The St. Benignus
The first time I ever saw a Van Gogh painting was when I was in New York during my second year of NET. My team was doing the Diocese of Newark. Since I had family who lived so nearby, I was given the rare privilege of about 24 hours of time off by myself to go visit them. I rode the train into Manhattan, met Aunt C at her television studio office, took in a Broadway show, and saw some of the sights, including a quick run through the Met. I didn’t see the Van Goghs until we were no our way out the door. The museum was about to close, I needed to catch my train home, we had no time. “But you can’t leave without seeing these!” Aunt C cried, and led me into a small room lined with paintings smaller than I expected, but with a beauty that struck me like a blow.
I had seen Van Gogh paintings before, of course, in books or prints or all the million licensed reproductions on umbrellas and tea towels and bookmarks. I had thought them pretty, in the way that a lot of fine art is pretty – others have vouched for its quality, and so you accept it as good even if it does not particularly impress you. Until I saw the paintings themselves, I did not understand how much Van Gogh sculpted his paint as much as he painted with it, how he managed to make the light real, three dimensional, so tangible and present that it caught me like a fish on a hook. I found it incredibly difficult to move away. I have never forgotten it.
For a while now I have been trying to figure out what to paint my new bedroom. I toyed with the idea of going over-the-top feminine boudoir with pinks and lavenders. I thought about soft mother-of-pearl grays and blues. I mused through my Pinterest board of bedroom ideas, trying to tease out common threads of preference (mostly I figured out I’m a sucker for cozy nooks and canopies). And then one day I was on Spoonflower, and I saw the fabric one designer had made from Van Gogh’s Branch of Almond Blossom. It was so beautiful. I clicked on the link to see the actual painting, and just like that I was caught all over again. The blue sky, so clear and high and free, the delicate white blossoms as soft as tenderness, the security of the muted green branches, and those tiny touches of fuschia/pink/magenta highlighting the flowers – all of it was so perfect in and of itself, and so perfectly beautiful that then and there I knew that I wanted a bedroom just like that.
I started collecting paint chips, trying to match the colors. I threw away a lot of paint chips too. The blue was a challenge, partly because I had to decide which blue I wanted to match, since it changes from almost cornflower blue in the center to near teal in the darker edges. But I eventually found a sky blue that strikes a good midpoint. The white was not too hard, and I fairly quickly found the right green. But those tiny touches of fierce pink are giving me trouble.
I thought I’d found the right color, but today when I was testing my samples on the wall, it wasn’t right. Instead of fresh and fierce Almond blossoms against an intense blue sky pink, it’s insipid Disney princess pink. It looked like it was darkening a little while it dried, so it might be ok after all. Still, I think I’m going to have to go back for the next darker shade. And then maybe I’ll have it just right.
Now if my landlord would just finish fixing the plaster…