In the movie The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), at the end we see that Mr Crown has actually returned the Monet:San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk he stole from the gallery within a few days of the theft. The painting was hidden as a water color forging of one of Camille Pissaro's paintings, which he gave as a loan untill they found the Monet.

frames from the movie

My Question: How was it possible that the gallery owners and the painting experts weren't able to see that it was a fake (given their knowledge and experience in such fields and the position they held in this plot)? Knowing most of Pissaro's paintings are based on oil.Source

Twelve oil paintings date from his stay in Upper Norwood and are listed and illustrated in the catalogue raisonné prepared jointly by his fifth child Ludovic-Rodolphe Pissarro and Lionello Venturi and published in 1939

For the sake of the plot my guess would be: They (the gallery owners) were so overjoyed that Mr Crown gave a painting to the gallery as a loan from his private collection, that they presumed checking it would demean the favor and might seem harsh too. Please do fill me in if I am missing something here.

2 Answers 2


I have BFA in painting and have worked professionally (commercially) with paintings executed between the 16th and early 20th centuries for about 25 years.

It is not plausible. Even under glass, it would be impossible for anyone with even modest experience to mistake a watercolor for an oil painting.

HOWEVER, my experience in a commercial setting indicates that there are a large number of people who bring in faded posters (e.g. printed on a CMYK offset press) of famous paintings they would like to sell, where they cannot distinguish the difference between an image depicting brushstrokes and actual brushstrokes.

So is it plausible? No. Are enough people inexperienced enough to accept the conceit in a movie? Absolutely. Does this make that plot point problematic? Not really.

  • I do second you on all your points but the last one. This does make the plot go kind of haywire. The entire plot is actually based on this assumption that Mr Crown did give back the Monet, but later using theatrics he was able to reveal it by the water from the sprinklers. Now for the men holding high positions in such a gallery, was it possible to miss that in the first place when it was loaned? Dec 13, 2017 at 16:37
  • Could you please give me some reference as to how exactly such loans are made? how does it work? and whether while accepting a masterpiece as a loan, the art work is checked for authentication? that would help me get my answer actually that it was plot device flaw. Dec 13, 2017 at 16:44
  • 1
    Not everyone in a high position is qualified, but I would probably be able to tell at arms length (if not further), and if I had any question, even a cursory close inspection would be obvious. Even if the painting used watercolors (gouache etc) with enough body to imitate the 3D nature of the brush work, it would still be obvious as the materials are different.
    – Yorik
    Dec 13, 2017 at 16:45
  • A very large majority of items in museums are from private collections. Many of those private collections are even curated in part by museum staff: part of a curator's job is often to establish relationships with art collectors. A large portion of new acquisitions are straight from these collections, with the rest being presented by the curator to a purchasing committee that will generally ask these donors and collectors to buy the items for them.
    – Yorik
    Dec 13, 2017 at 16:50
  • I don't work in a museum setting but we have dealt with a lot with museums and have placed work in a large number of them and an even larger number indirectly via our clients gifting to museums. I do not think they give a complete "conservation workup," for short-term loaned items (e.g. traveling special exhibitions), but for long-term loans and permanent collections, they certainly do. The majority of works in traveling exhibitions are privately owned, but are curated by experts.
    – Yorik
    Dec 13, 2017 at 17:02

It's never labelled a water color. I assume it was made with water-based paints, which are not the same as watercolor paints. Watercolor paint is much closer to ink in that you are more-or-less staining the canvas/paper. You'd never be able to paint with watercolors over top of something else (not without the something else showing through, anyway).

Water based paints (it might have been e.g. acrylic) can be much thicker; plus, it's not implausible that Crown/Anna would have used special paint for this case. In fact, given that he presumably knew it needed to dissolve when wet, I would expect it was something non-standard. (Note that the paint likely would have been obtained prior to the original heist.)

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