"You have to learn to recognize a painter's style the way you recognize your own handwriting. You're helped by the fact that fakers tend to make pastiches of other canvases, they lack a sense of space that integrates work because they just don't care. Most fakes really aren't very good because they are intended more as the come-on in a con game than as convincing imitations. The buyer usually knows nothing about art except that he wants some and this one is a bargain.
"It takes years to learn to discriminate with certainty and even then in some cases there is that fine gray area of doubt. It was 1968 or so before I felt I could authenticate. Since then I've written thousands of letters and looked at scores of works. Some sincere people, especially in Europe, have burst into tears on learning their prized possession was wrong.
"I was recently in Japan. A very powerful industrialist sent a car so I could come and view his Soutines. This man is a multibillionaire who's treated like an American president, surrounded with security and bodyguards, the sort of man nobody says no to. Asked what I thought of his pictures, I gritted my teeth and told him, 'Eight of them are superb examples and one is a patent fake.'
"Given the Japanese sensitivity to humiliation, it was a dicey moment. He took it very well. The next day I went on my own to the gallery that sold him the picture and told them it was fake. They gave him back the $1-million purchase price, so it came out well."
Tuchman stands up and whacks his head rather severely on a shelf. He waves his hand over the bruise absent-mindedly, as if brushing away a fly. His mind is usually several steps ahead of real time and he's already thinking about his next project.
"It's scheduled for 1995 and it's called 'Secret Meanings in Realism,' " he says. "It will deal with the psychology of seeing, about philosophies of perception, particularly the illusions and deceptions found in various kinds of realistic art."
Onward, through the fog of the modern.