starring Jason Patric, Irene Jacob, Ian Richardson and Rod Steiger
written by Jordan Katz
directed by John Badham
I have an adult student who is an art conservator. I mean, her job is to clean and repair works of art, mostly paintings. It was because of this student that I took an interest in Incognito(meaning “disguise”). It is about an American artist who makes a career out of art fakery. I do not mean art forgery. He does not dopy existing works of art and try to sell them fraudulently. Instead, he produces his own work in such perfect imitationof a known artist that it passes as that artist’s work. And he only imitates third or fourth tier artists, not great masters, so he will reduce the risk of attracting attention to himself.
But then he is seduced by an offer of incredible money to paint a Rembrandt. It is dangerous because Rembrandt is a great master, and a lot of money is involved because these days is works sell for millions of dollars. (Ironically, Rembrandt himself died a pauper, like his countryman Vincent Van Gogh did later. It is strange and sad that even n his lifetime he could not afford to buy his own work.)
The movie is a thriller and suspense. The lure of wealth, the greed for money and the desire of the art world’s elite members to make and protect their reputations leads to conspiracy, murder and international pursuit. It is exciting as well as educational. I enjoyed seeing the techniques of painting, especially the technique of re-creating a 400-year-old painting. As I have learned form my student, the conservator, there is a lot of science - especially chemistry - involved. By the sound of it, painters are practically chemists, working in a laboratory not a studio, and making their own paints out of chemical compounds that have difficult and esoteric sounding names and properties. Where is the scope for inspiration? It seems these days that a person has to get a university education in chemistry just to paint.
I know almost one of the actors. But I do know Rod Steiger who, I thought, came across well as an old, retired muralist, father of the main character, always urging his son to pursue a legitimate art career.
This happens in the end. But before we get there we have to go to court. The artist is arrested in Englandand put on trial for the left of a Rembrandt from the art dealer who commissioned him to forge it in the first place. The happy story here is that he succeeded so well, beyond his own greatest hopes, that his painting is mistaken by experts for the real thing and ends up hanging in the Prado in Madrid, one of the world’s greatest art galleries and museums. So he has the satisfaction of knowing that, finally, one of his own works is hanging in the Prado, but no one believes him if he says so. They think he is just a liar and art thief. He is absolved in the end and leaves behind forever the dubious trade in art fakes.