This is my favorite painting, White & Pink Mallows in a Vase, by Henri Fantin-Latour. It’s not far away at the Norton Simon Museum. In 1967 Mr Simon traded a five-story Upper East Side mansion on East 79th for this painting.
The deal was actually for two paintings. But he only wanted the Latour and sold Renoir’s Woman with a Rose. I love that he did that. A man unafraid to ditch a celebrated artist’s work because he didn’t like it is a man after my own heart.
But back to the mallows. Mallows are the last flowers of summer. If you cut the down, they reflower in the fall. I think Mr Simon must have known this and that knowing this made this painting even more precious to him in the years immediately following its acquisition.
In 1969, Mr Simon’s only child, Robert, committed suicide. The loss was devastating and he retired from active business. The following year, 1970, Norton decide to throw himself into politics, but lost his bid for state senator (running as a Republican tend to do that). After the loss, Lucille divorced him.
I imagine Mr Simon looking at this painting, during those two years of loss after loss. I imagine him thinking, beauty endures. Yes, I was cut down in summer, but like the mallows I can flower again in the autumn of life. And so he did.
Mr Simon followed the light of his heart, art. He found restoration, love, and purpose, through the beauty of art. In 1971, Mr Simon married actress Jennifer Jones. And in 1972, he began to acquire a museum that would, eventually, by 1974, bear his name and pass on his collection to the world.
We’re kindred spirits, Mr Simon and I. We love what we love. We follow our heart. We don’t care about critics. And when we spot “the one,” we aren’t afraid to trade our mansion for it.
I keep a print of this painting in a place where I’ll see it first thing every morning and last thing every evening. Just to remind me, foolishly following one’s heart is often the wisest move of all.