The Real Thing
By HarryB
Published: August 11, 2008
Updated: August 14, 2008

The Real Thing

Harry Buschman


“Well, I didn’t say it was every bit as good as a Picasso, I said it was a lot like a Picasso - but different from a Picasso.” Sebastian stepped back and tilted his head to one side. “But not all that different, Madame ... remember 1920 to 1930 ... the cubist years,?”

Madame Tussot was not fully convinced, but she could see Sebastian’s point. “Yes-s-s-s, similar. Very similar, Sebastian. What’s your point, my boy. What are you trying to say?”

Sebastian raised his eyebrows archly. “The point, Madame? Is simply that we have here -- the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Sebastian! Really!”

“We are behind in the rent, Madame. Two months behind. The heat has been turned off, and I hope I don’t have to remind Madame that I have not been paid in three weeks.”

“But, I could never ... I mean ... it’s not a Picasso, Sebastian. We can’t make it something it’s not.”

“See the mask. See the mailed fist. See the music symbolism. That is all Picasso is it not?” Sebastian carefully pointed out the details.

“Yes, I see all those things, Sebastian. You don’t have to point them out to me. I see the truncated male genital symbol too, thank you for not pointing that out.” Madame Tussot knew very well where Sebastian was going with his line of argument -- it was risky, very risky, and the penalties for conviction were monumental. “We could never do it, Sebastian. This is not Houston, Texas -- there are too many experts in New York.”

“What if I told Madame there are two fake Picassos at MoMA.”

“Ridiculous!”

“Not so, Madame. I painted them myself.”

She looked at him in disbelief. “You’re joking.”

“Suppose you were a curator of The Met or the Museum of Modern Art, Madame ... “ Sebastian turned the painting until it stood out boldly in the overhead lights, “ ... and you bought a Picasso just like this for a million dollars, or a Matisse - a Renoir perhaps ... and you learned it was a forgery. What would you do, Madame?”

“I’d shoot myself! I’d be ruined! It would be the end of my career as a curator. Is that what you’re driving at, Sebastian?”

“Exactly, Madame. You would do everything in your power to convince yourself, and everyone else that it was genuine.”

Madame Tussot approached the painting again and peered at it closely. “Do you really think we could do it, Sebastian?”

“All it needs is the name in the lower right corner, Madame. Voila!”

“It’s not like it’s an old master, is it Sebastian? I mean ... Picasso used the same paint. The same type of canvas ... he even stapled the canvas to the stretcher.”

“The lower right corner, he always put his name in the lower tight corner. Voila, Madame!”

Madame Tussot took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Let’s go for it, Sebastian.”

Sebastian squeezed a little Prussian blue on his palette and thinned it with turpentine. He took a small round brush a worked it into the paint and in a firm, bold hand he signed the painting P-I-C-K-A-S-S-O.

“Voila!” He said triumphantly.