Vincent Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Cypresses”

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Cypresses,” the painting Alan Handwerger dreamed of moving into.

I probably shouldn't count my chickens before they’ve hatched. I mean, the deal has not yet been finalized. But I am reasonably certain that the small, flat piece of terrain pictured at the front of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Cypresses” will be ours within a few days.

From what I envision as the three large conservatory windows on the south wall of the house that I propose to build, the view will be of “golden fields of ripe wheat, dark Provencal cypresses towering like a green obelisk to the right, and lighter green olive trees in the middle distance, with hills and the Alpilles mountains visible behind, and white clouds swirling in an azure sky above.” Our new address will be: THE HANDWERGERS, VAN GOGH’S “WHEATFIELD WITH CYPRESSES,” SAINT-REMY-DE-PROVENCE.

We are not far from Arles, should anyone choose to visit. Nice neck of the woods.

This would mark our first time living in a famous painting. We have lived, on occasion, in honeypots such as Chagford, Devon, Siesta Key in Sarasota, the Isle of Palms off Charleston, and of course our beloved Stowe. But a Van Gogh painting. Beyond my wildest dreams…

‘Of little value’

“I believe you’re trespassing,” said the short, red-haired man who looked remarkably like his self-portrait of 1887, the one in which he’s wearing a gray felt hat.

“Au contraire,” I corrected him. “I took title to this property at 3 o’clock this afternoon.”

“Oh, my apologies. What on earth did you do that for?” he asked, filling his pipe. “It’s of little value to anyone but me.”

“You’re crazy,” I said, immediately regretting my word choice.

“Yes,” he agreed. “That seems to be the consensus. But I do have my good days. Take the day I painted those cypresses. You don’t get that green just any day.”

“I really like the cypresses. But it’s the way your sky seems to swirl that got me. Does it do that regardless of the weather?”

“It does for me. I couldn’t say how it will behave for you. With any luck, it should continue to swirl.”

“I can’t wait to see it at night. Speaking of skies that move at night, have you painted ‘The Starry Night’ yet?”

“Not yet. It’s on the drawing board.”

“I’ll bet there’ll be a line to get their hands on that one.”

“I very much doubt that,” said Vincent, turning and walking toward the gates of the asylum. “Well, it was a pleasure meeting you. I certainly hope you enjoy the view.”

“The pleasure was all mine. Maybe we could go out for a beer some time.”

“I’d like that,” he said.”

‘Our wheat field’

“You’ll never guess who I ran into this afternoon,” I said to Lorrie when I got back to our rented villa in Arles.

“Who?”

“Van Gogh. He was out walking on our wheat field.”

“How’d he look? Lorrie asked. “I mean for someone who’s been dead for over a century.”

“Surprisingly well. You hardly notice the ear.”

“Hmm. Two madmen on one house lot.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“I’m afraid you lost your claim to sanity the moment you agreed to move with me from our lovely Stowe village condo to a late-19th-century oil painting.”

“Did I have a choice?”

“You could have argued for something more contemporary. You’ve always liked that Dali one with the watch and the melting camembert.”

“‘The Persistence of Memory,’” Lorrie said.

“Right. I could have been perfectly happy there. I love a ripe camembert.”

“No. This is where you wanted to be. You made that patently clear.”

“There are worse places to live. Take ‘Guernica’ for instance. Or just about any of those Abstract Expressionists’ canvasses. Dizzifying. This place is totally relaxing. Besides, it’s not like we can’t go back to Stowe.” I sought to perk her up. “We only rented our condo out for ski season.”

“Sure,” she said. “And maybe we can bring Vincent back with us. I’m sure our friends would love to meet him.”

“Actually, the guy we should bring is Cezanne. Did you know that he painted Mont Sainte-Victoire over 60 times — from every conceivable angle, in every kind of weather. Imagine what he could do with The Pinnacle. I’d take him up to those house lots up above the country club. I think that’s the best view in all of Stowe.”

“What about the village?” asked Lorrie, perhaps a bit facetiously. “Surely you’d want to bring someone to paint the village, wouldn’t you?”

“Absolutely”, I said. “You know who I think would do a great job on Stowe village?”

“Who?”

“Pieter the Elder Bruegel.”

“Pieter the Elder Bruegel?” she parroted. “Since when do you know anything about Pieter the Elder Bruegel?”

“I googled famous paintings of villages and he came up. Camille Pisarro’s a possibility too if we can’t get Pieter.”

‘Something I dreamed’

We went back and forth with this inanity until eventually I awakened, feeling completely refreshed and ready for a drink.

“So, how was your day?” Lorrie broke the cocktail-hour ice.

“Pretty good. I did some research on famous artists.”

“Something you’re writing?”

“Something I dreamed. I could turn it into a piece of writing, I suppose. Answer me this. If you could bring any one famous artist, living or dead, to Stowe to paint the town, you know, all the scenes that artists come to Stowe to paint, who would you choose?”

She seemed to be giving the matter serious thought.

“Claude Monet,” she answered definitively.

“Why Monet?” I asked, as he hadn’t even made my short list.

“I’d like him to redo our kitchen. I can still see those butter yellow chairs and cupboards in his kitchen at Giverny.”

“I said to paint scenes of Stowe, not to be your interior decorator.”

“Oh — then I don’t really care. You choose.”

Asleep or awake, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have a meaningful conversation with my wife.


Alan Handwerger is a Stowe businessman. His collection of stories, “There’s a Plunger in My Tree,” was published by Peppertree Press. Email letters to news@stowereporter.com.

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