Derwatt

Man In Chair

There is a strange, inverted homage to Derwatt, a non-existent artist, by the author Patricia Highsmith. The subject is a recurring theme featuring in four of the five Ripley novels, published from 1970 To 1991. I have consolidated the information on Derwatt and his works (and those of the forger, Bernard Tufts) in the hope that someone will try to paint them.

[6Sep12] Oscar Roig emailed me in April 2011, commenting on this page and stating that he intended to paint some Derwatts and Tufts. This is his first piece, Man In Chair, one of the Tufts (see below): Oscar comments, 'It's quite big, 72 x 49 inches.
It´s not literal from the description, but I tried to paint the" restless, doubting, troubled mood...."
. What a hero: I hope Oscar carries on and paints more.

In Patricia Highsmith's novel, The Talented Mr Ripley , made famous as a film, the eponymous hero is a young man from a modest background who murders his way to comfort, having become aware of the attractions of a life of leisure.

The author's subsequent output included several novels featuring Ripley in later life, now married to Héloïse, and living in France (Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water). A recurring subject in these novels is the artist Derwatt and his works. Derwatt committed suicide in Greece, but in order to continue to benefit from his success, Ripley and several of Derwatt's friends maintained a fiction that he was still alive and painting as a recluse in South America. Excellent forgeries were produced by Derwatt's friend Bernard Tufts to keep the market alive and then unsuccessfully by Steuerman.

I intend to outline the details of Derwatt and his painting as given in the novels, and encourage the creation of facsimiles of the works. Full details of the novels referenced are in the subsidiary pages. Below are summaries of the plots and a distillation of the life and work of Derwatt and his 'school'.

In Ripley Under Ground (1970) a Derwatt exhibition coincides with suspicions of forgery by an American collector, Murchison. Ripley travels to London to impersonate Derwatt, invites Murchison back to France where he kills him (brained with a wine bottle in his cellar). Bernard Tufts no longer wants to paint the forgeries: he visits Ripley and helps to dispose of Murchison's body, eventually kills himself and Ripley uses parts of his body to fake Derwatt's death.

In Ripley's Game (1974), the references are fairly sparse, the story concentrating on his friend (a Derwatt owner) Reeves' problems with mafia infiltration of his business, the successful but unrewarding assassination of some mafia figures (partially by an acquaintance, Jonathan) and Ripley's eventual escape from suspicion and blame.

In The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980), a young American, Frank Pierson (aka Billy Rollins and Ben Andrews), who killed his plutocrat father, visited Ripley before being kidnapped, rescued by Tom, and then killing himself by jumping from the same cliff he launched his father's wheelchair over. There are numerous references to Tom's Derwatts, to Reeves', and to Frank's father's Derwatt.

In Ripley Under Water (1991), the last of the Ripley novels, published in 1991. An inquisitive American couple, the Pritchards, take up residence in Villeperce. David Pritchard is a trouble-maker of independent wealth whose hobby is to make others uncomfortable. He makes veiled threats of investigations and disclosure of Tom Ripley's past, following an indirect acquaintance with both Cynthia (the late forger Bernard Tuft's girlfriend) and Mrs Murchison (widowed by Tom by a bottle of claret to Mr Murchison's head). Jeff and Ed from the Buckmaster Gallery get involved and, while Héloïse holidays in North Africa, Pritchard finds Murchison's remains (thrown in a canal by Tom and Bernard) and delivers them anonymously to Tom's door. Tom and Ed return the canvas-wrapped skeleton to the Pritchard's pond, in which they (the Pritchards) both flounder and drown. The book ends rather abruptly, as did Ripley Under Ground: perhaps Highsmith's intention was to pick up the story in the next Ripley novel (as Under Ground with The Boy Who Followed), but she did not get the chance, she died in 1995.

So, what do we know?

Philip Derwatt [Der1] was a moderately successful painter who committed suicide in Greece in his late twenties [Der2 and Der3], or possibly at around forty.

