(based on a true story)
“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow”
Vincent Van Gogh
It was one of those better days. A day that felt like a step in the right direction. A day where everything seemed just a little brighter. It helped that summer was just around the corner. The lavender fields of Provence were in bloom, and olive groves bathed in sunlight.
It was all in sharp contrast to the harsh winter, which Vincent was glad to leave behind. His fragile health had suffered from the biting cold. But it was the loneliness that cost him most. His friends, one by one, had left him. Maybe he’d put too much fervor into his painting, leaving little energy for anything or anyone else. With bold colors and heavy brushstrokes, his unique style seized what couldn’t be captured: mood and emotion. For him, painting wasn’t for decoration or telling a story. It was a window to the soul. While most of his fellow artists tried their best to replicate the real world, Vincent had taken a different road. He hurried along it with a sense of urgency, and passion. It became an obsession. The less he felt understood, the more obsessed he became. His neighbors called him the “the redheaded madman”.
Physically and emotionally exhausted, he had moved to a countryside clinic, close to the rural village of Saint-Remy. Saint-Paul, as the clinic was called, used to be an old monastery. The monks, long gone, had worked and prayed there for over a thousand years. Vincent felt a spiritual presence, which brought some peace. He had a small room to sleep in, and, next to it, a similar-sized room to paint. The bedroom was simple, not too different from the monks’ time. There was a metal-framed bed, a few paintings leaning on the wall, a red brick tiled floor, and a small wooden desk.
As he strolled towards the village, Vincent captured all the little details of his surroundings. The red poppy on the side of the road, a cloud in the shape of a whale, the sparrows flying high. His soul registered each emotion, which maybe he’d paint one day. The walk was a welcome break from the clinic, which was quiet but a bit too cramped to his taste.
It was the best season for Monsieur Cassey, the proud owner of “André’s Art Supplies” shop. With the summer arriving, tourists were back. People came from all over Europe to paint the picturesque Provence landscape. André was busy stacking up white painting canvases, while his cat Buki lay lazily next to the window, warmed by the sun’s rays. André had run a bookshop for many years, and Buki’s name was a wink to those happy days. Books had always been a passion, endless worlds to explore. But André had felt the urge to open an art store, the source of endless worlds to create. A brand new pencil, a full tube of yellow paint, a blank sheet of paper – there was something magical about each object, an unbounded creative potential.
“Good morning André,” Vincent mumbled in his beard as he walked through the door. André had always found this man to be very peculiar. He looked tired, and worn. He had ginger hair, combed backwards, and an unkept beard. Vincent never said much, but was André’s best client. No one else in the village produced four paintings per week, on average. “So how can I help today?” asked André. Vincent didn’t immediately reply, his gaze set on the painting tubes, and his hand gently stroking Buki. “Would you have some Cadium Yellow? I need some to finish a painting today. What’s a starry night without stars?”
Miss Yellow had been waiting for this moment for a long time. Prussian Blue, Emerald Green, and Burt Sienna were good company, but she longed for a real home. When Vincent’s long, thin fingers grabbed her gently from the shelf, she immediately felt a warmth she had never felt before. The way he cradled her in his hand, with respect and eagerness, made her feel destined for something great. “See you tomorrow”, said André as Vincent left the store without a goodbye.
Back at the clinic, Vincent was impatient to add the finishing touches to his Starry Night. So far, it was just a “Night”. The cypress tree in the foreground lept up to the sky, like a dark flame. The small village in the back was quaint and cozy, reminding him of his youth back in Holland. The hills seemed more like the sea’s waves on a windy day, rather than heavy masses of stone. The night air appeared to be dancing, like a ballet of swirling dresses. But the canvas was still dark, full of deep blue and green hues.
Vincent took Miss Yellow gently in his palm, opened her cap, and squeezed a bit of paint on his pallet. She looked on in wonder as he grabbed a thin brush and stirred the paint briskly to get a good homogenous mix. With a sense of purpose, he then moved confidently towards the canvas and lightly added short stripes of yellow to the night sky, slowly bringing it alive. He added a handful of large stars, and a big, bright moon at the top. The entire painting lit up. He then mixed the yellow with a hint of crimson red, bringing a soft, reassuring, orange glow to the sky. Miss Yellow was speechless, trying to contain her emotion. She had lit up that dark sky. Her color. She felt proud, with a stronger sense of belonging than she ever had felt before.
Vincent stood back, content for a fleeting moment. It definitely wasn’t a “normal” sky, one that they would have taught in art school. The movement, the emotion, was physically tangible. “Maybe someone will enjoy it one day”, he thought. He put away his brushes, as the first stars were coming out. He gently laid Miss Yellow back into his box of tubes. It had been one of those better days. Miss Yellow thought so too.