The item for auction was nothing special, just an ordinary portrait from an unknown artist, who happened to be a former soldier. Nobody wanted to buy it except an old man…
There was once a collector who had great passion for famous paintings. He was willing to work as much as necessary to be able to afford his hobby. As a result, after several decades, he possessed works created by many of the world’s greatest artists.
After the untimely death of his wife, he moved in to live with his only son. As the saying goes, “Like father, like son.” His son was also deeply passionate about painting and loved looking at his father’s collection. The two also shared a strong interest in collecting particularly famous pieces.
Then tragedy struck and a war broke out in their country. Like many other young men, the son was called out to defend his country on the battlefield.
When the terrible days of war passed, the old father one day received a letter, saying: “We are very sorry to inform you that your son was killed in action. He sacrificed his life in the line of duty …”
Struck by the terrible news, the poor father’s heart was torn apart. His hands trembled as he held the letter, and tears dropped on the page as he read.
In the heat of battle, his son had retreated to a safe zone after hours of fierce fighting. But when he realized that some of his wounded brothers-in-arms were trapped in the trenches, he rushed out, under heavy fire, to carry them back to safety.
Miraculously, he managed to dodge the enemy bullets as he rescued one after another. When he was about to bring the last one into the shelter, an enemy sniper caught him with a fatal shot.
The father was utterly devastated by the death of his son. After hearing the news, he felt the weight of his years.
A month later, the whole country joyously celebrated Christmas – the first holiday since peace had been restored – but the mournful father was in no mood for a holiday. He could barely leave his bed. How could fathom making it through Christmas without his son?
At that moment, the doorbell rang. Surprised and curious about who it could be, he opened the door to see a young man standing in front of him.
The most precious work
The young man told him: “Sir, you might not recognize me. I am the last wounded soldier whom your son saved before he was shot.”
Tears welled up in the young man’s eyes as he recalled that fateful moment. Then, he respectfully offered a painting to the old father.
The former soldier explained: “Your son once told me that he loves painting. Although I am just a poor man and not an artist, I wanted to paint a portrait of him to express my gratitude for saving my life. Please take it. It’s the only thing I can give you.”
The father was deeply moved as he accepted the painting from the young man. Holding it in his hands, he slowly and carefully walked up the stairs to the gallery. He replaced the biggest work on the wall near the fireplace with his son’s portrait.
The father said with tears in his eyes, “Thank you, this is the most precious picture. For me, it is more valuable than any of the works that I’ve collected over the years.”
A strange auction
One year later, the melancholy father could not overcome the grief at his son’s death, and passed away.
All the priceless masterpieces he spent his whole life collecting were taken to auction for Christmas that year. When the news spread, gallery owners, museum directors, and art collectors flocked to participate in the auction.
At the beginning of the auction, the auctioneer welcomed the distinguished crowd of bidders. “Thank you for coming. Now let us begin. The first auction item is the portrait behind me.”
The portrait the auctioneer pointed to was that his fellow soldier had painted and given to the grieving father.
Several people at the auction muttered and then exclaimed: “This is portrait of no value, by an unknown artist. Surely we can move on to the other paintings in the collection?”
The auctioneer shook his head: “Unfortunately, that isn’t possible. In keeping with the deceased’s wishes, we must auction this painting first.”
Then he continued: “The starting price is 100 dollars. Who is willing to bid?”
No one made a sound.
He said, “Does anyone agree to spend 50 dollars on it?“
There was still no answer.
He continued, “Does anyone agree to spend 40 dollars?“
And still, no one spoke up.
The auctioneer seemed disappointed. In a voice full of emotion, he asked: “Doesn’t anyone want to buy this painting?“
At that moment, an old man who looked nothing like an art collector stood up and said, “Sir, can I buy it with only 10 dollars? You see, 10 dollars is all I have. I am the collector’s neighbor.”
He continued, “I know the young man in the portrait. I looked after him when he was a little boy and saw him growing up everyday. I really loved that boy and would like to buy this painting.”
The auctioneer said: “Yes sir, you may. 10 dollars, going once. 10 dollars, going twice. 10 dollars the third time. Sold, to the gentleman in the back.”
The auction room immediately burst into applause. Everyone was excited to get on to the main body of the collection, the famous works which were worth millions of dollars.
The auctioneer then said: “Thank you once again for coming and participating in this auction. The bidding for today is concluded.”
All the participants were astonished. One collector protested, “What do you mean? The main works have not yet been auctioned. How could auction already be over?”
With considerable gravity, the auctioneer declared, “I’m very sorry to inform you that the auction can no longer be continued.“
“According to the will of the owner, whoever buys the portrait of his son will automatically receive the rest of his collection…”