There are probably around one hundred Derwatts [3] (including forgeries) and Tufts painted more 'Derwatt's than Derwatt had, probably 60%/40% [4]. Twenty-eight [Der6] were on show in the exhibition described in Under Ground.

The named, identified or described paintings are

Title Painter Owner Details References
Man in Chair Tufts Tom Ripley A1 A2 U1
The Red Chairs Derwatt Tom Ripley B1 Q1 V1
'several derwatts' Derwatt and Tufts Buckmaster Gallery permanent collection C1
on the exhibition poster Tufts unknown D1
Falling Woman probably Derwatt unknown E1
The Clock Tufts Murchison F1 , F2
Sunday Noon probably Tufts unknown G1
The Tub Tufts unknown in the exhibition H1
The Orange Barn Tufts unknown painted at the same time as The Clock I1
Bird Spectre Tufts unknown painted at the same time as The Clock J1
'a couple at the Tate' Derwatt Tate Gallery (now Tate Modern) L1
Mural Derwatt Reeves M1
untitled Derwatt Reeves N1 S1
The Rainbow Tufts Pierson P1 T1
Cat in Afternoon Tufts Buckmaster Gallery W1
Station Nowhere Tufts Buckmaster Gallery X1
Sisters in an Argument Tufts Buckmaster Gallery Y1
Easel in Studio Derwatt Ed Banbury Z1
[Pigeon] unknown Tom Ripley Z2

General points

Men, little girls, chairs, tables, strange things on fire, these still predominate [K1]

[A] young painter in London called Steuerman, who had been attempting Derwatt forgeries for them - maybe five by now - but whose work could not hold a candle to that of the dedicated Bernard Tufts [R1]

