(written while listening to the CLUTCH soundtrack)
Women want him, men want to be him. He’s Thomas Crown—billionaire by day, art thief by night because, you know, stealing is fun. Just kidding, we here at RedDot do not condone theft of any sort. His art collection is all we aspire to, and while it appears to be chock full of blue chip impressionists (classic Wall Street collector move), we thought it would be fun to look at the pieces in his collection, to see what we can learn about Mr. Crown.
Art is, after all, the greatest reflection of one’s personality. Besides, when he orchestrates an elaborate plan to return the painting he stole while dressed as the subject of Magritte’s “Son of Man”, you know this guy's a joker, and that will probably shine through in the rest of his collection.
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!
I SUGGEST YOU STOP READING AND GO WATCH THE FILM!
AND SHAME ON YOU FOR NOT SEEING IT ALREADY.
Rene Magritte, Son of Man (1946)
On their first date, Catherine sees this painting and jokingly asks Crown: “Did you have to sit long for the artist?”
One of the most recognizable works of art in modern art history, Son of Man always reminds me of Robin Williams' music video in Toys, but I digress. Here’s what the artist says:
“The apple, hiding the visible, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.”
Ha! So Crown pays homage to this work in the elaborately choreographed museum chase at the end of the film, during which he is dressed as the faceless businessman in the bowler hat. With the assistance of hundreds of actors in identical outfits, he leads the police on a wild goose chase while attempting to return the stolen Monet. Jokes on everyone, though, seeing as the stolen painting was painted over with a Pissarro forgery (see below) and loaned to the museum by the ever philanthropic Thomas Crown as a placeholder for the stolen work.
Camille Pissarro, 'The Artist's Garden at Eragny' (1898)
Loaned by Crown to the Museum as a placeholder for the stolen Monet.
Pissarro’s work is known to celebrate the here and now, paintings every day scenes, like this one, of his own garden. Most impressionists painted the middle and upper classes but Pissarro was always sympathetic to ordinary working people like the woman depicted here. At its unveiling, everyone is so impressed with what turns out to be a forgery. Is Crown poking fun at the Met experts/trustees—i.e. the elitist art world—with this faux Pissarro?
Vincent Van Gogh, Noon: Rest from Work (after Millet)(1890)
Crown’s self proclaimed favorite work serves as his alibi. Crown shows zero interest in the blockbuster Monet, the subject of the film, focusing only on his “Haystacks” when a guard suggests he take notice of the Monet. Is Crown simply establishing his alibi for the crime he is about to commit? Or has he succeeded in developing his artistic tastes past the point of “buying with his ears” as many wealthy collectors are inclined to do. It’s not their fault, though. Art can be a status symbol, so why wouldn’t a wealthy bachelor want the most talked about painting in the museum. Turns out he does, but his motivations are surprising.
Claude Monet, San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight (1908)
“It’s worth a hundred million bucks,” says a teacher to her bored class on field trip in the film. Immediately they come to attention. Even our kids are blinded by dollar signs.
The $100 million star of The Thomas Crown Affair, “San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight” by Monet actually exists in more than one version and depicts the the monastery/island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Like many works by Monet, this one is indicative of the artist’s exploration of light. Monet, however, considered these works souvenirs of his trip to Venice. So how did this work become the subject of the film? The colors and the light are extraordinary, to be sure, but maybe this piece represents Crown’s own obsession with souvenirs. He could easily buy many of these works, but his art thefts are trophies, and eventually we watch him bore of the chase. Or maybe it’s just because Monet sounds like “money”…
Christian Vincent, Certain Uncertainties (1997)
Christian Vincent is not nearly as famous as the other artists in the Crown collection, which may be a nod to Crown’s varied aesthetic and a desire to collect mid-level artists. Personally, I think this work was included to allude to Catherine’s slow gain of power over Crown, as evidenced by a strong highlighted female subject with a smaller dark male figure behind. After all, we only catch a glimpse of this painting during the Catherine/Thomas Crown sex scene.
C.M. Coolidge, "Poker Sympathy"
The “ghost” painting under the forged Monet found in Crown’s house. Upon realizing the forgery, Catherine utters what could be the best line of the film: “Where is he? Where is that sack of shit right now?!”
Everyone knows Dogs Playing Poker, right? Hardly a serious work, this piece is actually one of a series of nine paintings the artist did of this subject. It was originally painted to advertise cigars but has been reproduced excessively in pop culture (hence why you probably recognize it). Again, we see Crown play tricks with his artwork, infuriating those in his hot pursuit. Although maybe he should have held on to this one: another similar work of dogs playing poker actually sold at Sotheby’s for $658,000....
Edouard Manet, "The Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil (1874)
The painting chosen as Catherine's favorite—eventually stolen at the end of the film, but we never find out how…
While a remarkable example of plein-air Impressionism (the act of painting outside where a painter reproduces the actual visual conditions seen at the time of the painting), this piece does not seem to reflect anything about Crown, or Catherine, for that matter, who chooses it when asked by Crown which she would steal for herself. Catherine is a complex character, who is incredibly bright albeit guarded. Perhaps this “just ok” selection (sorry Edouard) speaks to her yearning for a simpler life with less drama and emotional baggage. A life Crown too discovers he’d be content with. In therapy, Crown admits that “a woman could trust me, as long as her interests did not run too contrary to my own.” Crown’s theft of “The Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil” is an offering, proof to Catherine that he can and will align his interests with hers.
What it comes down to is that this movie, with all its priceless artworks, isn’t about the money at all. What starts as a cat and mouse game between a wealthy M&A magnate and a globetrotting, effortlessly chic insurance investigator, turns into a story of self-realization for both of them, and the artwork is certainly reflective of that. The buying lesson we learn here is that Crown's collection is a expression of his character, as should yours be of you. He collects what he loves, not what he's told to love. So go do the same with your collection.