That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do

That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do” (or The Door), 1931 – oil painting by Ivan Albright, American, 1897-1983.

This is a strange little painting by an America-Russian painter from the early 20th century – Ivan Albright. This was one of my grandfather’s favorite paintings. He was a deeply philosophical and spiritual man – very much an Existentialist. Before he passed away, he showed me this piece of art in a book he had, one among many other amazing artistic things he had seen in his life. My grandfather was a Christian educator and minister in the church, but very educated and secular in his interest in people, politics, art, science, and the larger world of ideas.

This was a powerful painting to my grandfather. I imagine he saw it hanging in the Chicago Art institute in the 1940’s after Albright completed it. The painting shows a very grim gray door, unopened, yet with a strange aged hand reaching towards the door knob in the left center of the picture. On the door is a set of dried gray flowers, and the door, like our lives, is heavy, solid, powerful, yet scarred and aged.

My grandfather and I looked at this painting several times and he explained to me The Door stirred in him his own existential views of life; that life is filled with choices, good and bad which we make, choices that yet are offered to us by our Creator. He told me the door was a deeply spiritual expression about something beyond even God and religion. For being alive is a strange, haunting door itself forged of some strange freewill we can only trust exists. We like the viewer of this door can never know what lies beyond the door of our lives. ‘The Door’ is the door of fate and yet decisions; the crossroads of our lives with people and events that must be and so pass away.

But it is the death of what could have been that remains mysterious. It is the “unopened” doors he explained that is the real subject of the painting – the sadness and yet regret we did not open them. The dried roses on the front represent that deep regret and mystery and that which could have been. And the hand reaching for the door at the end of our lives is the ageless curiosity of what our lives could have become if we had opened those doors long ago…

It is an amazing little painting and says so much about us all. I thank my grandfather for showing it to me and helping me to see deeper into Life than I had been doing as a young man. He showed me that there are always many doors yet to be opened.

– the Author

Created Jul 5, 2017, 6:46 AM



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