The Graciella Experience
Pony Ault was the only important client our gallery had in Santa Fe, and she seemed to know everyone. It was not unusual for her to bring celebrities in to meet me, and I loved that. And I equally loved that she could write a check for nearly anything she wanted, a fact that did not go undetected by my banker.
Everyone loved Pony, especially me. She was a chatterbox conversationalist so I always gravitated to her at parties, dinners, and art openings. She took chitchatting to an intellectual plateau that was several layers above where I normally felt ease. Our discussion time found me mostly listening, smiling, and nodding. Being seen with her was always good for my sometimes flailing ego.
Pony said she wanted a painting by Robert Henri (1865-1929), so I started looking. The problem was that she had a great eye for art, a trait that never worked to the advantage of art dealers. When discussing art Pony nearly always knew more about the artist whose work was hanging on my walls, than I did. So when we talked price I was somewhat disarmed and usually capitulated to what she delicately described as her “medicinal discount.”
Henri paintings were very important and quite valuable so my eyes were always on alert for his name in auction catalogs. After a few weeks I bought one. It was a picture of a little girl named Graciella. But for some unknown reason it didn’t appeal to me. Her face was, well, I don’t know.
So we hung it on the wall in my office opposite my desk. Every time I sat in my chair, there she was, her stern face staring at me. I didn’t expect to actually warm up to Graciella, but at least I hoped we could establish some kind of meaningful rapport.
When I called Pony she made an appointment for the next afternoon. She wanted me to meet Cary Grant. I couldn’t have been more thrilled because To Catch a Thief was one of my favorite movies.
When they entered my office, introductions were made and I shook hands with the debonair Mr. Grant. We talked for several minutes and then Pony turned around.
And there it was in grand lighting, the Graciella Henri. It was hanging where it had been for a month while I tried to warm up to that little girl. No other clients were allowed to see her because I was saving it for my special client.
Well, Pony immediately recognized the artist’s style, palette, subject, and personality. She wasn’t impressed, and as if possessed by the spirit of Thor, she turned to face me. “Is that what you called me down here for, to look at that thang?” Her face looked unsympathetic as her nose pointed toward the 17th century wooden door to my office, beside which one must pass to exit, and out she strode, the sensitive Mister Grant silently following in close trail. Neither of them even said goodbye.
I went to my refrigerator and took a long pull of Worchestershire Sauce to clear my head.
Pony liked to show off our gallery to her lunching friends and house guests, so over the next few weeks she strolled them into my office and acted as docent. Often she was seen to glance at the You-Know-What that was hanging on the wall opposite my desk. Each time she left without comment. I didn’t care because Graciella and I were becoming friends.
During an evening art opening at our gallery Pony open the door to my office and sneaked in. She was in there for a minute or more. That’s when I started to worry.
A week later she called me on the phone. “Forrest I want that painting, and I’ll be there in thirty minutes to get it.” My heart sank. “Pony,” I lamented. “You didn’t say anything and I’ve grown to love that “thang.” I’ve decided to keep it in my own collection.” There was a gravid few-second pause in our conversation, necessitated by a requirement for Pony to recover. Then a loud sound vibrated against my ear drum. “What?” she sputtered. I felt like my tail was under a rocking chair, and Pony was sitting in it.
What could I do but capitulate? After all, she was a good friend and she was a good client, and I did offer it to her, and I sensed that she was about to have an unfortunate physical issue. Not to mention that I needed the money.
An hour later my wife walked into the office and asked why I was reading my bible. I didn’t mean to be rude, I just didn’t want to talk about it. f