Story of an Artist’s Studio




Years ago, a painter stood in his studio, his right thumb in the belt of his blouse, and his left hand holding the pipe he had withdrawn from his lips in honour of his visitor, Father Hugo, the Vicar of the rich Church of St. Jerome.  The artist had not yet reached middle age.  He was famous in Dusseldorf, and some said that his name would someday be known world-wide.  When that day came, Stenburg ruefully thought that he would be past the enjoyment of riches which tarried so long.  Still, he managed to enjoy life in the present.  He loved his art.  Now and again he became so absorbed in his work, that he forgot all else but the picture on his easel.

  Still, though good work he had done, he had as yet never satisfied himself, nor reached his own ideal.  His was good work, but he desired something more.  Thus Stenburg was not a satisfied man.  Otherwise, to the world, he appeared a jolly, prosperous man, who displayed on occasion, a shrewd business capacity, and one who knew his own interest well.  He was speaking now.

  “No; not so, I assure you; the sum you offer would ill repay me for the labour of so large a church picture as you honour me by naming.  It must have many figures, all carefully studied.  The crucifixion is not an easy subject, and it has been so often taken, that it would be difficult to compose a picture different, as I should wish it to be, from others.”

“I will not limit you to the price.  You are an honest man, Sir Painter, and the Church of St. Jerome will not pay for the picture.  It is a gift of a penitent.”

“So!-That makes a great difference.  Return sir, please, a month from today, and studies for the work will be ready.”

So they parted, both well pleased, and during the following weeks Stenburg studied the composition of the picture, and penetrated into the Jewish Strasse for models for his figures.

The Vicar was satisfied.  He desired the central point to be the Cross of the Redeemer, and left the grouping of the accessories to the artist.  From time to time the vicar dropped in, often accompanied by another priest, to inspect the progress of the work.  It was to be placed in the Church upon a feast day, which fell upon the first day of June, and it was making rapid progress.

With the bursting of the young green leaves, and the upspringing of the first flowers, a hunger had seized upon the artist’s soul to leave Dusseldorf, and with his sketch-book wander over the surrounding country.  On the borders of the forest he came one day upon a gipsy girl plaiting straw baskets.  Her face was beautiful, her coal black hair fell in waving ripples to her waist; and her poor, tattered, red dress, faded and sunburnt to many hues, added to her picturesque appearance.  But her eyes were the feature that caught the artist regard – restless, limpid, black eyes, whose expression changed every moment – pain, joy, fun, and roguery were reflected in their depths as swiftly as the cloud shadows chased each other on a lake.

“What a capital picture she would make”! thought Stenburg; “but then who would buy a gipsy girl?  No one”!  The gipsies were looked upon in Dusseldorf with hatred; and even to this day the fact of being a gipsy is, in the eyes of the law, a punishable offence.

The girl noticed the artist, and flinging her straw down, sprang up, raising her hands above her head, and snapping her fingers to keep time, danced lightly and gracefully before him, showing her white teeth, and her glance sparkling with merriment.

“Stand”! cried Stenburg, and rapidly sketched her.  Quickly as he drew, it was a weary position for the girl to maintain; but she never flinched, though a sigh of relief, as her arms dropped and she stood at rest before him, attested to the artist the strain the attitude had been.

“She is not only beautiful, she is better – a capital model.  I will paint her as a Spanish dancing girl.”  So a bargain was struck.  Pepita was to come thrice a week to Stenburg’s house to be painted.         

Duly at the appointed hour she arrived.  She was full of wonder.  Her great eyes roved round the studio, glancing on the pieces of armour, pottery, and carving.  Presently she began examining the pictures and soon the great picture, now nearing its completion, caught her attention.  She gazed at it intently.  In an awed voiced, she asked, “who is that”? pointing to the most prominent figure, that of the Redeemer on the Cross.

“The Christ,” answered Stenburg, carelessly.  “What is being done to Him”?  “Being crucified ,” ejaculated the artist.  “Turn a little to the right.  There! That will do.”  Stenburg, with his brush in his fingers, was a man of few words.

“Who are those people about Him – those with the bad faces”?

“Now, look here,” said the artist, “I cannot talk to you.  You have nothing to do but to stand as I tell you.”  

The girl dare not speak again, but she continued to gaze, and speculate.  Every time she came to the studio, the fascination of that picture grew upon her.  Sometimes she ventured an enquiry, for her curiosity consumed her.

“Why did they crucify Him?  Was He bad, very bad”?  “No; very good.”

That was all she learnt at one interview, but she treasured each word, and every sentence was so much more known of the mystery.  “Then, if He was good, why did they do so?  Was it for a short time only?  Did they let Him go”?

“It was because –“  The artist paused with his head on one side, stepped forward, and arranged her sash.

“Because”? repeated Pepita breathlessly,  The artist went back to his easel; then, looking at her, the eager, questioning face moved his pity.

