The Damaged Picture
Translated from the German by Sophie A. Miller and Agnes M. Dunne
I. The Artist
II. The Picture
If one had been seeking for a man who combined all the qualities of
goodness and greatness, one would have chosen artist Laurier. He bore
the title of "Master of Arts" and his works, mostly landscapes, were
famous far and wide. He had amassed a considerable fortune, and his
house was the handsomest building in the city, equipped with every
luxury. Besides, it was the home in which all artists, rich or poor,
found welcome at all times.
But conditions changed. Hard times, following quickly in the wake of
recent wars, had made the demand for art, particularly painting, less
and less urgent, till there was no market whatever for the artist's
works. Little by little, he had to draw upon his capital in order to
support his family. However, he continued to paint with unabated
diligence, for he hoped with the betterment of the times to sell his
paintings; or if he should not be permitted to live so long, he would
leave them as a heritage, for the benefit of his wife and children.
Alas, the great man did not live to carry out his purpose. A contagious
disease swept over the country, numbering him among its victims; and he
intuitively felt that he would never again rise from his sick bed.
One morning, following a night filled with great pain and misgivings,
his dutiful wife was seated at his bedside trying to cloak the great
sorrow which she felt at his approaching death. His two little daughters
stood at the foot of his bed. The dying man looked tenderly at his wife
and children, and said: "Be comforted and weep not. True, I can bequeath
you but little; but God, the Father of the widow and orphans, will watch
over you." He then invoked God's blessing upon them, and with his last
breath said, "In heaven we shall meet again." His eyes closed and he
passed out of this life. Mother and daughters stood convulsed in tears.
The widow now found herself in very straightened circumstances. Her
house was so heavily mortgaged that she could no longer hold it. The
pictures which her husband had bequeathed to her were valuable as works
of art, but the widow could not realize their worth in money. Soon it
became imperative to sell them at auction, at any price. Before the day
set for the sale, mother and daughters saw, with anguish, these works
hurried off to the auction room. The house, too, fell under the hammer.
The poor, miserable family left the home in which they had lived for
many years in love, peace and contentment. Still, a certain pride and
satisfaction filled the widow's heart when she realized that, though her
husband had died poor, yet he owed no one a penny—that his name stood
in the community respected and revered by all the good people. The poor
particularly held him in loving memory.
The widow was obliged to seek a new home in a cheap section of the city.
She was an expert in all household arts, particularly in the art of
sewing. Each night found the widow busily engaged with her work, the
proceeds of which kept the wolf from the door.
Her two daughters, whom she had brought up with the utmost care, were
her only joy. They grew into beautiful girlhood, were modest and good,
and loved their mother with all the tenderness of devoted childhood.
They, too, helped with the sewing; and their combined efforts, though
feeble, were not without visible returns.
Mother and daughters often talked about their departed father. "It gives
me great pain," said the mother, "that every picture which your father
painted should have been taken from us. If it were but a little
landscape that we possessed, how happy I should be. It would enrich our
otherwise barren home and make it equal to the most beautiful salon of
the grandest castle."
Mother and daughters rarely went anywhere, but every Sunday found them
attendants at a church at the other end of the city. There, on those
sacred walls, hung a beautiful painting executed by their father. "This
indeed is exquisite work," said the mother, and the children fully
agreed with her sentiments.
When the services were ended they all slowly wended their way through
the city to their modest home. Sunday after Sunday, rain or shine, found
them carrying out the same program, always returning with hearts filled
with reverence and peace.
The long, weary winter nights were passed reading the books which their
father had collected during his lifetime, and which, by the merest
accident, had not been disposed of.
Thus they passed their days, quietly and contentedly, each one
cheerfully doing her daily share of good deeds and good works in this
great vineyard of the world, where we have all been placed to do our
One day, as the mother was examining the apparel, she turned to her
daughters and said: "Children, I see that your summer frocks are really
very much worn and faded. As we have saved a little more than we
expected, I feel that I want to reward you for your diligence and
willingness in helping me so faithfully and uncomplainingly, by giving
you each some money, with which to buy material for a few new dresses."
She then handed each daughter a hard-earned ten dollar bill, and said:
"Select what you wish, and we can make the dresses ourselves."
Both daughters were elated with this generous gift; and at once began to
argue with each other as to the shade and material which would be most
desirable, and which would also be most durable, from an economical
standpoint. At last they started out to make the purchases. Soon they
found themselves before a massive building, upon which was placed a
sign: "Auction Sale of Paintings." Both girls, as an artist's daughters,
had an inherited love for pictures.
"Shall we go in?" said Lottie, the elder, to Louise—"Not to buy, of
course; for how could we do that? But just to look at the beautiful
They stepped timidly and modestly into the great gallery where several
gentlemen and many richly gowned ladies had already assembled. Lottie
and Louise remained unnoticed, standing not far from the door.
The auctioneer just then raised a picture to view, and cried: "A
landscape, in a handsome gold frame, by the artist Laurier—ten dollars
for the first bid."
