Guy Ribes: The forger making a good impression in the film world

Jailed for faking Renoirs, Guy Ribes returns to take key role in biopic of French master

Dalya Alberge
Monday 14 May 2012 12:15 BST

He was a master-forger jailed for faking Renoir paintings in a multi-million-pound scam that duped the art world for years. Now, having served his time, Guy Ribes has returned to his old trade – this time with a different aim.

He appears in a major feature film, shown painting numerous Renoir canvases, as if his is the hand of the master himself.

The film on the French Impressionist master will be premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this month, one of at least five films about great artists.

Marc Missonnier, of Fidélité Films, who produced the film, told The Independent: "You can see him working. You see the painting being painted from an early stage to the finished one ... by someone who knows Renoir's technique."

The film will show Renoir's house in the south of France with reproductions of his paintings on the walls: "But when you see Renoir paint, it's not related to a specific painting – although you can immediately recognise his touch."

That was how Ribes managed to fool collectors in real life. Mr Missonnier said: "The speciality of [Ribes] is that he ... made paintings that Renoir could have made."

He describes the forger as shy. A keen painter since childhood, Ribes started forging paintings in 1975 "for fun" because his own work was not selling. "It was easier ... than to sell to people who understood nothing about my paintings," he told a French court in 2010, after the law caught up with him and 11 accomplices, including a Parisian dealer.

At the age of 61, he received a three-year sentence for forging a wide range of artists and styles, including Picasso, Chagall and Modigliani, for a paltry reward, with the lion's share going to other gang members.

Now his involvement with the film recognises his artistic talent. Entitled Renoir, it will be premiered at Cannes on 26 May. Its director, Gilles Bourdos, has sought to imbue it with the light and colour characteristic of Renoir paintings. Renoir himself is played by Michel Bouquet, widely acclaimed for his 2005 portrayal of the former French President, François Mitterrand.

Renoir, set during the First World War, depicts the artist in his twilight years. Tormented by the loss of his wife, arthritis and the terrible news that his son Jean has been wounded in action, Pierre-Auguste has lost the will to paint. When a beautiful teenage girl comes to his house, he is filled with a new passion for painting. When Jean returns home to convalesce, he too falls for her. Jean, who went on to become one of cinema's foremost directors, with classics such as La Grande Illusion, eventually married her and cast her in his films.

Antonin Lévy, the forger's lawyer, said the film could not have come at a better time as he was homeless. Asked whether the artist is bitter at his lack of recognition, he said: "Not any more". He recalled an art expert describing the forgeries as among the most convincing he had ever seen.

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