Holmes of Kyoto Vol 2 Chapter 2: In the Style of Las Meninas (Part 2)

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Chapter 2 Part 1 | Contents | Chapter 2 Part 3

His story went like this—

After being exposed by Owner, Yoneyama-san had a change of heart and gave himself in, properly redeeming himself for his crimes and completely washing his hands off that shady business.

After that, he went on to do honest work, with Owner’s assistance.

While Owner helped Yoneyama-san, he never hid the fact that he used to be a master counterfeiter from people around them.

Apparently, he explained that he did that because “not hiding anything allows you to live openly and boldly”, which indeed sounds like something Owner would say.

During that time, Yoneyama-san was invited to a party, where he had a reunion with the person he didn’t want to meet the most. That person was an old, rich man who lived in the Okazaki district, Mr. Takamiya.

“…It was when I was in my twenties. I sold one of my forgeries to this person.”

Yoneyama-san bashfully shrunk back again.

After hearing from his bad friend that “a wealthy old man called Takamiya lives in Okazaki, and he doesn’t have a good eye for paintings,” Yoneyama-san immediately produced a painting and brought it over.

Before that point, he had always only been creating the forgeries, and had never been involved in selling them.

However, at that time, he wanted to find out with his own eyes how a customer would react to his work. It was a counterfeit that he was confident in and satisfied with.

That was his first and only time he sold his own forgeries.

So that was a reunion with his first customer, and his only victim.

After hearing the story up to that point, Holmes-san folded his arms.

“…Whose painting did you imitate?”

“Vermeer.”

“A painter loved by forgers, huh.”

“What do you mean?” I tilted my head to the side.

“Vermeer was a 17th century painter from Holland, and was also known as ‘The Magician of Light’. His expertise in depicting the sensation of light is still admired by people around the world today. His most famous painting, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, of a young girl smiling slightly as she turns to the side, has been praised to be ‘Holland’s Mona Lisa’.

“Later on, Han van Meegeren, a genius forger in the 20th century, imitated Vermeer’s art to near perfection and caused a huge scandal when he was discovered1. Today, the forger Han van Meegeren’s name comes up whenever Vermeer’s name is mentioned.”

As usual, Holmes-san delivered a fluent answer. It seemed that he was still going strong.

“That’s Kiyotaka-kun for you.” Yoneyama-san smiled weakly.

“It’s just information that anyone in the industry would know of. By the way, I also know about Mr. Takamiya, and he’s a person who is quite well-informed about the field of art. In fact, I find it unbelievable that he was fooled into buying an ersatz Vermeer. Was the work that you imitated ‘The Concert’, by any chance?”

“—No, it was ‘The Guitar Player’.”

Holmes-san’s eyes developed a sharp gaze as the former forger gave his reply.”

“…I see. How shrewd of you.”

The two of them seemed to be communicating with just their eyes, but unable to understand what was going on, I was left with my mouth hanging open.

Sensing my confusion, Holmes-san turned to me and flashed a kind smile.

“Sorry. Vermeer’s ‘The Guitar Player’ is…”

He picked out a book from the shelf and flipped it open.

“This one.”

On the page was a picture with a young woman in a plain dress, holding a guitar that was slightly larger than a ukulele and grinning at someone, giving the picture an overall gentle atmosphere.

 “‘The Guitar Player’ was created in Vermeer’s later years, and since it has lower art quality, it’s worth less compared to other works.”

“Ah, is that why it’s easier to forge it?”

I nodded in understanding, but Yoneyama-san flashed a limp smile and shook his head.

“No, that’s not it?”

“Eh?”

“This painting was kept in Kenwood House, an art museum in England, but was stolen in 1974,” Holmes-san explained with a bitter expression on his face, causing me to lean forward in surprise.

“What? The painting was stolen?”

“Yes. However, it was found in two months and now still resides in Kenwood House.”

“Ah, so it returned. That’s good.”

“Yes. However, it wouldn’t be strange to think as follows: What if the returned painting was actually a fake produced to maintain appearances, and the real painting is still out there somewhere?”

Our eyes locked.

Holmes-san’s sharp gaze caused me to quickly swallow my breath.

It was a work that had been stolen once and returned to the museum.

In other words, the forgers tried to sell the imitations by saying, “The painting returned to the museum is a fake, created for the purpose of maintain appearances, and this one is the real deal.”

“Umm, what about ‘The Concert’ that Holmes-san mentioned earlier?”

“That one was also stolen. Unfortunately, its whereabouts are currently unknown.”

Holmes-san looked down, his eyes filled with disappointment.

…I see. At any rate, art museums sure get involved with many cases of theft. It’s like in manga and movies.

“The risk of forging ‘The Concert’ would be too high.”

“Indeed. And as I thought, you’re wily.”

