hides your mouth. And, why would a woman kiss that mouth? It would be like kissing a musk-ox.’ Ah, I apologize. I suppose I am jealous of your skills and fame.
But, I digress. Isaac Ilyich Levitan, you were born in 1860 in Augustow, Poland. Well, all four of my grandparents were born around the same time and within 100 kilometers of your birthplace!! This is true. Another certainty is that my relatives probably knew your relatives. Chances are very good that they knew someone who knew someone who actually knew you. Think of that !!
So, we’re neighbors, kinfolk, brothers, or at least, cousins. So, let me tell you a little story, a true story, a story of art, which I know you love with a passion.
Long ago, in the 1980’s, I lived in Austin, Texas, a music town, a cultural town, capital of Texas. One afternoon, in my little house on San Gabriel St., I began to paint a watercolor, a copy of a famous Van Gogh painting, ‘The Church at Auvers ‘. It was and is one of my favorites, with a church in the center of the picture, a cobalt blue sky, a path in the foreground, that forks, with a woman in a bonnet going to the left and a rectory on the right, a beautiful painting.
I began dabbing paint on the canvas.
Suddenly, I noticed a very fine current running through my arm to my hand and to the fingers, which held the brush. It was almost electric. I began to really enjoy each brushstroke, each change of color, each movement. I became totally focused, and continued this way for several hours, until the painting was finished. I found myself bathed in sweat and in a kind of sweet delirium, a kind of existential happiness.
The next morning, I went down the street to the local coffee shop and met Louis, a friend, who was also there to drink some coffee. We chatted. He told me he was depressed, whereupon, suddenly I said, “Well, Louis, I have just finished an unusual painting, a copy of a Van Gogh. I think you should have it. It will help your depression.” I don’t know why I said this, but he agreed to take the painting. I trotted down the street and returned with the painting and gave it to Louis. Then, I forgot all about it.
Several years later, I was driving into Austin from Dallas, on I-35, the main highway connecting the two cities, and strangely, I missed my exit, my turn. Then, I missed the next exit as well and suddenly, without wanting to, I was on the bridge, crossing the river that runs through the center of the city. I was a bit irritated with myself and got off at the first available exit and turned to go back, when I noticed my gas was low…’hmm,’ I thought, I should get some gas’ and I pulled into the first gas station and up to the pump to gas up. That’s when I looked up – – and… there’s Louis!! I say….”Hey, Louis, how are you? I haven’t seen you in a long time.” He says, “Hey man, how are you!!?” And then he said, “By the way, you know that painting you gave me…I am done with it. I am fine now.”
“Great, ” I said, ” I’ll be glad to get it back.” And, he returned the painting that afternoon.
Oddly enough, the next day, Harlan, another friend of mine, asked me. “Say, do you have any paintings I can look at?” It was strange because I don’t paint very much and I rarely talk about it. But, I said, “Yeah, I have one, a nice one, a copy of a Van Gogh.”
“Can I see it ? “he asked. “Sure, ” I replied and showed him the painting. “How much do you want for it ?” “Hmmm…$ 75 ?” Sold. Shortly after that, Harlan moved to Los Angeles and took the painting with him.
So, Mr. Levitan, cousin, brother, did you like my story of art?