There was this hardworking old man named Jeffrey Fallows who had been a very successful merchant, a man who lived in a large barn-of-a house with few luxuries and furnishings except fine art. He had saved his money, preferring to invest in artwork rather than philandering his savings away in riotous living or spending every last dime, a disease most people succumb to.
Michelangelo’s “Ideal Face”
He and his wife did not lavish on themselves expensive trips, buy expensive gifts or frequent restaurants and bars, preferring to stay at home where they could enjoy their art collections and the company of each other and their son. It could be said Fallows lived like a monk; there was just he and his wife and one boy who went off to war.
Halfway through War II Fallows’ wife died of an incurable disease. He was crestfallen at the loss of his best friend, his spouse, but several months later he received word that his only son was missing in action.
A few days later, a captain in the U.S. Army appeared at his door and Fallows let him in. They sat in the parlor on a worn sofa and chair as the U.S. Army officer told him of his son’s death and presented him with three things: a folded U.S. flag, the Distinguished Medal of Honor, and a Purple Heart. Fallow’s son had been a medic on the front lines and had rescued many soldiers wounded in battle. Then, finally, he himself was killed by a sniper’s fire, attempting to rescue others.
At the news, the old man was pale and clearly devastated. His life had been his family and his paintings, and now his family was gone. Having lost his wife and only son within a few months of each other, his sadness was profound and he did not know how he would manage. All that Jeffrey Fallows had left were his paintings, a dilapidated house and his memories of a devoted wife and a courageous son.
A few weeks later there came a knock at his door. He went to the door, finding a young man who asked to come in. He said he was the soldier his son was attempting to save when he was killed. In his hands was a package. He said he had known Corporal Fallows only a few months, but that they had become fast friends and he had completed a crude painting of him which he wanted Fallows to have.
The old man opened the package and immediately drew it to his heart. There was his son’s face, a good likeness, though not done with the strokes of a master like his other paintings. The young corporal spent the next hour telling Fallows about how his son had saved more than fifty wounded men, each time endangering his own life behind enemy lines.
When the soldier was gone, the old man moved one of his masterpieces — one with a spotlight shinning on it — and hung the picture of his son in its place. Each day he spent several hours in front of that painting, reconstructing all that he could remember that his son had done and said during his lifetime.
The old man’s life was fuller and richer with that painting in his home, though it was only a rough likeness.
As the years wore on, he took an accounting and found that he had collected paintings worth several times what he paid for them, but he was a modest man and never bragged of his collections which including some small originals by the great Michelangelo whose fame far exceeded the fresco in the Cappella Sistina (1511); and the Venetian masters, including the Bellini and Vivarini families, Andrea Mantegna, Giorgione of the 16th century known as this Venice genre’s really big “name”. He inspired notable followers such as Titian, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and Lorenzo Lotto and Fallows had paintings, though some were small in dimension, from each of them because he loved their beauty, integrity, and the history they portrayed.
As time went by, the old man developed a cough that got worse until, he died. He had left a will and in it some very explicit instructions about who could purchase his treasures.
The auction room was full. At the beginning, the grand auctioneer announced that none of the other works would leave the room until this one crude painting was sold, the likeness of Fallow’s son.
The auctioneer opened the bidding on the painting of his son and no one raised a hand. They were all waiting for what they termed, “The really good stuff.” It was understandable — there was almost no interest in this painting, for everyone had come for the masterpieces.
Then one man, a neighbor of the Fallows, raised his hand. “I only have ten dollars and that’s all I can offer for the painting of my neighbor’s son” he said. He explained that he had known the entire family for many years and had grown to love the boy and would like the painting, but his resources were meager.
The auctioneer asked again if anyone would bid for this painting. “I’ve got ten dollars, who’ll give me fifteen. I’ve got ten, can anyone give me fifteen?”
No one responded, so the auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice, sold to the man over there for ten dollars.”
Then the auctioneer said something quite unusual. “This auction is now closed,” he said, to the gasps of unbelief from the audience. “On direct instructions from Mr. Jeffrey Fallows’ will, the person who bought the painting of his son will also be willed the remainder of the paintings in this auction. He explained that the Mr. Fallows’ love for his son was greater than anyone could imagine, and he realized that only someone who had a love of his son and would bid for his son’s likeness deserved the rest of the paintings.
“So it is his wish that that kind of person be the recipient of all of his fortune as well, which adds up to several million dollars.”