EVERY picture tells a story – and for art expert Patrick van der Vorst, the best paintings can speak volumes.
As a senior director at Sotheby’s in London, the Belgian-born auctioneer and dealer had become an industry expert with a huge accumulated knowledge about the world of art, antiques and collectibles.
He even featured as a winner on the TV programme Dragons’ Den when his antiques-valuing website Value My Stuff was backed by both Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis.
But the entrepreneur’s life took a new twist in 2019 when he enrolled as a seminarian with the Diocese of Westminster, studying at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome to become a priest.
And it’s now a couple of years since he launched a new website linking daily Gospel readings with poignant and reflective works of art, accompanied by a short personal commentary.
From Old Masters to street artists like Morfai, whose work is our picture choice this week, the website features an extraordinary range of artworks spanning the centuries, allowing visitors to consider the daily reading from a new perspective.
The French impressionist painting Picking Peas by Camille Pissarro, for example, was looted by the Nazis during World War Two when France was under German occupation, and was only returned to its rightful Jewish owners in 2017.
It sold at auction for €3.3 million in March this year, and Patrick uses it to reflect on the spiritual harvest referred to in Matthew Ch 9, when “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few”.
Likewise his choice of Star Seeder, a piece of graffiti art which went viral after it appeared on a wall in Lithuania’s second-largest city, ties in with Luke’s explanation of how, with the crowds gathering around him, Jesus recounts the parable of the sower spreading his seed on different types of land, to see much of it trampled on, eaten by birds, withered or choked. Only the seed falling into rich soil grows to produce a successful crop.
Patrick explains: “At first there was simply the bronze statue created by Bernardas Bučas (1903–1979) in Kaunas, the art deco capital of Lithuania. The sculpture embodies the interwar period where the peasant is sowing grains, working for his country.
“Fast forward to 2008. Street artist Morfai sprayed the wall behind the sculpture with stars. The composition works only at night, as then with the light which is shining upon the monument, a shadow of the sculpture is cast onto the wall, which then corresponds with the stars being sown by the shadow silhouette of the sower… The grains have become stars…”
During the day, the street artwork makes no sense – and likewise with parables it may be that they make little sense at first sight, Patrick suggests. “It is only at certain times, or when our own personal circumstances change, or a certain light is shining upon a certain aspect of our lives that the parables make sense,” he writes.
Ironically, the original artwork was overpainted and it was only eight years later that Morfai was invited to restore it, this time incorporated black granite stars onto the wall behind the statue.
Patrick’s website offers a daily news letter by email with the Gospel reading of the day, alongside an appropriate work of art and short reflection.