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Back to Stephen Brookes Column Index



The picture of Christmas

By: Stephen Brookes MBE

Some years ago a very wealthy man shared a passion for art with his devoted young son. Together they traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and Constable adorned the walls of the family mansion.

The old man, widowed many years ago, looked on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector. The son's trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors around the world.

Then one winter, the young man left to visit a foreign art collector’s sale. However, after only a few short days, his father received a phone-call. His beloved son had been involved in a plane accident in the middle of the foreign country. The old man anxiously awaited more news and within days, his fears were confirmed. The young man had died while trying to save fellow passengers from the burning plane.

Distraught, alone, but for his house staff, the old man faced the coming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season, that he and his son had so looked forward to, would visit his house no longer.

On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed, old man. As he sent the butler to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls of the large lounge reminded him that his son was not coming home. The butler entered the room and announced ‘There is a man at the door who says that he was saved by your son. He wants to see you if you would be so kind.’

The old man sadly looked up and asked the butler to send the man in.

As the door opened a man who was limping badly entered. He had a large package in his hands. He introduced himself to the man by saying, "I was with your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I speak to you for a few moments? I have something to show you."

As the two began to talk, the man told of how during the flight when they sat in adjoining seats the man's son had spoken of his and his father's, love of fine art.

"I didn’t get round to telling him that I am an artist," said the man, "I have been blessed with a good memory, and so I want to give you this."

As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the man's son. Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting was good in that it featured the young man's face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the old man thanked the visitor, promising to hang the picture above the fireplace.

A few hours later, after the visitor had departed, the old man set about his task. True to his word, the painting went above the fireplace, pushing aside great works of art. His task completed, the old man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given.

During the days and weeks that followed, the man realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy's life would live on because of those he had touched. He learned that his son had helped rescue several people in the aircraft till the fire stilled him. As the stories of his son's gallantry reached him, fatherly pride and satisfaction began to ease his grief. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.

The following November the old man became tired, and refusing to eat he became ill. He had contacted his solicitors and the leading art auctioneers and made some special arrangements. He seemed satisfied and almost relieved and his work done he quietly passed away.

The art world was in anticipation, that with the collector's passing, and his only son dead, those paintings would be sold at auction. According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas Day, the day he had received the greatest gift.

The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world's most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled this day; greatness would be achieved as many would bid to have the greatest collection.

But, the auction began with a painting that was not on any museum's list. It was the painting of the man's son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid, but the room was silent.

"Who will open the bidding with £150" he asked. A Minute passed, and no one spoke.

“Look, we have to sell this one first," insisted the auctioneer. "Now, who will take the painting of the owners son?"

Finally, a voice spoke from the back of the room. "Will you take £100 for the painting? That's all I have with me.’

"I have a bid of £100”. The auctioneer said quickly, "Going once, going twice, gone." The gavel fell.

The man limped forward and paid the money for ‘his’ painting, the painting of the person who had saved his life. He quickly explained to the auctioneer why he had come and why he wanted the painting. He was not going to let it be destroyed, just as the father had not. He was about to turn when the auctioneer looked at him with a slight grin and told him to stay. Meanwhile sighs of relief filled the room and someone exclaimed, "Now we can get on with it and we can bid on the real treasures!"

The auctioneer looked at the audience, banged his gavel on the board and announced that the auction was over. Disbelief quieted the room. A large man wearing dark glasses spoke up and asked, "What do you mean, it's over? What about all of these paintings? There is millions of pounds worth of art here! What is going on!"

The auctioneer replied, "It's very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the picture of his beloved son...gets it all. This man now owns the collection.”

He winked at the man, and said quietly “He knew you would be here!”

Puts things into perspective, doesn't it? Just as those art collectors discovered on Christmas Day, the message is still the same. The present of love has the greatest value.

© Steve Brookes MBE
Copyright © - Stephen Brookes MBE 2002-2003 - All rights reserved


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