“Listen.  I will tell you once for all, and then ask no further questions”; and he told her the story of the Cross – new to Pepita, though so old to the artist that it had ceased to touch him.  He could paint that dying agony, and not a nerve of his quivered; but the thought of it wrung her heart.  Her great black eyes swam in tears, which the fiery gipsy pride forbade to fall.

The picture and the Spanish dancing-girl were finished simultaneously.  Pepita’s last visit to the studio had come.  She looked upon the beautiful representation of herself without emotion, but turned, and stood before the picture, unable to leave it.

“Come,” said the artist, “here is your money, and a gold piece over and above, for you have bought me good luck, the ‘Dancing – girl is already sold:  I shall want you some time perhaps again, but not just yet.  We must not overstock the market with even your pretty face.”

The girl turned slowly.

“Thanks, Signor”! but her eyes, full of emotion, were solemn.  “You must love Him very much, Signor, when He has done all that for you, do you not”?

The face into which she looked flushed crimson.  The artist was ashamed.  The girl, in her poor, faded dress, passed from his studio, but her plaintive words rang in his heart.  He tried to forget them, but impossible.  He hastened to send the picture to its destination.  Still he could not forget, “Done all that for you.”    

At last the pain was not to be borne.  He would face it, and conquer it.  But he went to confession in vain to get the peace he longed for, and which can only be found by faith in Christ alone.  A liberal discount on his picture gave ease of mind for a week or two.  But then up rose the old question, “you must love Him very much, do you not”? and would be answered.  He grew restless, and could not settle to his work.  So wandering about, he heard of things which had not come under his notice before.          

One day he saw a group of persons hastening to a house near the walls, a poor place, and then he noticed others coming in the opposite direction, and they, too, passed into its low doorway.  He asked what was happening there, but the man he questioned either would not or could not satisfy him.  This roused his curiosity.  A few days later he learned that a stranger, one of the “Reformed,” lived there, one of those despised men who appealed on every occasion to the Word of God.  It was hardly respectable, hardly safe, even to know them.  Yet perhaps here he might find that which he sought.

The artist had heard how these Reformers risked and frequently parted with their all, for the truth they held.  They might posses the secret of peace.  So Stenburg went to “observe,” perhaps to “inquire,” certainly not to join them; but a man cannot approach fire and remain cold.  Yes.  He saw a man who might have lived in ease, enduring hardship; one who might have been honoured, despised; who might have been beloved and respected, an outcast and yet serene, even happy.  This Reformed preacher spoke and looked as one who was walking the earth with Christ; yes, one to whom He was all.  Stenburg found what he longed for – a living faith.  His new friend lent him for a time a precious copy of the New Testament, but hunted from Dusseldorf after a few weeks, he left, and had to take the book with him; but its essence was left in Stenburg's heart.

Ah! No need to question now.  He felt in his soul the fire of an ardent love.  “Did all that for me!  How can I ever tell men of the love, that boundless love, which can brighten their lives, as it has mine?  It is for them too, but they do not see it, as I did not.  How can I preach it?  I cannot speak.  I am a man of few words.  If I were to try I could never speak it out.  It burns in my heart, but I cannot express it – the love of Christ”!  So thinking, the artist idly drew with a piece of charcoal in his fingers a rough sketch of a thorn – crowned head.  His eyes grew moist as he did so.  Suddenly the thought flashed through his soul, “I can paint! My brush must proclaim it.  Ah! In that picture His face was all agony.  But that was not the truth.  Love unutterable, infinite compassion, willing sacrifice”!  The artist fell on his knees, and prayed to paint worthily, and thus speak.

And then, as he wrought, the fire of genius blazed up – up to the highest fibre of his power, nay, beyond it.  The picture of the crucifixion was a wonder – almost Divine, admired by all.

He would not sell it.  He gave it a free - will offering to his native city.  It was hung in the Public Gallery, and there the citizens flocked to see it, and the voices were hushed and  hearts melted as they stood before it, and the burghers returned to their homes knowing the love of God, and repeating to themselves the words written so distinctly beneath 

‘All this I did for thee;  What has thou done for Me?

Stenburg himself also used to go there; watching far back from the corner in the gallery the people who gathered about the picture, he prayed God to bless his painted sermon.  One day he observed, when the rest of the visitors had left, a poor girl standing weeping bitterly before it.  The artist approached her.  “What grieves thee child”? he asked.

The girl turned; she was Pepita.  “Oh! Signor, if He had but loved me so,” she said, pointing to the face of yearning love, bending before them.  “I am only a poor gipsy.  For you is the love, but not for such as I”; and her despairing tears fell fast and unrestrained.

“Pepita, it was also for thee.”  And then the artist told her all.  Until the late hour at which the gallery closed they sat and talked.  The painter did not weary now of answering all her questions, for the subject was the one he loved best.  He told her clearly the story of that wondrous life, magnificent death, and crowning glory of resurrection, and also explained to her the union that redeeming love effected.  She listened, received, and believed – “All this I did for thee.” 