"Hm," said a portly gentleman, "this picture was certainly executed more
hastily than any of his other works. It lacks a certain finish. However,
I'm an ardent admirer of Laurier. I bid fifteen dollars."
The children had forgotten all about their dresses, and after a moment's
whispering and hesitation, Lottie called out with a beating heart and
trembling voice: "Seventeen dollars!"
Several of the ladies and gentlemen turned to see where this gentle,
timid voice had come from, and noticed the poorly clad children standing
so far back that they could scarcely see the picture. When the children
became conscious of the many eyes fastened upon them, they turned pale.
The portly gentleman, without taking any notice of them, continued: "I
give nineteen dollars."
Then Lottie said, timidly and almost inaudibly, "Twenty dollars."
"Oh, those dear children," said a friendly lady, "they are the artist's
daughters; let us bid no higher, so the picture may be theirs!"
Everyone was deeply affected, praised the deceased artist and father,
and respected the love of his daughters.
Then the auctioneer went on calling, "twenty dollars once—twice—for
the third and last time." He then summoned Lottie, the purchaser, to
take the picture.
Lottie stepped forward to the long table, and laid upon it the two ten
dollar bills which her mother had given her.
"You have made a good purchase, my child," said the portly gentleman,
"and were you not the daughter of the artist, I would not have let you
The assembled people wished the children luck; and taking the picture,
which was not large, both sisters hurried out of the gallery.
"O mother," they cried, as they entered the neat little living room of
their home, "we have had great good luck. The wish you have so long
expressed is at last fulfilled. See, here is a picture painted by our
The mother looked at it for a long time in deep silence, and at last
broke forth in tears of joy and homesick longing.
"Yes," said she, "the picture is his, though I cannot remember ever
having seen him work at it. But I know his art, his beautiful thoughts
and his delicate colorings. It is an exquisite landscape. Notice the
evening glow over the wooded hill, behind which the sun has just
disappeared; the huts, from whose chimneys the light-blue smoke ascends;
the distant village, with the old church tower which the last rays of
the declining sun still illumine; and the rosy, hazy light which spreads
over all. It is beautiful beyond description, and stirs within me
memories of the past. Such scenes have I ofttimes viewed in company with
your father. But how did you ever get this picture?"
Lottie related the incidents leading up to its purchase, and said:
"Louise and I are perfectly willing to wear our old clothes."
"We certainly have a treasure in the house now, in comparison with which
all the grandeur of the world counts as nothing," said the mother. "You
are, indeed, good children, and I appreciate your self-sacrificing
spirit. I consider that more acceptable than a great collection of
paintings. The love which you have shown for your departed father and
for me affords me unbounded joy. Come now, let us hang the picture at
Often all three would stand before the painting and gather from it such
joy and strength that the work of the day seemed lightened and
"When you study with exactness the details of a beautiful landscape,"
said the mother, "you will find more and more to admire at each view. So
it is with reading. We learn much that may befall us in life from
books, and by thinking and reviewing the good and the beautiful in the
lives of others we may better know how to act under the changing scenes
With the returning spring, the mother received an urgent letter from her
best friend, a widow, who lived in the country. This friend had been
seriously ill for some time, and her life was despaired of. She was
particularly desirous of seeing Mrs. Laurier about making a few final
The mother made hasty preparations, and at break of day started on her
journey, her two daughters accompanying her a short distance from the
The mother gave them a parting injunction to work diligently and to
remain at home. "Within two or three days, I shall return," she said. "I
know that my friend has much to tell me, and will not hear of my going
sooner. Behave yourselves in such a manner that when I return, I may be
so pleased with your conduct that my troubles will be the lighter to
As the two girls returned to the house, Lottie said to her sister: "Do
you know, dear Louise, our rooms have become somewhat dingy during our
stay here. Let us, while mother is absent, have them painted. We could
launder the curtains and polish the floors. These bright spring days
seem to demand it. Then, when mother returns, steps into the house, and
sees its whitened walls, its beautiful fresh draperies and its
brightened aspect, what a pleasure it will give her. What do you think
Louise clapped her hands in joy, and said: "You always have the
cleverest ideas. Yes, let us send for the painter at once."
The girls then worked industriously for two days, and everything seemed
to glide along swiftly and entirely to their satisfaction.
On the morning of the third day, Lottie said: "Everything is now in
readiness, and I will hasten to the market and order some things, so
that we may provide a good dinner for our mother when she returns this
"That is wise," said Louise, as she helped Lottie put on her coat.
When Lottie returned after an hour's absence, Louise rushed up to her
with red-rimmed eyes, and cried: "Oh, Lottie, I have met with a great
misfortune. Through ignorance, I damaged the beautiful painting. Come
quickly and see it."
Lottie looked at the picture, in horror.
