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Portrait of a Thief

June 28, 2013
 This story, first posted on 11/21/11, is reconstructed from a true occurrence that happened several years ago. I was not the artist involved:

 

A young artist struggling to make a name for himself was ecstatic when an industrialist, the wealthiest man in town, commissioned a portrait of himself. The price agreed on for the painting (two thousand dollars) was more than the young artist had ever received. He was determined to make this the best portrait he’d ever painted.

     

Several weeks passed and the young artist appeared every day at the wealthy man’s mansion and labored diligently, refusing to affix his signature to the canvas until certain it was his best work to date. When finished, the portrait was a masterpiece, an amazing analysis revealing the sitter’s complex character. So skillfully was the subject rendered that the portrait appeared capable of thought and speech.

    

When the artist requested his fee he was shocked to receive only three hundred dollars, a fraction of the agreed upon amount. “This wasn’t our arrangement,” he said.

    

The industrialist puffed on his cigar and replied, “I’m only giving you three hundred dollars because the painting doesn’t look a thing like me.”

    

Realizing that the man was simply trying to steal the painting for a fraction of its worth, the artist insisted on the full amount.

    

The industrialist shook his head and blew a puff of smoke in the artist’s face. “When you’re starving, as most artists end up doing, you’ll beg me to take this portrait off of your hands. When that time comes, I’ll pick up this canvas for a song.”

    

Disappointed, the artist packed up his gear, grabbed the painting and walked home to his studio.

    

Two months later the millionaire was having lunch in a fancy downtown restaurant. He finished his meal and left, without leaving a tip for the waiter who’d seen to his every need. On the way to his nearby office he walked past a crowded art gallery. He entered to see what was so interesting and was startled when people pointed at him and laughed. A crowd standing before one of the paintings parted. There, hanging on the wall, was the portrait he’d commissioned of himself. Beside the painting was a placard with the picture’s title: Portrait of a Thief.

    

Crimson shot up the man’s cheeks. “This is an outrage!” he bellowed.

    

The artist happened to be standing nearby and stepped forward.

    

Seeing him, the industrialist barked, “You did this to humiliate me, turn me into a laughingstock. Take this painting down immediately!”

    

The artist calmly refused.

    

“I’ll sue you for defamation of character.”

    

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the artist said. “You told me that the portrait didn’t look a thing like you; surely no one will think it’s you.”

    

“All right, you win. I’ll pay your price,” said the deflated millionaire, fishing out his wallet and handing over a handful of bills. “Now take it down before anyone else sees it.”

    

The artist looked at the wad of money and said, “You should have held to our original agreement. The price is now ten thousand dollars.”

    

Ash fell from the millionaire’s cigar as he wrote out a check.

 

 

 

     



Comments

32 Comments
And the moral is, "Don't F with an artist!"
By: Cranky Old Man on June 28, 2013
loved this! I have watched too many times wealthy folks try to bargain with an artist or a gallery to reduce what was a fair price to begin with- this was a priceless story! Have a fabulous weekend!
By: Kathe W. on June 28, 2013
He certainly got his comeuppance. It's probably better to get a contract up front, but in this case it wasn't since he wound up making 5 times the initial price.
By: PT Dilloway on June 28, 2013
If it's on a handshake, it's not worth the paper it's written on -- always get it in writing! Bravo to that artist.
By: mimi on June 28, 2013
greatness!
By: TexWisGirl on June 28, 2013
I've know a lot of folks like this. Not the artist, but the thief. Kept many locked up too. Doctors, lawyers and other better than thou kind of folks. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on June 28, 2013
It's a great story, Stephen. I really enjoyed it. Have a good weekend.
By: Sharon Bradshaw on June 28, 2013
Glad this is a true story...justice is so rarely reached!!
By: Tabor on June 28, 2013
I remember this story from before ... very clever. I had my portrait painted a few years ago -- and I paid EXTRA to have the artist make it look not like me. Seriously, he made my face look thinner and washed out some of the gray in my hair ... he's a very good artist!
By: tom sightings on June 28, 2013
What a powerful story. I'm so glad that the greedy capitalist that tried to screw the talented artist out of his money ended up the worse for wear. The moral that I see to this story is don't be mean to people, keep to your word, and pay others for their hard work.
By: Michael Offutt on June 28, 2013
Too bad the waiter couldn't do something similar.
By: joeinvegas on June 28, 2013
Great story!I love endings where the villain gets his just deserts! :-)
By: Lexa Cain on June 28, 2013
This is a true story? FANTASTIC!!
By: fishducky on June 28, 2013
Great story and wonderfully well told.
By: Jenny Woolf on June 28, 2013
I love stories like this. Reminds me of the old O. Henry stories I read in junior high. Thanks for this!
By: Diane Laney Fitzpatrick on June 28, 2013
Sound to me like the way the world should work instead of how it does.
By: Snowbrush on June 28, 2013
Chalk one up for the good guy. Great story!
By: Pixel Peeper on June 28, 2013
Who knew artists were so hard-core? Not the millionaire.
By: Val on June 28, 2013
That's great. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 28, 2013
Good one. I wish more contract would turn out like this.
By: Red on June 28, 2013
Great story!
By: Catalyst/Bruce on June 28, 2013
Ah ha! Justice indeed!
By: Tom Cochrun on June 28, 2013
I love when the tables are turned and the good guy whens.
By: Charlotte on June 28, 2013
What a great story and a good read!! Have a wonderful weekend!
By: LL COOL JOE on June 28, 2013
A great tale.
By: John on June 29, 2013
What a great turn of events!
By: Eva Gallant on June 29, 2013
Justice is served! :)
By: Scott Cody Park on June 29, 2013
I bet that fancy feast at the restaurant produced excessive discomfort when he was at the mercy of artist. Karma can be a b%tch.
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 29, 2013
You weave a fine tale - better still that there's truth to it. I can remember our pediatrician made house calls when we were children. He was a kind man who would sometimes appear in a tux because he was so dedicated to his young patients, that he'd take time on his way to or from a wedding or some such event in order to care for them. My mother always made sure to pay him immediately and he indicated to her how very much he appreciated that. He said that it was always his families who could least afford it who paid him immediately and in full. And always the well to do who put him off or paid in bits, often making him chase after payment for months to come. It makes you wonder about how some people become wealthy and just what their values are.
By: Hilary on June 29, 2013
Good writing and a very satisfying ending!
By: jenny_o on June 30, 2013
I love when the world sets things right. Justice is a beautiful thing.
By: Cheryl P. on June 30, 2013
A terrific story about the need to be Honorable! Loved it!!!
By: Michael Manning on July 2, 2013

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