A Van Gogh at the Frick

 I’d first seen van Gogh’s "Portrait of a Peasant (Patience Escalier)" in the New York Times, where I immediately despised it. The work looked like a crude forgery of a van Gogh portrait: the bright yellows and greens were there, but the face was a mess — full of ugly slanting lines with no visual purpose. "A museum will put any van Gogh on their wall, to attract all those women from Westchester," I silently calculated.

 

Also I was certain I’d never see this painting, because I am fearful of the Frick. But two weeks later my friend Yumeko invited me to the museum, and I found myself waiting in the lobby, five feet from a stunningly pretty Bennington student*, as a light rain fell on Manhattan.

 

"Are there any special exhibits?" I asked the ticket-taker, when Yumeko and I entered. "There are drawings in the basement, and a van Gogh on the first floor," she replied evenly. Eventually I reached the latter painting, not expecting that same New York Times portrait.

 

But in person, a painting abandons its newspaper replica. "Portrait of a Peasant" was alive, combative — more arresting if you stood 15 feet away, actually. Patience was peering out through the mask of his face, fearlessly.

 

*Bennington is a guess.