The most amusing thing in recent news is that the President believes he has a prized and touted Renoir, “Two Sisters on a Terrace.” But it is a fake. It isn’t even a good fake. Oh, the painterly technique is good enough, but when a serious forger creates a fake masterpiece, he doesn’t do anything as stupid as trying to pass off a copy of a painting the whereabouts of which is well known. He tries for a “long lost” work or a “previously undiscovered work.”
In other words, if a shady character in a trench coat approaches you on a street corner and whispers he can sell you the Mona Lisa cheap, the chances that it’s the real thing are, shall we say, remote. We all know where the real Mona Lisa is; behind bulletproof glass in the Louvre Museum, in Paris. Street corner copies abound but no one is silly enough to think any of them are real. Well — maybe almost no one. We might be able to sell one to the Donald.
The original of Renoir’s quite well known painting has been hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago since the 1930s. Its provenance, right back to the artist himself, is thoroughly documented. The Art Institute is among the world’s premier museums. The staff members are all highly professional experts. They know what they are talking about, unlike our quixotic president who almost never does.
What Trump has is a paintings-by-the-yard copy, probably turned out by a factory studio in China, where the production of these copies is a busy industry. There is nothing wrong with this industry. The Chinese aren’t trying to pass the stuff off as the real thing. If you love a particular famous painting, having one of these rather good copies is a step better than having a mere one-dimensional print and it is in that spirit they are sold. It isn’t the fault of the Chinese if some of the foreign devils are so uneducated and foolish as to think they bought the real thing when the real thing is well known to be in a museum some place.
I have one of these copies myself — “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” by Jacque-Louis David, the great man’s favorite propaganda artist. The artistic technique in this copy is excellent — lovely brushwork and meticulous detail. However, it wouldn’t fool anyone with the least bit of cultural awareness. For one thing, it is the single most famous painting of Napoleon ever and if it was real, it sure as Hell wouldn’t be hanging on the second floor stair landing of my house in Trenton. For another thing, the original is life size — horse and all. I’ve seen it in Paris. It’s huge. My copy measuring 2 ½ feet by 4 feet is fairly big for a painting hanging in an ordinary house, but it isn’t a patch on the real one.
Of course Trump isn’t backing down. The testimony of genuine experts and the unquestioned existence of the real thing in a world famous museum doesn’t matter in the least to a man whose infamous book should really have been titled “The Art of the Lie.”
Trump creates his own reality in which disagreeable facts are fake news and lies, if tweeted often enough, are the genuine article. In view of this, Trump has the wrong painting. He really should have mine instead. David’s famous depiction of the French Emperor in heroic posture, bravely defying the Alps, is a lie from start to finish. Napoleon did not lead his army over the mountains. He followed several days later and he did so on a mule — not a fiery charger. He didn’t even pose for the painting. David used his own son as a model. None of that prevented Napoleon from using the painting as major propaganda, re-inventing reality along the way.
Napoleon clearly came to believe his own lies — that he was an invincible conqueror with a sacred mission to rule the world. That psychosis ended very badly for France with thousands of French soldiers perishing horribly in the Russian Winter, and more at Waterloo.
Like the ill-stared emperor, Trump too believes his own lies. In an ordinary person, this would be considered a serious personality disorder. In the leader of a great nation, it is a catastrophe with unimaginable implications. By itself, Trump’s so–called Renoir would be an amusing peccadillo. Taken as a symbol of the deeper problem however, it is a dark and fearful foreshadowing of far worse to come.
Toby Grace is Out In Jersey Editor Emeritus