“Oh, stop it, that’s all in the past now. Furthermore, the one who suggested it was that friend.”

“Yes, of course. I understand.”

The two of them exchanged looks and smiled.

“Umm, why is it riskier to forge ‘The Concert’?”

Feeling somewhat apologetic at being the only one being unable to understand, I asked quietly.

“Because if ‘The Concert’, a work which has been missing for quite some time suddenly reappears, it would probably be a news story that would shake the world. Even if you got the buyer to refrain from publicizing it, there is a chance that the real painting could appear later on. As such, it’s less risky to forge and sell a work that has already been stolen and returned. Moreover, the buyer wouldn’t loudly proclaim that they have the real deal, and would instead treat it quietly and carefully, so there wouldn’t be much chance of the forgery going public.”

“—I, I see.”

That was certainly true. If the artwork of the century suddenly reappears after being missing for such a long time, it would be at the top of the news. However, ‘The Guitar Player’, which had already been found and returned, would likely not be made public.

“A foxy one, isn’t he?”

Holmes-san looked at me as if wanting my agreement, but I stopped myself from nodding.

It was difficult to say, “Yes, exactly, he’s so foxy!” in front of Yoneyama-san.

“As usual, you’re incredibly incisive when it comes to forgeries, Kiyotaka-kun.”

Yoneyama-san’s eyes narrowed in mirth.

“So, how much did you sell your forgery to Takamiya-san for?”

Holmes-san straightened his posture and returned to the topic at hand. In response, Yoneyama-san raised one finger.

Eh? Could it possibly be one million? He sold it at such an exorbitant sum?

“One hundred million,” he casually answered.

“O-One million!” My high-pitched squeak resonated in the shop.

“…Taking into account that Vermeer’s early works have sold in auctions for over a billion dollars, for a later work that cannot be revealed to the public to fetch one hundred million… well, that’s an acceptable price.”

“A-Acceptable? That’s acceptable?”

“That’s only if it’s genuine. A forgery is not even worth one yen.”

Holmes-san asserted, as if to emphasize a point.

“As I thought, you’re sharp,” Yoneyama-san said with a chuckle, and shrugged.

“However, I’ll have to admit you did a great job getting that Takamiya-san to fork out a hundred million yen. He’s quite a worthy investor, so he must be astute, too. Was your friend’s sales talk that amazing?”

Seemingly unable to comprehend, Holmes-san placed a hand on his chin and studied Yoneyama-san.

“He did no such thing. All he did was show the painting and name the price.”

“…I see.”

“So, after viewing the painting for a while, Takamiya-san said he would buy it. The money arrived at a later date in the form of a check, but it was only for one million yen. It didn’t seem like he would pay the rest of the money, and we couldn’t push too far, so in the end the painting sold for a million yen.”

Yoneyama-san shrugged again, causing Holmes-san to say, “I see,” and laugh.

“Now this I can accept. Takamiya-san probably saw through you, but still paid a million yen. Perhaps he wanted to reward you for managing to deceive him, and also wanted to invest in your talent.”

Yoneyama-san let out a heavy breath as Holmes-san nodded.

“Exactly. I met Mr. Takamiya again at the party, but I couldn’t say anything. All I was able to do was stand there quavering with my head down, when he came over and said, ‘Thank you so much for The Guitar Player you sold me the other time’, with a kind smile on his face, as if he was completely harmless. I could feel my whole body being drenched in cold sweat.” Yoneyama-san apparently still felt fearful just by recalling that situation, for his face turned pale and he placed a hand on his forehead.

“I understand. My grandfather mentioned that the industry is filled with monsters. It’s frightening out there.”

My face twitched as Holmes-san nodded.

…He perfectly plays the role of monster himself, though.

“Takamiya-san then continued to tell me this.”

Yoneyama-san took another breath, then continued with his recount of what happened during that party.

***

After receiving “The Guitar Player” from Yoneyama-san, Takamiya-san immediately flew to England, for the sake of seeing the painting of the same name at Kenwood House.

After that, he knew without a shred of doubt that Yoneyama-san’s painting was counterfeit.

The clincher was that they were exactly the same.

Yoneyama-san’s painting had no difference from the painting on display at the art museum. Takamiya-san realized that he’d devoured the image, to the point that it was firmly imprinted on his mind, such that he was able to imitate it as if being possessed by Vermeer himself. Exactly as Holmes-san said, the one million yen that Takamiya-san gave was a reward for deceiving him, as well as to show respect towards Yoneyama-san’s skills that allowed him to copy the painting to such a fine degree.

(Between his confident words and Holmes-san’s compliments about him, Takamiya-san seemed to have pretty good judgment.)

After having told his story to that point, Yoneyama-san sighed deeply, probably remembering the relief he felt at that time.

“I was feeling relieved, but Mr. Takamiya said, ‘However, there is no changing the fact that you committed a crime on me. Now that we’ve reunited, I’d like you to compensate me.’”

