“These some of your reproductions?” he calls from the other side of the room. Aiden Markel, the owner of the world-renowned Markel G, here for a studio visit. Aiden Markel, who just a few months ago barely acknowledged my presence when I stopped by his tony Newbury Street gallery to see a new installation.
I look over my shoulder. “Yeah. I don’t usually have any completed ones here. But the truck’s tied up all week, so the Degas isn’t getting picked up till Friday.”
“Reproductions.com. Got to love the name. Saw the article in the Globe last month. Nice exposure for you.” He hesitates. “I guess?”
“Not exactly the kind I’m looking for.” Just what I need: publicity for pretending to paint someone else’s masterpiece. “I tried to get out of the interview, but Repro wouldn’t stand for it.”
“Are they doing as well as their hype?”
“Probably better,” I say, although I’m not really listening and not at all interested in Repro. I’m too focused on pulling my best paintings, but not too many. Light. Interesting value is what he wants, deep and translucent. I grab one. Not strong enough. Then another.
“Now this is OTC,” he says, pointing to the Pissarro, which although incomplete is obviously filled with trees covered in masses of white blossoms.
I laugh. “For the pretentious.”
“But poor,” he adds.
I lumber down with three canvases under my arm. “Not all that poor. Those things go for thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands for the bigger ones. Unfortunately, I only get a fraction of that.”
I quickly remove my more abstract paintings from the wall. Replace them with the ones I’ve chosen. I turn to him, but he’s staring at the fake Degas.
“You’re damn good at this.”
“It beats waitressing.”
His eyes don’t leave my rendering. “I’ll say.”
“Degas’ later work isn’t all that hard to copy. Not like his early oils. They’re a real bitch,” I say, trying to be polite when every part of me wants to grab Markel and pull him to the other side of the studio. “What with all those layers. Painting and waiting. Painting and waiting. Could take months, maybe years.”
“And Reproductions.com has you do that?”
No. Never. A piece like that would have to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.” I come to stand by him. “Degas is my specialty, his oils in particular. I’m actually certified — whatever that means — by Repro, after I took the requisite classes.” I wave to the piles of books in the corner. “I’m working on a book proposal about him. His relationship with other artists, dealers, collectors of his day. Cross-germination. That kind of stuff. But I’m not working on it as hard as I should be.”
Markel’s eyes remain glued to the Degas reproduction. “This seems like a better use of your time. Do they appreciate you?”
“Sometimes I get a bonus when people order a Degas with the stipulation that I’m the artist,” I shrug. “Although you can hardly call a person who copies a masterpiece an artist.”
He doesn’t contradict me, and I gesture him back to my real work. He steals a last glance at Woman Leaving Her Bath before he follows.
We stand in silence, staring at my windows. I force myself to remain silent, to allow the work to speak for itself.
After two minutes that feel like twenty, Markel touches my arm. “Let’s sit down.”
We walk over to the couch and sit on opposite ends. He finishes off his wine and pours himself another. I decline his offer of a refill, wanting the wine, but fearing I’m too jittery to hold onto it.
Markel clears his throat, takes another sip. “Claire, I’ve just been given the opportunity of a lifetime. A chance to do good, real good for lots of people. And I hope you’ll feel the same way about the one I’m about to give you.” He pauses. “Although I suppose yours is really more like making a deal with the devil.”
I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, but I catch the word “opportunity.” “And you’re the devil?”
He shakes his head vigorously. “The devil’s the one who gav