A Tale of Two Sisters, Victoria Authenticated

Dana lets her brother George and his friend Rolf into the apartment. George is medium height with dark hair and wearing glasses with black plastic frames. Rolf, a rotund man with reddish hair and a neatly trimmed beard, stops to admire the many paintings on the wall.

“What the—” he says as his eyes fall on a Cubist painting, “This is a very good imitation of Picasso’s style.”

Dana gives him a smile. “It’s by Picasso. Look at the inscription.”

Rolf gives her a skeptical look then leans in and says, “Para Victoria.” He shakes his head. “I’ve studied Picasso’s work for a number of years and I’ve never seen this one before.”

“Vickie can give you the story,” Dana replies, “But every painting on this wall is an original.”

Rolf scans the collection, highly impressed.

“Then it’s worth a fortune,” he says. “I see Monet, Van Gogh, Juan Gris, Klee, Derain, Warhol. This is one of the best private collections I’ve ever seen.”

George says impatiently, “Where is she?”

“In the bedroom,” Dana replies as she guides them to the dining area. “She didn’t want to color your judgment one way or another.”

Several chairs have been pulled around one end of the dining room table, the rest arranged against the wall in regular intervals. Rolf moves to the end of the table, saying as he goes, “Yes. I’ve never been asked to authenticate a person before, so I’m not sure what the precedent is.”

He sets a large case onto the table and opens it, removing a few items such as a magnifying glass and a jeweler’s eyepiece.

George lets out an exasperated sigh . “You’re just going to look at some old pictures and documents and tell us if they’re authentic.”

“The pictures and documents I can handle,” Rolf says. “Give me a couple of minutes to set up and we can get started.”

Dana goes to a set of shelves and retrieves several scrapbooks and a folder filled with photographs of varying sizes and takes it to where Rolf is sitting. Lying the oldest looking of the scrapbooks in front of him, she says, “Start with this.”

He thumbs through the pages, giving each one a cursory examination. Occasionally he stops on a photo and takes a closer look. In one instance, he says, “Scott Joplin?” He removes some papers and examines them closely with a magnifying glass and the jeweler’s eyepiece. Then he places them on the light box and looks them over again.

Rolf replaces the documents in the scrapbook and opens the picture folder. The first thing his eyes fall on is a sepia toned photo of a woman with light-colored curly hair, dressed in a low-cut party gown in a style similar to the late-nineteenth century. He sets it to the side then takes out a black and white shot of the same woman wearing modest Depression-era clothing, standing across the street from a building in its earliest stages of construction. The street signs are visible above her head, 34th Street and 5th Avenue.

“The Empire State Building,” Rolf says, showing the photo to George. “Or should I say the Empire State Really Big Hole.”

George shakes his head.

Rolf takes the oldest of the pictures, the sepia-toned turn-of-the-century shot and closely examines the edges and back. “Gautier. This looks like their work.”

He glances at George and Dana standing nearby.

“The paper’s right,” he says, “and the composition looks like what they were doing in the 1890s to 1900s.”

He scans it with the magnifying glass, saying, “The signs of age look genuine as well.” Looking back to the image, the next thing to catch his eye is the noticeable scar along the woman’s throat.

He spends several minutes, examining the photo with the jeweler’s eyepiece and magnifying glass then places it onto the light panel. He examines it a while longer using various other tools then sets his tools aside and says, “In my judgment, and without more extensive lab tests or a chemical analysis of the paper or photographic materials, I’d have to say this photo is genuine.”

He holds up the sepia-toned photo. “This is not a composite of two shots and the signs of wear actually traverse the image. That’s hard to fake.” Rolf turns the photo over. “It says on back it was made at Gautier studios. That was a major studio in Paris from around 1885 through the early-twenties. I’ve seen lots of photos made at Gautier and this is a textbook example of their work from that period.” He holds up the photo and points to the background. “The scenic backdrop behind her was probably the most popular background they had. It’s been in more photos than I can count.”

“Told you so,” Dana says, whacking George in the arm.

“We’re not quite finished yet,” Rolf says.

He subjects several other photos which appear to be from the turn of the century through the 1950s to the same examination as the first photo. Finally, he places the last photo back into the folder and says, “In my professional judgment, these are also genuine photos from the period they appear to represent.”

George leans over the table, saying, “Are you absolutely sure?”

Rolf shrugs.

“No one can be absolutely sure, but I will say this, if these are fakes, they’re damn good fakes. I can’t find a single discrepancy with any of them. The paper’s right, they have the appropriate signs of aging and there’s no obvious photo manipulation or other signs of tampering. The grain, the shading, everything looks genuine.”

Dana bounces up and down clapping, saying, “Vickie will be so happy!”

George sighs and says in a resigned tone, “Go get her.”

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