In the town of Blois, near the centre of France, there is a marvellous old château. One of the features of this grand old place is the Musée des Beaux Arts and a very fine one it is at that. Next time you’re going that way and you happen to pop in, you may notice a gorgeous blue vase in the left hand corner of the first room you enter. I have to say its colour struck me immediately and more so than any other piece in the room. There is an extraordinary history attached to this vase that has nothing to do with kings, queens, wars or noblemen. Read on if you wish to know more...
Once upon a not very long time ago, probably sometime around the 1960s, a young Frenchman called Cédric was heading that way. There was nothing very special about Cédric to look at. He was ugly, scruffy, somewhat gruff in manner and above all, extremely clumsy in both deed and word. The thing about Cédric though, was that he loved art galleries perhaps as much as anyone anywhere ever has, and he visited as many of them as he could. The first thing he noticed on that fateful day in Blois was a particularly lovely blue vase sitting on its own in the corner of the museum. He thought it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen, and mesmerized by the depth of its colour, he went and stood right in front of it. Poor Cédric became so caught up in his reverie, his eyes so lost in that indescribable blue, that after a while he forgot to stand up straight. Swearing profusely, richly and loudly, he toppled headlong into the vase.
Both fell. Cédric lay sprawled face down on the museum floor for about a minute and his heart filled with dread. When he finally hauled himself up he found himself surrounded by hundreds of tiny blue pieces of shattered, priceless vase. Unfortunately for him, there happened to be a party of about nine or ten gendarmes visiting the museum at the same time. Outraged, they immediately formed a circle around him before manhandling and then handcuffing him.
“Clumsy buffoon!” roared one.
“He’s destroyed a national treasure!” cried a second.
“He must be unpatriotic!” said a third.
“He did it deliberately!” shouted a fourth.
“Bloody idiot!” yelled a fifth.
“It’s too much for me to bear!” screamed a sixth, and crimson with fury, he punched poor Cédric hard in the stomach...
...“YOU won’t be going ANYWHERE!” grunted the guard as Cédric was shoved rudely into a police cell. He wondered what the authorities would do with him – maybe he’d just have to pay a fine – they could probably repair the vase and after all it would doubtless be insured. Then again, what if they couldn’t fix it and he had to pay for it? A lifetime of scrimping and saving to pay off the debt wouldn’t be the end of the world, he supposed. Maybe he’d have to go to jail for a long, long time. That would be pretty awful, but he could look after himself and wasn’t bad in a fight if it came to it. What really plunged Cédric into the depths of despair and sorrow as he wept in his cell, was the fact that his face would be in every museum and art gallery in France. He could see the sign now, with an unflattering photo of him in its centre;
THIS MAN IS CEDRIC ROBERT. HE IS BANNED FOR LIFE FROM ALL MUSEUMS AND ANY PUBLIC PLACES CONTAINING PRICELESS OBJECTS AND/OR ARTEFACTS. ON NO ACCOUNT ALLOW HIM TO ENTER THIS ESTABLISHMENT. ANY MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC SPOTTING HIM IS ASKED TO REPORT HIS WHEREABOUTS TO THE NEAREST SECURITY GUARD AND WILL BE REWARDED FINANCIALLY FOR DOING SO.
As Cédric sat slumped on the stony floor consumed by the most dreadful, agonizing grief, an amazing thing happened. He looked up to see the weirdest and most extraordinary creature he’d ever laid eyes upon. Its head was that of the Venus de Milo, its body a mass of Monet’s water lilies of unimaginable colour, while its legs, if you could call them legs, were two of Turner’s ships on a shimmering sea. Its multicoloured arms were disjointed and disfigured as if Picasso had painted them, one of which had a lobster for a hand. Over its shoulders was a drooping brown cloak like that worn by Manet’s Philosopher with the Outstretched Hand and over its head gleamed a wondrous halo of stars from the hand of Van Gogh.
“I am the Guardian Angel of Art Galleries,” spoke the creature harshly, “and I am still annoyed with you for your carelessness.”
Then, raising the lobster hand, it slapped Cédric firmly on the cheek, hard enough to make him wince. Then it spoke in beautiful tones, as if each word and sound was a glorious colour.
“I like you very much, Cédric. You love art galleries like almost no man does, and you truly loved the vase you broke. When you were looking at it you thought beautiful thoughts and every time you see a painting you admire you think beautiful thoughts too. Without people like you, I would not exist.”
It continued, “The gendarmes who arrested you are basically good men and they were right to be angry, but most of them don’t really give a fig about art. So I will make you safe from them.”
Then, what seemed like thousands of water lilies erupted from the creature’s chest and floated over to Cédric, covering his face. In seconds the creature then shimmered and changed appearance hundreds of times, before settling down as one of John Atkinson Grimshaw’s fairies.
“I have given you a new face – a fairly handsome face,” said the Angel, “so no-one will recognise you anymore. You can come and go as you please.”
The next thing Cedric knew, he was back in the Musée de Beaux Arts, staring at the vase, which was as good as before.
“Just be a bit more careful this time, will you!” a soft voice whispered in his ear.