A Lifetime of Lunches

It was my first exhibition in Vence at the Chapel des Penitant Blancs in the spring of 1981. In walked a tall man, about 55 years old, dressed ail in black with a black Borsalino, a neatly trimmed white beard and white pony tail. He walked around slowly, carefully examining each of the miniature landscapes. They averaged about three by five inches and cost a mere 700frs,
which was a little under two hundred dollars at the time.

He finally approached me and said, « I like that one very much. l’ll give you half price and a lifetime of lunches. » I looked at him quizzically. I didn’t quite get it.
My name is Jim Ritchie. I’m a sculptor and I eat at the same cafe in the square every day. l’ll buy you lunch anytime. Little did he know that I would take him quite literally. He bought me lunch every day for about ten years, as well as become friend, spiritual father, collector, agent and godfather to my two daughters.
A couple of days later I had for my first lunch. He was there as he said he
would be. He didn’t mention that he also sits at the same table everyday therefore turning himself into a veritable Vence landmark long before he installed a 3 meter high bronze in front of the City Hall.
He was sitting with a beautiful girl and arguing. This was the way it would
be. Often sourrounded by beautiful girls. He could be as charming as he could be or didactic and ornery.
After lunch he asked if we’d like to go to his house for a glass of champagne. He lived at the top of a ornamented Italian style vila with a tower at the top, colored flowers tumbling down around it. We could see it clearly from our table in the square. We walked up four flights of marble steps with frescoed walls. The apartment was full of antiques, sculptures and photographs of young girls, nude.
The atelier was in the tower. Everything was covered in marble dust. There was a small balcony covered with flowers and a view of the square, the mountains, and the sea.
I spent many hours and days over the next twenty years in this house.

Jim bought at least fifteen paintings from me, both large and small. He introduced me to my first girlfriend. He found me my first car, an orange 1974 Pugeot 304 covertible, and bought two large paintings to pay for it. He introduced me to many of his clients, at first without success. As the years passed more people came to appreciate what he saw early on.

He did this because someone helped him when he was young. And because it is his nature. I will do it someday in my turn when there is someone with the fire who needs the support in the difficult early years.