room of an Atlanta townhouse is the very same picture last seen or heard of in 1908 when it disappeared from the wall of a church in Pisa? (Answer: they can't, not absolutely.)

Even when there aren't gaps, there are often questions about authenticity or ownership. But a reasonably solid-looking provenance, capable of being at least partially verified, is a necessary place to start. Without it, no museum curator in his right mind would touch a so-called Old Master.

'There isn't any,' Tony said.

My fork stopped halfway to my mouth. 'No provenance?'

'Not to speak of, no. He says he got it from, well, from a junk shop in Paris. It was grimy, almost black. Naturally, the seller had no idea what it was.'

'Well, how does he know what it is?'

'He says he knew the minute he saw it. He bought it, had it cleaned, took a good look at it, and satisfied himself that he was right.'

'What do you mean, satisfied himself? Are you saying he authenticated it himself?'

'That's it.'

I laughed. 'Come on, Tony, this is a joke. An art dealer authenticating his own picture? What kind of authentication is that? Especially Rene Vachey, for God's sake.'

He shrugged. 'What do you want me to say?'

'Well, what do the French experts have to say about it?'

'I told you, nobody's seen it. He's setting up a big show at his gallery, and this is going to be the centerpiece. Critics, press, everybody's invited. I hear it's already making a huge flap over there. He's practically challenging the experts to prove his attribution's wrong, and people are starting to choose up sides before they even see the damn thing. Vachey has a lot of enemies, and, as usual, he's right in the middle of it. He called Edmond Froger a dilettante ignorant, in Le Monde.'

'Oh, wonderful.'

Tony shrugged. 'Well, the guy is a horse's ass.'

This was starting to have an ominously familiar ring. Several years before the Barillot affair, Vachey had gotten together about fifty of his own paintings to form a well-publicized exhibition called the Turbulent Century: 1860-1960. It ran for a month at a gallery he owned in London, and was scheduled to go to Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and back to France. In all these places, eager museums had been squabbling with each other for the privilege of getting it. This was quite a show, including works by Gauguin, Seurat, Braque, and Picasso.

Except it didn't, not according to some reputable critics and reviewers who pronounced most of the collection to be questionable or downright spurious. Others, equally distinguished, supported Vachey's claims of authenticity. Battle lines were drawn. There was another flap, with epithets a lot more colorful than 'dilettante ignorant' being hurled back and forth. In this one, Vachey remained back in Dijon, away from center stage, enjoying the fireworks while the experts fought it out. In the end, the museums scuttled for cover and pulled out with much huffing and puffing. Not, however, before they-and by extension, art museums in general, and by further extension, art experts in general-had been made laughingstocks. There were a lot of people who thought that just might have been the iconoclastic Vachey's aim in the first place.

And right now I was starting to wonder if it wasn't time for us to think about scuttling for cover ourselves.

'He can't expect us to accept the offer without seeing it, can he?' I asked. 'Because if so-'

'No, you've got yourself an invitation to the opening. You can examine it to your heart's content. Okay?'

I considered. The odds were about a hundred to one against the trip accomplishing anything. An unknown 'Rembrandt' discovered in a junk shop by a man with an offbeat sense of humor and a quirky history, to put it mildly. No provenance, no reliable authentication. Not a very good bet. On the other hand, for a hundred-to-one shot at this particular reward, yes, I was willing to take a trip to Dijon. Which is a very lovely little town, I might add.

'Good,' Tony said heartily, 'so it's settled. I'd better send Calvin along with you. He's at the Return of Cultural Property Conference in The Hague, anyway, so he can pop over to France easy. He can take care of the paperwork details, check the fine print, that kind of thing-his French is even better than yours. That'll leave you to concentrate on the painting.'

'Fine.' Then, after a second: 'What do you mean, you'd better?'

Calvin Boyer was the museum's public affairs officer, formerly known as the marketing director. I enjoyed his company-well, most of the time-and he seemed pretty good at what he did, whatever it was, but I couldn't see his being much help in this.

'Well, you know,' Tony said, just a little cagily, 'you're absolutely tops at what you do, and you know that I trust you completely to handle anything that comes up-'

'Right. But?'

'But, you know, sometimes you're, well, you're not too swift when it comes to people. And Vachey is a very tricky customer.'

'Oh, I'm gullible, is that it?'

This was an old complaint from Tony, who was given to wondering aloud how a naive soul like me had survived as well as I had among the sharks of the art world.

'I'm just saying you maybe trust people a little too much,' he said. 'You're not suspicious enough, you don't have a devious mind. You take people at face value, you don't always look under the surface of things. This is not a criticism, Chris.'

It sure sounded like one to me, and I started to climb up on my high horse, but caught myself in time. As a divorced man whose very first clue that his marriage wasn't everything it might have been came when his wife moved in with another man-this was after she'd been seeing him for a year without my noticing a thing-I figured I was in no position to tell Tony about how sharp I was at seeing under the surface of things.

Besides, I have a friend named Louis who from time to time has told me pretty much the same thing Tony just had. Louis says that I tend to resort to the secondary repression of ego-threatening perceptions for fear of bringing to the surface the primal hostilities and id functions that I long ago denied by means of primal or infantile repression.

At least I think that's pretty much the same thing Tony said. Louis is by trade a Freudian-Marcusian psychotherapist, and not always as lucid as Tony.

'Calvin's an M.B.A., Chris,' Tony explained further. 'You're an art historian.'

'Okay,' I said, not quite grasping his logic, but letting it pass. 'Actually, I'll be glad to have him along. And he can help work out the logistics for getting the painting analyzed. We'll want to have Taupin, from Paris, run it through infrared and X ray, don't you think? And there's that outfit in Lyons-what's its name?-that can do laser microanalysis. I've got it somewhere.'

'Mm,' Tony said, and pushed his salad plate away. He'd finished his salad. I'd hardly looked at mine. 'Come on, let's head back.'

We took the escalator down to the lobby, passing under a 'Baroque' stone arch that had come from a 1920s theater that had once stood on the site. Once out on Fifth Avenue on a mild October afternoon, we threaded our way through shoppers, bemused tourists, and fellow late-lunchers getting back to work. While we walked, Tony told me more.

The Rembrandt, it seemed, wasn't the only centerpiece of Vachey's show. Vachey, no piker when it came to gall, was actually claiming to have come up with a second 'newly discovered' painting; this one by the Frenchman Fernand Leger, who was, with Picasso and Braque, one of the foremost proponents of Cubism in the early years of the twentieth century. The Leger, it was understood, would be going to a French museum, as yet unnamed.

'Is that right?' I said. 'Where'd he find this one, at a garage sale in Toulouse?'

'Strasbourg, actually,' Tony said. 'A flea market,' and then he couldn't help laughing. 'Now don't jump to conclusions here, Chris. Whatever else you can say about Vachey, he has a hell of a record for stumbling on masterpieces nobody even knew were out there.' He started counting them off on his fingers. 'There's that Constable that's in San Francisco now, remember? And that Francesco Guardi that wound up in, where was it, Budapest, and don't forget the Lebrun-'

'Well, yes, I know, but-'

'All those authentications were verified later-beyond any doubt, Chris. Sure, he's made a few that didn't hold

Вы читаете Old Scores
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату