The Boy Who Followed Ripley

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.

First, at Tom’s house, ‘Back in the living room, 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] on the wall near the French windows. The boy’s glances had taken only seconds, but Tom had remarked them. Why the Derwatts and not the bigger Soutine, of striking reds and blues, which hung above the harpsichord’.

Later, ‘Tom said ‘I noticed you looking at the Derwatt.’ He nodded toward ‘Man in Chair’ over the fireplace. ‘Do you like it? – It’s my favourite.’
‘It’s one I don’t know. I know that one – from the catalogue,’ Frank said with a glance over his shoulder. He meant ‘The Red Chairs’, a genuine Derwatt, and Tom knew at once which catalogue the boy had probably looked at, a recent one from the Buckmaster gallery. The gallery now made an effort to keep the forgeries out of its catalogues.
‘Were some really forged?' Frank asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Tom said, with his best effort at sincerity. ‘Never was proven. No. I seem to remember Derwatt came to London to verify – certain ones.’

‘Yes, I thought maybe you were there, because you know the people at that gallery, don’t you?’ Now Frank perked up a bit. ‘My father has a Derwatt, you know’

Tom was glad to veer slightly. ‘What one?’
‘It’s called “The Rainbow”. Do you know it? 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. ‘I know,’ Tom said, as if with fond memory of a genuine. ‘Your father liked Derwatt?’

‘Who doesn’t? There’s something warm about his stuff – human, I mean, which you don’t find in modern painting all the time. I mean – if someone wants warmth. Francis Bacon is tough and real, but so is this, even if it’s just a couple of little girls.’ 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]
Tom felt a curiously personal affront, because apparently the boy did not prefer ‘Man in Chair’, which showed an equal warmth on the part of the painter, though neither the man nor the chair were on fire. It was a phoney, though. That was why Tom preferred it. At least Frank had not yet asked if it might be a phoney, a question which if he put would be based on something he had heard or read, Tom thought. ‘You evidently enjoy paintings.’

Edmund Banbury ran the Buckmaster Gallery in London and Jeff Constant, a photographer, was also involved in the enterprise. Jeff writes to Ripley, ‘Jeff didn’t mention Derwatt’s name, Tom saw from a glance at the typewritten page. Jeff said he agreed with Tom that a stop should be put [to the forgeries], and so had informed the right people, after discussing it with Ed. Tom knew he meant by the right people 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]. Though Derwatt was presumed deceased by now, in his little Mexican village whose name he had never disclosed, Jeff and Ed had been keen for years on ‘finding’ old efforts of Derwatt’s, and trying to market them. Jeff went on: ‘This will cut our intake considerably, but as you know, we’ve always listened to your advice, Tom …’ He ended by asking Tom to tear up his letter.

Frank’s family (brother Johnny and a detective, Thurlow) is looking for him in France and Tom is concerned that they might be aware of him, as a fellow Derwatt owner, as possible destination.

‘Why should he turn up here?’ asked Frank.
‘Did you ever talk about me, mention me to your family? Or to Johnny?’
Tom was whispering now. ‘What about the Derwatt painting? Weren’t there conversations about that? Do you remember? A year or so ago?’
‘I remember. My father mentioned it, because of what was in the newspapers. It wasn’t particularly about you, not at all.’

During one of Frank’s kidnapped absences from the house, Belle Ombre, in Villeperce, Tom is considering his finances. ‘Tom’s Derwatt company income – maybe ten thousand francs a month or close to two thousand dollars if the dollar was strong enough – came also under the table in the form of Swiss franc cheques, this money being filtered almost entirely through Perugia where the Derwatt Art Academy was, though some came from the Buckmaster Gallery sales too. Tom’s ten per cent of Derwatt profits derived also from Derwatt-labelled art supplies, from easels to erasers, but it was easier to smuggle money from northern Italy into Switzerland than to get it from London to Villeperce’

In Berlin, shortly before Frank’s kidnapping, ‘… would Frank’s family – his mother in particular – be overjoyed if Tom looked up Frank on his next trip to America in October of this year? Tom doubted that. Did his mother know anything about he suspicion of forgery in regard to Derwatt paintings? Very likely, since Frank’s father had talked about it, maybe at the dinner table.’

After Tom rescues Frank, they visit Reeves in Hamburg.
‘Tom saw that the pinkish Derwatt (genuine) of a woman apparently dying in bed still hung over the fireplace.’

And later in Villeperce,

’Shall I tell you that I once murdered a man in this house? Awful, isn’t it? Under this roof. – I could tell you the reason. That picture downstairs over the fireplace, “Man in Chair” ‘ Tom suddenly realised that he couldn’t tell Frank that it was a forgery, and that a lot of Derwatts were forgeries now.’

Tom returns to the States with Frank and visits the family home.

 ‘They all sat down in the living room … And there was the painting, the Derwatt that Frank had mentioned on his second visit to Belle Ombre. This was ‘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], and Tom took his eyes away with reluctance, not wanting to be asked by Mrs Pierson if he was especially fond of Derwatts… It was strange, Tom thought, to be sitting on a sofa much bigger than his own, in front of a fireplace also bigger than his own, over which hung a phoney Derwatt, just as ‘Man in Chair’ at his own house was a phoney.’

Later in the same scene,

 ‘I knew Tom’s name, because Dad mentioned Tom Ripley, a couple of times – in connection with our Derwatt painting. Remember, Mom?’
‘No, I frankly don’t,’ said Lily.
‘Tom knows the people at the gallery in
London. Isn’t that true, Tom?’
‘Yes I do,’ said Tom, calmly. Frank was in a way boasting about him as an important friend and – maybe, Tom thought – deliberately creating an opening for either his mother or Thurlow to bring up the matter of authenticity of pictures signed Derwatt. Was Frank going to defend Derwatt and all the Derwatts, even the possible phonies?  They didn’t get that far.’

Finally, Tom back at home,

Another letter from Jeff Constant of the Buckmaster Gallery, London, and at a glance Tom saw that all was well. The news was that the Derwatt Accademia in Perugia had had a change of managership to two artistically inclined young men from London (Jeff supplied their names), and they had the idea of acquiring a nearby palazzo which could be converted into an hotel for the art students. Did Tom like he idea? Did he possible know the palazzo to south-west of the art school? The new London boys were going to send a photo next post. Jeff wrote:
‘This means expansion, which sounds all to the good, don’t you think, Tom? Unless you have some inside information about Italian internal conditions that might make the purchase inadvisable just now.’

Tom had no inside information. Did Jeff think him a genius? Yes. Tom knew he would agree to the purchase idea. Expansion, yes, as to hotels. The art school made most of its money from the hotel. The real Derwatt would cringe with shame.’