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The fine art of copying a canvas

'The Thomas Crown Affair': Stealing from the masters

Pierce Brosnan steals a famous work of art in "The Thomas Crown Affair," but who painted that masterpiece?

August 19, 1999
Web posted at: 4:12 p.m. EDT (2012 GMT)

By Jamie Allen
CNN Interactive Senior Writer

(CNN) -- Christopher Moore might run a business called Troubetzkoy Paintings Ltd., but he's accustomed to getting the cold shoulder when he attends art openings in New York City.

"Gallery owners know me, but they never say, 'Hello,' because they don't want other people to know they know me," Moore says, and it should be noted that he sounds amused. "I have a little flag on my head saying, 'I'm the guy doing the fake things.'"

"Fake things" is Moore's playful term for reproductions of works of art. Troubetzkoy Paintings creates fakes of classic paintings for a growing list of clientele, including many of those gallery owners who ignore Moore, as well as some of Hollywood's biggest productions.

Most recently, Troubetzkoy works are central to the plot of "The Thomas Crown Affair," which opened August 6 and stars Pierce Brosnan as an art thief who steals a world-famous Monet. "Mickey Blue Eyes," a new comedy starring Hugh Grant as the manager of an auction house, also features Troubetzkoys, including one "grotesque" original designed by Moore. That film opens Friday.

(Click on the paintings to see a larger view)

'It was a catastrophe'

Troubetzkoy Paintings is the brainchild of Moore and Arnaud Troubetzkoy, son of Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, the scion to a Russian aristocratic family.

The pair met in Paris at business school. Since both their families raised them with an appreciation of art, they decided on graduation in 1978 to create their own gallery to provide reproductions to hotels, auction houses and museums -- the idea being that customers could store the valuable originals in a vault, away from the Thomas Crowns of the world.

"It was a catastrophe, of course," Moore, 42, says of the business's first years. "We had no clients, no nothing. Nobody understood the idea of doing reproductions."

But Troubetzkoy slowly developed a reputation as a gallery that committed itself to quality.

"The value of the work we do is the value we give to it," Moore says.

As they began building a customer base, Hollywood came calling. Production designers from films like "The Age of Innocence" (1993) and "The American President" (1995) wanted Troubetzkoy Paintings to provide them with artwork. In "President," Moore and company recreated much of the collection of art seen in the White House.

"I have a little flag on my head saying, 'I'm the guy doing the fake things.'"
-- Christopher Moore, Troubetzkoy Paintings Ltd.

Today, Moore runs the New York gallery, while Troubetzkoy keeps tabs from the Paris gallery. They have a staff of painters -- one full-time in New York, more than a dozen full-time in Paris.

The artists serve two-year apprenticeships, working with some of the finest art in the world to perfect their craft. Troubetzkoy artists have done reproductions from original paintings by Rembrandt, Bruegel, Monet, van Gogh, Pissarro, Degas and Gauguin. Along with film sets, Troubetzkoy now serves Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses, as well as several five-star hotels.

"Our artists are very good technicians," Moore says. "They have sensibility and artistic balance. But quite often they lack in creation. I have one artist here in my studio in New York. She's a good painter, but she has problems of creating her own stuff, of inventing. She can copy from a postcard, but when she has to do other things she has a tough time. She knows it. Not everybody can do great things."


'No painting is worth $100 million'

Moore says when he works with production designers, his goal is to make their job easier. For his work in "Thomas Crown," he charged an average of $1,500 to rent each painting. For that price, Moore also gives advice on decor, how the museums in the film should be organized, which paintings to use.

But some of Moore's expertise has been ignored in favor of Hollywood logic. When "Thomas Crown" director John McTiernan picked the painting that would be stolen by Brosnan's character, he sacrificed historical accuracy for visual appeal and chose Monet's "San Giorgio Maggiore Soleil Couchant," Moore says.

"There's one painting that historically would have been better," Moore says, "because it was painted at the beginning of the Impressionist movement, and the one we're using is painted later. In the script they say, 'This is a very important painting because it was painted at start of the Impressionists,' and that's not really true. It was painted a few years later. But they selected the painting for purely visual reasons -- that they would capture better on camera, that it was more appealing, that it would catch the eye better."

Moore also says "Thomas Crown" creators fudged the cost of the painting.

"In the movie, the painting is supposed to be worth $100 million," says Moore. "No painting is worth $100 million. But for the movie, $100 million is a number that any person can understand as expensive. If you say $50 million nowadays, it's not enough."

'The one with the big butt'

A bit of inaccuracy is apparently the price of doing business with Hollywood. Moore knows he can only control the way the paintings look as they hang on the walls.

Troubetzkoy Paintings also offers original works that are commissioned by Hollywood. For instance, in one scene in "Mickey Blue Eyes," Grant's character sells a painting featuring the prominent derrière of the female subject.

"I did the one with the big butt," Moore says. "They said they want something that looks like a Renoir with the face of a 19th-century painting, so we had to do a grotesque painting. It was done in four days."

As for the business of reproductions, Moore deals with criticism of his work with an artist's sense of humor.

"Collectors say, 'I hate reproductions. It's awful. Why would anybody do that?,'" Moore says. "That's what they say officially. But behind the scenes they use our copies. On the walls they have our copies. All their paintings are in vaults."

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'The Thomas Crown Affair'
'Mickey Blue Eyes'
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