It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Le Petit Prince ou L’Apprenti Sorcier is one of those paintings you must see in real life to experience its (in fact more than) three dimensional qualities. It is just a canvas with some oil paint on it, yet it carries an impressive amount of human experience. The qualities of a painting that stands the test of time.
The setting resembles a podium. The spotlight centers on the young entertainer’s body. We are at a circus looking at a junior magician performing his juggle and balancing act. A forgotten electric plug dangles somewhere in the curtains and the polished floor is covered with glow-in-the-dark plastic stars to enhance the theme of the show. However, on this stage of a shabby fair, the planets of our meticulously coordinated magical solar system are recognizable as balls. The apprentice – or a young deity? – sits on Jupiter, the largest planet, and juggles with some others. His attention is fixed on Earth.
Out of the spotlight, somewhere in the triangle of his facial expression, the globe and the spectator’s heart, lies the core of the message. He is focused and in the flow of the game. There is a playful tension in his body balancing the act. It culminates in the center of his serious attention, our planet. The longer you look at his face the more layers of emotion you detect. It is a longing and hopeful gaze, a trusting and loving one too. There is awe and wonder in his eyes, he sees truth with his heart. I think one can see something different every time one looks at the painting.
Perhaps you are moved, perhaps you recognize your own moments of realizing the wonder of life, the beautiful challenge of being an eternal soul limited by the material world. Perhaps your responsibility for this vulnerable planet is awoken once again.
Playing in his jolly trousers he also embodies the innocent, youthful joy of being, the young generation itself. He is still before his adolescence, but this noble little person is a wise man (homo sapiens in Latin) who is surprised by life. In this instant he is aware of the challenge of his own role in space and time.
We humans play a serious game with our own habitat. Do we live up to the challenge or do we let the planet fall and break? Do we overplay our hands? How will we juggle with the other planets? Will we attempt to colonize and exhaust them too? Play the game of who is first and who takes the most – all over again?
Can we at all love, value and respect the gift of life? Can we hold on to and cherish what we see with our hearts?
The tension between the undecided outcome is evident in the title too. At first glance the apprentice magician, the one who is going to be a master of make-believe, is just playing for amusement. You wonder if the way he tosses the balls will work out well at all. But the scene is grand, pointing to the real-life, high stakes of the message of the little prince. The fact that he looks at our home with pure wonder, surprise and awe does communicate hope for me. Also the harmony of the composition and his warm glow that contrasts the cool colors of the background.
Besides the allusion to Saint-Exupéry’s book in the title, in this work of art I also detect an ancient prophetic reference to the prince of wholeness, the prince of peace, who will be able to end all wrong, injustice and sorrow. Look at chapter 9 of the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah’s poetic words talk about a child who will show the people how to see truth with their hearts.
An exceptional oil painting depicting the crossroads of our age.
And a great truth of life hidden in plain sight.
Hansa Versteeg Le Petit Prince ou l’Apprenti Sorcier, 2021, oil on canvas, 110 x 80 cm
This art contemplation by Anikó is published in the book ‘Compassionism’. The book, as well as high quality reproductions and some originals are available via the website of the artist: www.hansaversteeg.com.