Two years have passed since the picture had been finished.  Winter had come again.  The cold intense, and the wind moaned down the narrow streets of Dusseldorf, and shook the casements of the artist’s dwelling.  His day’s work was done, and by the blazing pine logs he was seated, reading a copy he had with difficulty obtained of his beloved New Testament.  A knock sounded at the door, and a man was admitted.  He wore an old sheepskin jacket, on which the snow had frozen; his hair hung in dark locks.  He glanced ravenously towards the bread and meat upon the table, even as he gave his message, “Would the gentleman come with him on urgent business”?

“Where”? demanded the painter.

That, he must not tell, or the agents of the law might get to know, and drive them out of their camp in the woods.

“Wherefore do you wish me to come”?

“I cannot say,” replied the man; “but one who is dying wants to see you.”        

“Eat.” Said the artist.  “I will accompany you.”  The man murmured his thanks as he devoured the food. 

“You are hungry”?

“Sire, we all are famished with hunger.”

Stenburg brought a bag of provisions.  “Can you carry this?”

“Ah! gladly, gladly.  But come there is no time to lose.”

The artist followed.  His guide led him quickly through the streets, and out into the country beyond.  The moon rose, and showed they were in the forest.  The branches were laden with snow, and the great tree trunks confusing.  No path, but the man never hesitated.  He silently and swiftly kept ahead of Stenburg.  At last they came to a clearing.  Here a few tents were erected.

“Go in there,” said the man, pointing to one of the tents, then turned to a group of men, women and children, who thronged about him.  He spoke to them in a wild unknown tongue, and lifted his bag from his shoulder.

The artist, crouching, crept into the tent.  A brilliant ray of moonlight illuminated the poor interior.  On a bed formed of a mass of dried leaves was the form of a young woman.  Her face was pinched and hollow,  “Why, Pepita!”

At the sound of the artist’s voice the eyes opened.  Those wonderful dark eyes still were brilliant.  A smile trembled to her lips, and she raised herself on her elbow.

“Yes,” she said, “He has come for me! He holds out His hands!  They are bleeding! And He says, ‘For thee.  All this I did for thee’.”  And she not long after bade him farewell.  

Long years after when both the painter and the gipsy girl had met in another land above, a gay young nobleman drove in his splendid equipage into Dusseldorf, and while his horses were baited, he wandered into that famous gallery.  He was rich, young, intelligent – the world bright, and its treasures within his grasp.  He stood before Stenburg’s picture – reading and rereading the words at the foot of the frame.  He could not tear himself away – it grew into his heart.  The love of Christ laid its powerful grasp on his soul.  Hours passed; the light faded; the curator touched the weeping nobleman, and told him it was time to close the gallery.  Night had come – nay! rather, for that young man, the dawn of eternal life.  He was Zinzendorf.  He returned to the inn, and re-entered his carriage-but to turn his back on Paris, and seek again his home.

From that moment he threw life, fortune, fame, at the feet of Him who had whispered to his heart,

"All this I did for thee;

What has thou done for me?"

Zinzendorf, who was the father of the Moravian Missions, answered that question, by his devoted life, and his welcomed death.  

The beauty of a consecrated life has never been more perfectly revealed than in the daily living of Frances Ridley Havergal.  On the back cover of the book Royal Chambers by FRH and edited by Sentinel Kulp we are told that, 'At the age of four she was reading and memorizing the Bible. At seven she was writing her thoughts in verse. Greatly encouraged by her father, William Havergal, an Anglican clergyman involved in improving and composing English hymnody, conditions were ripe for the development of her gifts.

Though frail and delicate in health, Miss Havergal was an avid student. Blessed with a voice so pleasing she was sought after as a concert contralto soloist, she was also known as a brilliant pianist of the classics. With an insatiable thirst for Scripture she eventually memorized the entire New Testament, along with the Psalms, Isaiah, and the Minor Prophets, as well as becoming fluent in several languages along with Greek and Hebrew.

At fifteen she had a conversion experience, but it was not until twenty-one that consecration became an issue. Attending an art gallery in Dusseldorf, Germany, she was confronted by a picture of the crucifixion. Beneath were the words, "This I have done for thee; what has thou done for me?"  While gazing at the picture a flood of tears streamed down her cheeks. Though gifted with fine musical talents and a vibrant personality offering great possibilities for much worldly acclaim, from that moment she dedicated all to the service of her Lord. As an established writer and composer, she was referred to as "the consecration poet".'.

Frances Ridley Havergal went on to write many beautiful hymns, one of them based on the words beneath the painting.  She also wrote the famous hymn, "Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee".  Her life and devotion to the Lord Jesus has inspired many men of God since that time including Bishop H. C. G. Moule, who wrote many devotional books and bible studies, also blessing many.           

Stenburg’s picture no longer hangs in the gallery of Dusseldorf, for when some years ago the gallery was destroyed by fire, it perished – but it preached, and God used it to tell of His gift, of whom Paul said, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.”