“He wanted you to return the money?”

I asked instinctively, but Yoneyama-san shook his head.

“It would have been a simple matter if that was all. This is what he said…”

Takamiya-san’s request was…

“‘I would like you to fulfil a wish of mine. Do that and I’ll forgive you of your crime.”

Upon hearing those words from Takamiya-san, Holmes-san and I looked at each other.

—He wanted his wish to be fulfilled.

What exactly was it?

As that question swept over my head, Holmes-san nodded in comprehension.

“He wanted you to paint a picture, is that correct?”

“Exactly, and with certain conditions?”

“Conditions? He didn’t ask you to produce a forgery, did he?”

“No, he wanted me to paint in the style of Diego Velázquez.”

“—Diego Velázquez, huh.”

Holmes-san mused as he folded his hands on top of the counter.

As I was feeling lost from hearing the unfamiliar name of an artist, Holmes-san flipped through the pages of the art book that was still on the counter.

“Diego Velázquez was a painter in the court of the Spanish royal family, and was a maestro who represents the Spanish golden age in the 17th century. His famous works include ‘The Surrender of Breda’ and ‘Las Meninas’.”

The page he had flipped to contained the image of ‘The Surrender of Breda’.

In the picture, it seemed as though the battle was already over, for horses and infantry with their spears were appreciating each other for their efforts.

It was indeed a wonderful picture, showing that Velázquez was deserving of his title as maestro.

“‘The Surrender of Breda’ is a depiction of victory.”

—A depiction of victory.

In other words, it was a picture that captured the military victory of Spain.

“In paintings of victories, the general of the losing army would normally be kneeling on the ground, while the winning general looks down at him on a horse. However, in ‘The Surrender of Breda’, the winning and losing generals are standing on even ground, and have their hands placed on each other’s shoulders as a sign of appreciation for each other.”

After Holmes-san’s words, I looked at the picture again.

It looked as if soldiers of the same army were congratulating each other for their efforts, but the victorious general actually had a hand on the shoulder of the defeated general. The two of them gave off the feeling of comrades-in-arms.

“This painting shows the chivalry and spirit of the Spanish even in victory. Diego Velázquez is considered amazing not just because of his technique, but his ability to appeal to the heart in his paintings.”

Holmes-san said with a bright grin.

…Paintings that appeal to the heart.

Now that I’d listened to the explanation, I looked at “The Surrender of Breda” again.

Seeing those figures honoring one another made me feel a gush of respect for them.

As expected, it’s better to have knowledge when coming into contact with such artwork.

The only problem was that just looking at the painting wouldn’t allow one to understand the feelings and drama behind it.

That was what I earnestly thought.

“—So, you finished that painting, right?”

Holmes-san’s voice made me come to my senses and look up.

“Yeah, I finished it. As for the transaction, it’d be better in the presence of a third party who knew the situation, so the sensei said that he’d go with me.”

It certainly seemed like a good idea to have a third party who knew the situation.

Owner must have really cared about Yoneyama-san to offer to witness the transaction for him.

“But then after seeing the painting, he said, ‘I ain’t going to witness the transaction. Have Kiyotaka do it for ya.’”

Yoneyama-san continued with a bitter expression on his face.

“…And that’s why you came to me.”

“Only you can understand why sensei said that, Kiyotaka-kun. So how about it? Will you come with me?”

Yoneyama-san gave a deep bow, and Holmes-san took a small breath.

“—I see. Since my grandfather appointed me, I can’t refuse, but to be honest, I want to see what kind of picture you painted.”

“Ah, good.”

As if having lost his strength, Yoneyama-san placed a hand on his chest.

“Right, and it would be great if Aoi-san could come as well.” He looked at me, causing me to be surprised.

“Eh? Is it fine for me to go with you?”

“Yeah. Mr. Takamiya once lost his wife, son and his beloved grandson in an accident, and now he has only one living relative. If that grandson had survived, he would be around your age, so perhaps you’d help to soften the atmosphere.”

After hearing Yoneyama-san speak, Holmes-san nodded quietly.

“That might be true. So, Aoi-san, would you like to come with us, then?”

“Y-Yes! I’m happy to be able to accompany you.”

I was interested in the mystery behind Takamiya-san’s request, and I also wanted to see what Yoneyama-san painted.

On top of that, I was interested in why Owner appointed Holmes-san to go, even though it didn’t seem as if he’d thought the painting was bad.

Even though it might have seemed imprudent, I responded with a strong nod, feeling utterly excited.


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  1. Interestingly, officials believed that van Meegeren had sold a real Vermeer painting to the Nazis, so he confessed to the charge of falsification to get a much smaller punishment of a year in jail. However, he suffered from two heart attacks and died before the end of his sentence.

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