The Art Forger by Larry Lefkowitz

Fogarty’s life changed when he discovered Daniel. Daniel had realized he would never be more than a so-so painter, but he discovered he had a skill for copying paintings. He soon was selling copies of famous paintings as copies: to spur sales, he copied in full view of the public through the large window which fronted on the street.
One rainy afternoon as he was copying a Chagall, a welcome relief from Rubens, he became aware of someone watching him through the window. Accustomed though he was to the phenomenon, even enjoying it, he could not help but noticing that this observer was subjecting his painting to a protracted interest.
When he stopped painting to scrutinize the scrutinizer in return, he was struck by the man’s rotund face under a mat of red hair and his eyebrows of pearl white. Seeing the artist staring, the man made a somewhat curious half-wave, and entered. Daniel, who had resumed painting in order to project a combined impression of diligence and nonchalance, stopped, his brush held at a jaunty angle. “You like it?” he asked challengingly, a ploy to put the potential customer on the defensive and, if possible, turn him into an actual one.
“Oh I do, me boy, I do.”
“Would you care to purchase it?” he followed up with practiced quickness.
“I might, indeed.”
“Come back in an hour and it’s yours.”
The white eyebrows rose slightly. “An hour. My we do work fast.” He said this in a tone of approval with just a hint of proprietorship.
Something in the man’s appearance or manner (Daniel could not decide which) suggested precision, confirmed when he returned precisely on the hour. He invited Daniel to bring the picture to his studio. One look at the “studio” was sufficient to inform that Fogarty, as he was called, was a second-rate art dealer. Daniel’s Chagall among those losers would stand out like a golden bowl among the chamber-pots.

Fogarty, however, was anything but a fool. Hanging the Chagall, he nodded with a feigned or felt reverence. “The others only improve its uniqueness.”
Daniel agreed inwardly. “Still, it’s only a copy,” he mumbled, affecting that modesty appreciated by his clients.
Fogarty raised a practiced finger. “Not only, but all of.”
“There is not much money in copies,” replied Daniel soberly.
“Not in the copies of the Rubenses and Delacroixes and Titians that you have in your studio, no, but in copies of lesser known painters, not as recent as Chagall, there might well be . . . if the copy is, shall we say, indistinguishable from the original.”
Daniel grasped at once that Fogarty was on to something, although the idea had, he realized, been inside of his mind for some time, buried under layers of probity, waiting for a master restorer like Fogarty to bring it out, pristine, for viewing.
“I could copy Modigliani with my eyes closed.”
A pained look suffused Fogarty’s countenance. “Modigliani is the most traded copy-as-original in today’s ‘reproduction’ market. Followed by Picasso, Degas, and Rodin. Rembrandt is also a great favorite. He painted six hundred pictures — there are a thousand ‘Rembrandts’ in East Coast galleries alone.” Fogarty dismissed this phalanx of masters with a slight hand motion and asked Daniel slyly, “How are you at impressionism?”
“I can reproduce anything.”
“A Van Gogh’s sold recently for fifty million,” Fogarty said, caressing the penultimate and ultimate words with his slight brogue.
“So I heard. Too bad I didn’t copy it first,” Daniel joked.
“I’m afraid the original was too much in evidence for that ploy, me boy. Now if it were one that has disappeared into the murky world of unpublicized private collections or was stolen and never recovered or even better, reputed to have been painted but without the art world’s ever having had a chance to get its art-loving paws on it, well, if such were suddenly to surface, why it would fetch a price that would keep you in cadmium yellows for some time.”
“And you in viridian green,” Daniel shot back.
Fogarty’s chuckle was one of genuine enjoyment. When it had spent itself, his voice was all seriousness. “The trick is to find which lost painting. One that will have the ring of authenticity about it. A certain amount of research is called for.”
“I’m not so good at that.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean you, me boy, your forte is memises. Such endeavor, however, is right up old Fogarty’s sinuous little alley.”
He fixed Daniel’s youthful cinnamon brown eyes with his almost lubricous hoary beryl blue ones. “Are you with me, me boy?”
The thought flashed through Daniel’s mind that Francis Villon would have jumped at the idea if he had been a painter instead of a poet. And Daniel knew why. For the challenge. The ultimate proof of his copying skill. “Cadmium yellow is getting expensive,” he said to Fogarty’s intense relief. “Fifty-fifty.”
“Of course,” the art dealer beamed, waiving aside the split as if it were a flyspeck on a Rembrandt – an original Rembrandt. “For such a joint venture nothing less than a full partnership is appropriate. A limited partnership, however, as the lawyers phrase it, for this, ah, transaction only. Following which the partnership will dissolve and, much as I value your company, me boy, a certain youthful verve to match my vintage own, this partner will disappear… to warmer climes. Before you stands one Irishman who doesn’t dote on mists.”
“There aren’t many mists on the Riviera,” ventured Daniel.
“Ah, no telling. But I confess to a certain fondness for the fastnesses of the jet set.” The serious tone returned, “Two months of research should suffice.”
Two months later to the day Fogarty was back, paler, as if he had buried himself in museums and libraries in the interim. Certainly he hadn’t been to the Riviera. From a thick dossier, he took and proffered wordlessly to Daniel a photograph of an impressionist painting that he could not recall ever having seen.
He said as much, but Fogarty merely fixed him patiently with his beryl gaze. He was waiting for a different response.
Daniel looked from the photograph to Fogarty. He nodded.
Fogarty squeezed his shoulder with affection.
“Three days,” said Daniel.
“Take your time, lad, this is your summit. And mine, too, I might add, for I will have to play my greatest role. We cannot risk all the publicity of a public auction. Sotheby’s experts might research the affair too diligently. The trick is to convince a private buyer that it is a genuine Pissarro and that I am too unskilled to be aware of the fact. I have been working a certain industrialist-cum-art-fancier for some time, selling him paintings at deflated prices, tending to over imbibe in his presence. He considers me something of a colorful Irish fool – and my turning on the brogue doesn’t lessen the effect. As an Irish saying has it, even though it be one of my own devising, ‘It is the last twitch of the hind leg that tells.’”
“But how could you be working him for so long if you didn’t know that I would agree?”
‘Oh, it had nothing to do with you in the beginning. I knew something would come along. It always does, you know. Of course, this was better than I expected. Meeting you – one blessed with your skills – that is what is called (and here Fogarty paused with a consummately Fogartian pause) – fortuitous.”
Six weeks after Fogarty took the “Pissarro” and at about the time Daniel was beginning to wonder if he would see him again, Fogarty reappeared. “Twenty million was the best I could do,” he said apologetically.
“So you pulled it off,” Daniel said, not able to grasp the reality of Fogarty’s achievement, of their achievement, and of the financial benefits which little by little began to assert themselves at the expense of his initially felt exclusively artistic triumph.
In mock huff at the lack of faith implicit in Daniel’s comment, Fogarty drew himself up to his full height of five feet four. “Surely, you never doubted me,” he rejoined. He then proceeded to instruct Daniel on how to prudently take care of his share so as not to cause suspicion at his bettered financial status on the part of the tax authorities, bankers, and “other fiduciaries,” as he put it.
As his mentor had promised, Daniel never saw Fogarty again in his rubicund flesh, although occasionally coming across a photograph in the society columns of a surprisingly Fogarty-like “Colonel O’Coolavin,” dwarfed by one of his horses in some European or South American winner’s circle. Daniel doubted that he would chance the International at Laurel for being too close to his pre-O’Coolavin past.


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