A mysterious French nobleman arrives at Ekaterina Tuomonova's gallery in Chelsea, London, in search of an expert in early 20th century Post Impressionist art. Olivier de la Salle proposes a visit to his château in Provence, in the South of France, where he needs help in identifying paintings long forgotten in the recesses of his château.
The story explores the world of art and art dealers with their immensely rich clients, collectors and oligarchs, crooks and forgers, auction houses and museums, and the vast sums of money that art generates today.
We’ve probably met before, I told you my story of meeting Ekaterina at the Pushkin. That’s right I’m John Francis. Our family has grown, Alena now has a brother, William, named after my father, Will has two middle names, Wassily after Ekaterina’s father, and Viktor after Alena’s father.
He’s just six months old and his nurse. Deidre, a young live-in London-Irish girl, cares for him weekdays and weekends when necessary. I have to admit that whilst I’m filled with pride at being a father I’m a bit puzzled by babies, I wasn’t prepared for him, I mean he came so very late in my life.
Alena is a wonderful presence, she’s now ten years old and seems to spend her life dancing and doing cartwheels. I had never imaged what a joy it could be to watch a child growing up, full of the exuberance of life, sure of herself, at the same time aware of who was watching and playing to her audience.
She now spoke near perfect English with from time to time a fault in pronunciation, or a Russian word creeping into her speech. At school she excels in dance and music.
Ekaterina is now absorbed by her family and the gallery and at moments I feel a little lost in this strange environment of managing a home and business.
The foundation runs itself, I am a figurehead so to speak, a fairly busy one. I suppose it’s better than being just a decoration.
That said, it would be one of those weekends when I was an accessory. There was the exhibition about to be held at our Tuomanova Gallery, that’s situated close to Chelsea Harbour, which would occupy Ekaterina full time. Alena had an astonishingly full programme of activities, that left William and myself at home. There wasn’t very much I could do with William, I mean it wasn’t as if I could play with a six month old baby.
It was late Thursday afternoon and the gallery was about to close. I had passed by to take a look at the final preparations for Ekaterina’s exhibition ‘New Names’. She was presenting, in partnership with a Moscow gallery, a new generation of Russian painters, including one whose paintings I liked very much, Sergei Nekrasov, a young painter from the Chelyabinsk region.
We were expecting a lot of expat Russians, including a few big names, at the invitation only vernissage on Friday evening, along with a crowd of art world and showbiz personalities with a number of well-known collectors and of course the press and paparazzi on the lookout for a celebrity scoop.
It was looking good, especially after a stressful ten days when several of the exhibits had gotten caught up in customs formalities at Heathrow.
I was admiring one painting I liked of a young red-headed girl when Jessica, one of Ekaterina’s assistants, caught my eye and made a discreet sign, beckoning me over to a corner.