Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

The Father & His Two Sons: The Art of Forgiveness Images of the Prodigal Son from the Larry & Mary Gerbens Collection

About the collection

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.
LUKE 15:20

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
LUKE 15:24

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most powerful and evocative stories Jesus told. Its universal themes of greed and regret, arrogance and repentance, sin and redemption, jealousy and acceptance, and most importantly, compassionate forgiveness resonate richly with each retelling.

This parable has inspired the work of artists throughout the centuries. In many times and places and using many methods and media, artists have sought to visualize this story. Yet despite the differences in their work, the message of the Father’s love remains constant.

In the mid 1990’s, Don Prys, my brother-in-law, encouraged me to read The Return of The Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen. I was fascinated and inspired by Nouwen’s personal and introspective style, placing himself in the place of not only the younger son, but also the elder son and the father. About the same time I became aware of the serigraphs of John August Swanson; the colors and themes and the precise nature of the silk screening process intrigued me. Swanson’s first serigraph of the Prodigal Son from 1984 was the first piece of art inspired by the parable that I collected.

That was the start; I was hooked! From the days of Edgar Boevé’s art history course at Calvin College, I was fascinated by artists and their amazing God-given talents; and now I had a theme to build a collection around: forgiveness as illustrated by the parable of the Prodigal Son. I first looked at the old masters like Rembrandt for their interpretation of the parable. I found that they were not only fascinated by the parable but also that much of their work was autobiographical. With Mary’s blessing, we acquired Rembrandt’s etching of the Prodigal Son and Tissot’s five etchings entitled The Prodigal Son in Modern Life.

My son, the father said, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.
LUKE 15:31

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
LUKE 15:32

At the same time, we were becoming acquainted with contemporary artists by frequenting galleries, museums, and even art fairs. The place of works of faith by artists of faith in worship and everyday life intrigued me. I started to look for and acquire works by contemporary artists on the Prodigal theme. The next step was to commission artists whose work I appreciated to create a piece based on the parable. Their unique styles and perspectives were of great inspiration to me. I have come to love working with artists and encouraging their artistic gifts in the commissioning process. Their testimony in their works has been a wonderful blessing. Under the heading of collector’s notes, we tell short stories about how we came to know the artist and our experience throughout the commissioning process. In many instances the artists have also written interpretations of their work.

We feel privileged to share The Parable of the Prodigal with you through this collection of art and readings.
Mary and I believe ... a Prodigal Son art exhibit is a Grace exhibit.

Please enjoy a contemplative moment and let this timeless parable speak to you once again.

—Text by Larry and Mary Gerbens