'Painting the Wind'

Story Time

June 09, 1999|By Michelle Dionetti

Editor's note: Entranced by the paintings of the unconventional artist Vincent van Gogh (for whom her mother works as a housekeeper), Claudine watches his world spin out of control when painter Paul Gauguin comes to visit.

Soon there was another painter at the Yellow House. His name was Paul. Eagerly Claudine followed the painters to an orchard one noon. They set up their easels near the apple trees and began to paint. Soon she saw that Paul also used vivid colors, though his were deep rather than bright. Vincent's colors were shouts, and Paul's were singing voices.

"Not like that!" cried Vincent when he looked at Paul's work. "You miss the violet shadow here! Am I not right, my young friend?" he called to Claudine.

Claudine saw Vincent's violet in the tree's shadow. Paul had painted his shadow blue, and she thought she saw that, too. Then she saw her own color.

"It's purple!" she said. "With red mixed in!"

But neither man heard her. They were arguing angrily about which of them was right.

On Christmas Day bells rang all over Arles.

After Mass Claudine and her family strolled through Arles to greet their friends. Horses drew wagons through the streets. Happy shouts filled the air.

A crowd of people thronged the square in front of the Yellow House. Their shrill voices frightened Claudine. Had something happened to Vincent? She pushed through them.

"Is something wrong?" she cried.

"They have taken Fou Roux away," the people replied. "Fou Roux and his friend had a fight, and Vincent cut off the lobe of his own ear."

For many weeks Claudine could not go to the Yellow House. No one was there. Dust gathered inside.

At the close of winter, the painter returned to the Yellow House. Claudine and Maman returned, too, to clean. Claudine thought sadly that Vincent seemed tired. The joy had gone from his eyes. He could not bring himself to paint but often slumped at the window, gazing across La Place Lamartine.

One day while she scrubbed, Claudine heard shouting.

"Fou Roux, Fou Roux!" the children chanted.

Claudine looked up in dismay. Would they never leave Vincent alone?

Vincent opened the window and yelled, but the children kept chanting, "Fou Roux, Fou Roux." Hurt and enraged, Vincent threw his chair out the window, then some paintings.

"Oh, no!" cried Claudine.

She grabbed the painter's arm.

The youths scattered. Adults ran from the nearby cafe, shaking their fists and shouting at Vincent. Maman pushed Claudine out of the Yellow House. Under the feet of angry men, Claudine found a small painting of Vincent's two battered shoes. She set it carefully out of harm's way.

"Come away from there!" said Maman.

"Those men are not fair to Vincent," Claudine said boldly. She felt her face grow hot.

"You are as foolish as the painter!" scolded Maman.

But Claudine could not keep still. "The boys were mean!" she said. "They called him names!"

"What of it?" said Maman. "A man does not care if children call him names."

But Claudine thought that anyone would care.

Vincent's neighbors had become afraid of him. They signed a petition to ban him from living in the Yellow House. The magistrate granted their request.

When the time came for Vincent to leave, the neighbors gathered to watch and gossip. Claudine did not want to stand with them. She pushed through the whispering crowd and knocked on the door of the Yellow House.

The crowd quieted. The door opened a crack.

"Well?" said Vincent. His eyes were sad.

"I came to tell you I like your paintings," said Claudine loudly.

A tiny light came into Vincent's eyes. "Do not tell the others," he joked, "or they will make you leave, too."

He handed Claudine a small painting. Sunflowers blazed from it in curls of light.

"For you," he said.

Claudine hugged the painting and ran home. She understood that Vincent had said good-bye, and she clenched her teeth to keep from crying. But in her heart she felt glad. She felt as strong as the sun, as fierce as the mistral. Vincent had given her the eyes to see the heart of a sunflower, brave and bold and filled with fire.

Excerpt from PAINTING THE WIND by Michelle Dionetti, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Text copyright c 1996 by Michelle Dionetti. Illustrations copyright c 1997 by Kevin Hawkes. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, (Inc.)

Pub Date: 06/09/99

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