How a painting helped Gianluigi Buffon cope with depression

PSG keeper Gianluigi Buffon is a legend on the pitch, but he's also an art lover and he spent a day with CNN at the Musée d'Orsay to talk about his life.

Posted: Mar 1, 2019 8:50 AM
Updated: Mar 1, 2019 8:50 AM

One of the perks of being a news anchor is the unexpected conversations you have with fascinating people in unique circumstances.

One day you're in Davos talking climate change with former US Vice President Al Gore, the next you're discussing the historic visit of Pope Francis to the UAE with Emirati diplomats in Abu Dhabi, and the next you're debating the merits of artificial intelligence with Denmark's new tech ambassador. It's all part of the predictable unpredictability of the job.

But every now and then, you find yourself in a situation that's truly unforgettable.

Like standing in the Impressionist wing of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, as I was on a crisp winter day this January, chatting about the delicate interplay of light in Renoir's "Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette," with none other than the Italian football legend and current Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon.

"I find it astonishing because in this painting Renoir has depicted ordinary people, not those belonging to high society," explains Buffon without a hint of irony coming from a man who has achieved the extraordinary in a career spanning decades. The most-capped player in the history of the Italian national team, multiple winner of the Italian Serie A with Juventus, 2006 FIFA World Cup champion, and the list goes on.

"It's the everyday things that bring enormous happiness and happiness is all about enjoying the simple things in life and here is a painting of an ordinary day, and one that I never took part in, but would like to," he continues as we make our way through the crowd of onlookers, their smartphones in hand. It's not every day you get to meet a real-life maestro in a museum.

Enjoying the simple things in life, and in art, is a recurring theme with Buffon. He credits Chagall's "The Promenade," a painting he first came across in a gallery in Turin, for helping him cope with a bout of depression and anxiety back in the early 2000s.

Struggling with the prospect of fading youthful exuberance and facing the onslaught of adult responsibility, Buffon took refuge in Chagall's dreamlike composition.

"It fascinated me because of its simplicity. It looks like a painting a child could have painted and that's what struck me about it. It confirmed my belief that, we might fly in private planes or drive fancy cars, but at the end of the day it's the simple things that give happiness in life."

It's fascinating to see how a man who's spent his entire adult life under the burning spotlight of fame so eager to shun the trappings that come with it.

"When I'm at home and my wife's at home in Paris, we go for some lovely walks in our neighborhood. We walk over to the boulangerie to buy bread, we go grocery shopping, you know normal things. I like to read books or we might watch a movie," he tells me.

Sensing a look of astonishment in my expression he continues: "I'm not crazy about going to fashion shows, or showy society events. Sure, every so often I go, but I have to confess, they're not really me."

By the time we arrive at the Vincent Van Gogh exhibition, I have a much better understanding of Buffon, the man behind the legend.

He's relentlessly pursued and attained football glory; yet, still finds true refuge in the gentle calm of old masterpieces. His passion for the beautiful game has driven him to become one of the greatest goalies of our time, yet he appreciates the real-life moments off the pitch that bring him true happiness.

"I really like it is because it's a scene from real life from a bygone era," he tells me as we approach our final stop, "The Siesta" by Van Gogh.

"It shows people who, after a day of hard work and sweat, bring home a loaf of bread and grant themselves what they most enjoy, an afternoon nap in the shade of a haystack."

"I look at this painting and picture myself, or anyone after a hard day's work, lying down on the sofa for a short nap. It helps me dream."

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Ever the gentleman, Buffon is more than happy to oblige the barrage of selfie requests. From the corner of my eye, I can see a pair of young girls standing in the corner debating whether or not they should approach as Buffon wraps up his assessment of Gustav Courbet's "The Painter's Studio." I signal to them to head over and they shyly approach.

"Where are you from?" Buffon asks as he bends down to fit into the Instagram frame.

"Turin," they reply in unison, clearly gaining in confidence with the knowledge they have met a true Italian hero.

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