Shortly before midnight on a frigid winter night, 32-year-old landscape painter and architectural renderer Vincent Heidelberg, of Lincoln, Nebraska, was struck by a bolt of inspiration – which rendered him dead.
“It’s a shock and a tragedy,” said Heidelberg’s long-time friend and colleague, painter Jonathan Shaw. “I’m not sure what to make of it – well, except more art. That's what Vincent would have wanted me to do.”
According to Shaw, Heidelberg was never an especially prolific artist. “He did a lot of waiting around for inspiration to strike,” said Shaw. “I used to tell him to just get to the canvas, that inspiration would come once he’d actually started painting. But he always insisted he couldn’t force it, that, one day, it would just hit him like a bolt of lightning.”
He sighed. “Honestly, I questioned whether that would ever happen. Boy, was I wrong.”
From what emergency medical technicians could tell, Heidelberg had set up his easel in the middle of a large, open field about 20 miles outside Lincoln. Incredibly, he somehow managed to complete his evocative painting of the stark, moonlit Nebraska landscape before collapsing to his death due to cardiac arrest.
"Vincent used to say that art was not for the faint of heart," said Shaw. "Turns out he, himself, was living - or dying - proof of that."
While Heidelberg’s art had not previously been well-known, critics are touting the young painter’s final work as a veritable masterpiece, reminiscent of American painter Thomas Moran’s best work. The critical acclaim for Heidelberg’s “deathbed” painting, which has been placed on auction, has caused the estimated value of what had until then been a minuscule estate to skyrocket.
Shaw agrees that his friend’s last work is truly one of genius.
“As an artist myself, I’m able to glean some of Vincent’s technical process from looking at the painting,” he explained. “It was that final brush stroke that really brought things together in a truly brilliant way. Without that, the painting would have been mundane, even trite." He shook his head, thinking of his friend's final moments. "It’s as if inspiration struck just prior to that final stroke of the brush – which I guess is also what killed him.”
He added, "Vincent also used to say he was willing to suffer or even die for his work, which I thought was a little grandiose. I used to tell him, please, just don't cut off an ear in my presence. And he never did. But he did die for his art." He lifted his eyes to the sky and offered up a reverent salute. "Well done, my friend. Well done."