"Oh," said Louise, "it seemed somewhat dusty to me, and I tried to wash
it off with soap and water. But, not until it was too late, did I notice
that the colors ran together and the beautiful painting was completely
"Completely!" said Lottie, and began to cry. But, in order to reassure
her sister, she said, "Perhaps it may yet be restored by some good
As the two girls sat conferring as to the best method to pursue, the
mother stepped into the house. She was exceedingly delighted to find her
home in such exquisite order and newness. "You certainly are very
dutiful children. But what is troubling you? What has happened that I
find you both in tears?"
"Oh," cried Louise, "just look at the painting. I wanted to clean it. I
meant well, but met with such disappointment. Forgive me, forgive me!"
and she fell at her mother's feet.
The mother was greatly agitated, as she gazed at the painting. She paled
and trembled. "This misfortune is indeed pitiable," said she. "You know
not how much I would give had it not occurred." She drew on her glasses
and viewed the damaged picture scrutinizingly. "The colors," said she,
"were but water-colors, and that is why they were so easily blurred.
But, it is peculiar. I see, under these water-colors, a ground work of
oil paint, and there, I see a little finger, most assuredly painted by a
master. What shall I do? I will dare, as long as the picture is damaged
and past restoration, to wash it off entirely."
The mother then took a big sponge and deliberately began to wash the
painting. A hand, an arm, an angel's form appeared to view, such as only
the greatest master could portray. Though the mother hated to destroy
the work of her beloved husband, yet she worked assiduously to remove
all the water-colors, and lo! a painting of extraordinary beauty and
genius met her admiring gaze.
It was a historical picture of ancient times The figures stood forth in
living beauty and seemed to speak from out the canvas.
"If I see rightly," said the mother, "this is a painting by an old
master. On a journey, which I once took with your departed father, I saw
many paintings by this same artist. But this painting, unless I am very
much mistaken, is classed among his best productions. It is one of the
finest in art. Nothing in this picture is without purpose and shows the
stroke of a genius.
"I must seek advice from Mr. Raymond—an old, true friend of your dear
father. He is a connoisseur on works of art." So she hurriedly donned
her cape and hastened to his house.
The venerable gentleman was only too glad to welcome her to his home. He
had scarcely looked at the picture, when he cried in astonishment: "Yes,
truly, this painting is by one of the earliest Italian masters. It is
exquisite and sublime. And now it dawns on me how this beautiful work
came to be hidden by the brush of another artist.
"During the late war, as the besiegers were drawing nearer and nearer a
certain castle, the owner had his paintings and works of art concealed
in the cellar.
"As this picture, however, was the most valuable and the choicest of his
wonderful collection, he could not for one moment think of parting with
it. So he sent for your worthy husband to paint a picture over it in
water-colors, which could be easily removed, and yet serve to conceal
the picture's real value. In this way, he hoped to save it from the
hands of the besiegers.
"However, he did not live to see the war ended, and your dear husband
passed away also. This twice painted picture could have remained forever
undiscovered, but it has been destined otherwise. A wonderful treasure
has been sent to save you and your children from all future want. It
only now depends upon finding a lover of pictures, and an admirer of
genius, who will pay the full value for this work of art."
"But," said the good woman, "can I with a clear conscience keep in my
possession so valuable a picture, for which we paid but such a trifling
sum of money?"
"Of course you can, and no person can dispute your right to it. The
owner of this picture was a noble, right-living man, whom I knew well.
He had no relatives and did much good to the poor. For himself he needed
but little. His only pleasure in life was buying the paintings by the
old masters. Little by little, he collected quite a gallery. This
constituted his entire fortune. After his death, the pictures which had
been concealed in his home were brought forth and were sold, together
with this beautiful one. The late merchant, Mr. Pinole, purchased most
"If you take my advice, I would suggest that you advertise in the daily
papers the fact that you have this beautiful picture for sale. Then a
purchaser will surely present himself who will pay you its value."
Mrs. Laurier then asked him to undertake this responsibility, to which
he kindly acceded.
Soon the whole city was aware of Mrs. Laurier's wonderful possession,
and people were filled with astonishment. Mr. Pinole's son, at whose
salesroom the picture had been sold at auction, hastened to Mrs.
He had, he said, not only received less than half his due, but the
picture was worth a thousand times more than she had paid for it. As she
made no attempt whatever to return the picture to him, he left her
presence in rage, and determined to sue her at once.
When he presented the case to his lawyer, the latter explained that as
the picture had been sold at public auction, he could do nothing about
it. "Besides," said the lawyer, laughingly, "remember, your father paid
still less for it."
Disappointed and chagrined, Mr. Pinole returned to his home.
Through the untiring efforts of Mr. Raymond, the picture was at last
sold to a wealthy gentleman, who paid a high price for it.
The money which Mrs. Laurier realized from this sale enabled her to live
with her two daughters in comparative ease and comfort. The two girls
soon married well-to-do merchants, who succeeded in purchasing Mrs.
Laurier's former house, which happened just then to be on sale. It was
large and sufficiently commodious to admit of the two families occupying
it. The best room in the house was accorded to Mrs. Laurier.
The families lived together harmoniously, and vied with each other to
brighten the declining years of the mother's peaceful life.