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‘The Age of Innocence’ (PG)

By Jo Ann Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 31, 1993

From the moment Newland Archer begins making his way toward the ballroom of the Beauforts' lavish Fifth Avenue mansion -- past the Bouguereau nude and the Turner seascape and the opulent Tissots brimming with elegantly clad Victorians -- it is clear that the paintings in Martin Scorsese's film "The Age of Innocence" are no run-of-the-mill props.

The first shock of recognition comes early in the film at the upper Fifth Avenue mansion of the corpulent dog fancier Mrs. Manson Mingott. Hanging in the stairwell is a very large, very familiar painting -- an icon, in fact, of American art. What is this masterpiece by American painter-inventor Samuel F.B. Morse, titled "Gallery of the Louvre," doing in a Scorsese film? Has the Terra Museum, which bought the painting a decade ago for $3.25 million, begun renting out its treasures to the movies?

And where, come to think of it, did Scorsese get all those other seemingly authentic but not-quite-identifiable portraits and landscapes and genre scenes by nameless 19th-century European Orientalists and Barbizon painters that fill the homes of the high-society characters in the film?

The credits gave not a clue, except to list Christie's as "Select Artwork Consultants." Inquiries there led to Robin Standefer, 29, the film's visual resources consultant, who spent two years tracking down the most appropriate paintings for the film, many of them through the New York Historical Society and Christie's. They were just months away from shooting when Scorsese and production designer Dante Ferretti finally finished culling the hundreds of possibilities down to 200.

"Then I had to find somebody to make 200 paintings fast," said Standefer. "And because of the close-ups, they had to look good. Original copies were out: they would have cost a fortune, and taken forever.

"I didn't know how it could be done," she said, until a friend suggested Troubetzkoy Paintings Ltd., a small business in New York, Connecticut and Paris, that makes high-quality reproductions of paintings -- mostly for decorators, hotels and private auction-house clients who want to keep a souvenir of a painting they're about to sell, or, in some cases, conceal the fact that they're selling it.

Christopher Moore, 36, president of the American operation, says the Troubetzkoy process is a trade secret, but that it involves transferring an enlarged 8-by-10-inch color transparency onto canvas, and then adding 25 hours worth of real brushwork with acrylic paint.

Headquartered now in a cluttered second-floor Manhattan showroom on East 60th Street, Troubetzkoy Paintings began in Paris in 1978 and opened in the United States, in Haddam, Conn., in 1986. "My partner's father, Igor Troubetzkoy, was a Russian prince, the seventh husband of Barbara Hutton," says Moore in his heavy French accent. "After he went back to France, every time he sold one of his paintings by Matisse or Sam Francis or Picasso, he felt terrible about it, and tried to copy it. His son Arnaud and I were in business school in Paris, and we worked out the technique. Now, we're known in Europe as the people to see for high-quality replicas at affordable prices."

To do the painting, says Moore, they employ a crew of three artists in Connecticut and six more in Paris -- all French, and all trained as art restorers. "And all women," adds Moore. "We've found that men have too much ego: They want to do their own thing." His wife, he says, did most of the paintings in "The Age of Innocence."

"Scorsese and Dante were very difficult and meticulous, so we had to work like dogs," he says. "It was a very interesting project, but very demanding in the quality and detail. Sometimes we had to redo finishes, matte or gloss, depending on the lighting. But when you see the movie, you know why."

Moore says his company was paid $200,000 to produce the 200 "custom paintings" in the film -- his biggest single job to date.

"We deserved it," he says. "They found us in February, and they were starting to shoot in April. The first order was for 85 paintings in a month and a half -- and we did it, including the frames... . It was a nightmare."

He was subsequently asked to make 15 sporting paintings for another Columbia film, "Wolf," directed by Mike Nichols, who, according to Moore, liked the paintings so much that he took them home to hang in his home in Connecticut.

"Many famous people have our paintings, but we can't talk about it," he says. "Our paintings are featured often in Architectural Digest, but we get no credit because people think they're originals." Arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, and designer Arnold Scaasi are known to own "custom paintings" by Troubetzkoy, as does Moore's neighbor, writer Dominick Dunne, who has several works, a faux Winslow Homer among them.

Troubetzkoy has even done a copy of one of the most famous paintings in Washington: a full-scale reproduction of Renoir's "Boating Party," the original of which hangs at the Phillips Collection. His copy was commissioned for the historic site in France where the original painting was made.

"Most people never know the difference," says Moore, who guarantees Troubetzkoy paintings to be indistinguishable from the originals at a distance of five feet. And to prove his point, he had a large N.C. Wyeth painting perched in his showroom, next to the copy Troubetzkoy had recently made. There were slight differences, inevitably, in the brush strokes, but he's right: from five feet away, if you weren't intimate with the original, you probably wouldn't know it's a copy.

Prices depend on size, starting at $400 for a small painting, and topping out at $5,900 for a large one. "The most expensive paintings we made for 'Innocence' were the two huge Tissots that hung in the Beaufort Ballroom," says Moore. "They cost more -- $10,000 apiece -- including the museum-quality frames."

Moore says he has the right to copy any painting done by an artist dead 50 years -- slightly longer in France -- and can do so providing a good transparency is available. He's published a catalogue with hundreds of such paintings, most of them somewhat obscure works that hang in various museums. Once a year, he and his artists travel to Swiss bank vaults to make copies of paintings that have become too valuable to hang and too expensive to insure.

" 'Innocence' was a big, fast production," says Moore. Because of budget and time constraints, "we had to make shortcuts, and they don't all have the stamp of Troubetzkoy on them."

But that doesn't seem to have bothered anyone else. At the premiere of the film, a benefit for the New York Historical Society, three of the lesser paintings were auctioned for $4,000. The buyer: the restaurant Planet Hollywood.

The rest of the paintings are being retained by Columbia Pictures, and the copy of the Bouguereau nude is said to be reserved for the executive offices. Some may also be used in the Sony Building on Madison Avenue, which is now undergoing renovation as a showcase for Sony Entertainment, parent company of Columbia Pictures.

Moore is still a bit miffed that he received no credit, either in the film or in the new coffee table book about the movie by Scorsese and Jay Cocks in which his paintings also play a major role.

"There is no sentiment in the film business," concludes Moore. "After a year, I sent flowers to thank them for the business, but they never responded. No one else could have done what we did, and we could have charged twice as much. But we get no credit because we were paid. I guess that's America."

Copyright The Washington Post

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