In detail,

Man in Chair This was a pinkish picture of a man in a chair, a man with several outlines, so it seemed one was looking at the picture through someone else's distorting eyeglasses. Some people said Derwatts hurt their eyes. But from a distance of three or four yards, they didn't. This was not a genuine Derwatt, but an early Bernard Tufts forgery. [all at A1] the boy looked at the painting 'Man in Chair' over the fireplace, then at the slightly smaller but genuine Derwatt called 'The Red Chairs' [O1] Not a Derwatt, Tom reminded himself, but a Bernard Tufts forgery called 'Man in Chair'. It was reddish-brown with some yellow streaks, and like all Derwatts, had multiple outlines, often with darker strokes, which some people said gave them headaches; from a distance the images seemed lifelike, even slightly moving. The man in the chair had a brownish, apelike face, with an expression that could be described as thoughtful, but was by no means defined by clear-cut features. It was the restless (even in a chair), doubting, troubled mood of it which pleased Tom; that and the fact that it was a phoney. It had a place of honour in his house. [U1]
Red Chairs Two little girls sat side by side, looking terrified, as if it were their first day in school, or as if they were listening to something frightening in church. 'The Red Chairs' was eight or nine years old. Behind the little girls, wherever they were sitting, the whole place was on fire. Yellow and red flames leapt about, hazed by touches of white, so that the fire didn't immediately catch the attention of the beholder. But when it did, the emotional effect was shattering. [all at B1] The boy looked over his left shoulder at the two little girls in the red chairs, flaming red fire behind them, a picture that could certainly be called warm because of its subject matter, but Tom know Frank meant a warmth of attitude on Derwatt's part, which showed in his repeated outlines of bodies and faces. [Q1] The other Derwatt in the living-room was 'The Red Chairs', another medium-large canvas, of two small girls about ten years old, sitting on straight chairs in tense attitudes, with wide, frightened eyes. Again the reddish-yellow outlines of chairs and figures were tripled and quadrupled, and after a few seconds (Tom always thought, imagining a first view) the viewer realised that the background could be flames, that the chairs might be on fire. What was that picture worth now? A six-figure sum in pounds, a high six-figure. Maybe more. It depended on who was auctioning it. Tom's insurer was always upping his two paintings. Tom had no intention of selling them. [V1]
The Clock It's a bluish-black clock held by ...a little girl - who's facing the beholder ... It was a medium-sized Derwatt, perhaps two feet by three. [T]he clock was black and purple. The brushstrokes and the colour resembled those of 'Man in Chair' ... A little girl in a pink-and-apple-green dress was holding the clock, or rather resting her hand on it, as the clock was large and stood on a table. [all at F2]
exhibition poster the picture reproduced in colour looked in the dim light dark purple or black and somewhat resembled the raised top of a grand piano. A new Bernard Tufts forgery, doubtless. [all at D1]
Falling Woman No details from [E1]
Sunday Noon No details from [G1]
The Tub No details from [H1]
The Orange Barn No details from [I1]
Bird Spectre No details from [J1]
Mural A mural assignment had fallen through, and Derwatt had even finished the mural. The judges turned it down because there were a couple of nudes in it. It was for a post office somewhere. [M1]
? 'Jonathan had realised that the painting over the fireplace, a pinkish scene of a bed with an old person lying on it - male or female? - apparently dying, really was a Derwatt'. [N1] 'Tom saw that the pinkish Derwatt (genuine) of a woman apparently dying in bed still hung over the fireplace.' [S1]
The Rainbow Beige colours below, and a rainbow mostly red above. All fuzzy and jagged. You can't tell what city it is, Mexico or New York.' Tom knew. A Bernard Tufts forgery. [P1] 'The Rainbow', a Bernard Tufts forgery. Tom had never seen the painting, simply remembered its title from a Buckmaster Gallery report to him on sales maybe four years ago. Tom recalled also Frank's description of it: beige below, being the tops of a city's buildings, and a mostly dark-reddish brown rainbow above with a little pale green in it. All fuzzy and jagged, Frank had said. You can't tell what city it is, Mexico or New York. And so it was, and well pulled off by Bernard, with dash and assurance in that rainbow [T1]
Cat in Afternoon pleased Tom most, a warm reddish-brown and nearly abstract composition in which a marmalade-and-white cat was not at once findable, a sleeping cat [W1] .
Station Nowhere a lovely canvas of blue, brown, tan spots with a chalky but dirty-looking building in the background, the railway station, presumably [X1] .
Sisters in an Argument a typical Derwatt, though to Tom a Bernard Tufts because of the date: a portrait of two females facing each other, mouths open. Derwatt's multi-lined outlines conveyed a sense of activity, noise of voices, and the dashes of red - a favourite devise of Derwatt and copied by Bernard Tufts - suggested anger, maybe the scratching of fingernails and the blood therefrom. [Y1]
Easel in Studio Ed lifted a framed drawing which had been leaning, face inward, against his chest of drawers. The conte and charcoal drawing showed vertical and slanting lines that might have depicted an easel, and behind it a suggestion of a figure just a bit taller than the easel. Was it a Tufts or a Derwatt? 'Nice.' Tom narrowed his eyes, opened them, advanced. 'What's it called?' '"Easel in Studio".' Ed replied. 'I love the warm orangey-red . Just these two lines to indicate the size of the room. Typical.' He added, 'I don't hang it all the time - just six months out of the year perhaps - so it's fresh to me. 'The drawing was nearly thirty inches high, maybe twenty broad, in an appropriately grey and neutral frame. 'Bernard's?' Tom asked. 'It's a Derwatt. I bought it years ago - for absurdly little, I think about forty pounds. Forgot where I found it! He did it in London. Look at the hand.' Ed extended his right hand in the same position towards the painting. In the drawing, the right hand with an indication of a slender brush in the fingers was extended. The painter was approaching the easel, left foot delineated by a stroke of dark grey for the shoe sole. [Z1]
3 drawings Tom liked the first Nick pulled out, a sketch of a pigeon on a window sill, which had a few of Derwatt's extra outlines that suggested a shifting of the alert bird. The paper, yellowish but originally off-white and of fair quality, was nevertheless deteriorating at the edges, but Tom liked that. The drawing was in charcoal and conte, under transparent plastic now. Tom was looking at another in the portfolio, a busy restaurant interior, which did not appeal to him, then a pair of trees and a bench in what looked like a London park. No, the pigeon. [Z2]

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