Back in the late 1970s to early 1980s, I read a short story about an artist and a forger. Between the two of them, they managed to start a revolution that brought down a corrupt dictatorship.

It was science fiction:

  1. The dictatorship was interplanetary, maybe interstellar.

  2. The artist used some kind of advanced technology to make his art works.


The artist is one of the best (if not the best) at what he does. The dictator wants the artist to make what amounts to a family portrait in whatever medium it is he works in. Think of it like painting - you create the image manually (not a photograph) but it is much more than just a flat image.

The artist doesn't like the dictator - maybe on general principles, maybe because he knows the dictator personally - and refuses to make the "portrait."

The dictator has the artist arrested, and will only let the artist free again if he makes the portrait.

The artists makes the portrait. He does the work while in the prison or jail. That's where the forger comes into things. The forger is also in jail for something or other.

The forger makes copies of art works. He of course recognizes the artist, and knows what the artist works with. The forger can somehow see what the artist is working on.

The artist finishes the portrait. At first the dictator is thrilled. It looks exactly the way he wanted it.

As time goes by, though, the people looking at the picture see that it represents the vileness and corruption of the dictator. The more you look at it, the more of the evilness of the dictator you see in it. That is the genius of the artist, and whatever medium he is using. Once you notice the hidden levels of the portrait, you can't unsee them and you see more and more of it as you look. I think the effect carries over into reality as well. Once you've seen the dictator's corruption in the portrait you also begin to see it in the dictator and his works as well.

This of course seriously pisses off the dictator, who has the artist killed and the portrait destroyed.

While in prison, the forger watched as the artist created his masterpiece, and recognized it for the subversive thing it is. He also recognized it as the ultimate rebellion from the artist - the artist knows what will be seen, and that he will be killed for it.

All of that inspires the forger to do something more meaningful with his life than make forgeries for the money.

The forger is released from prison. He saw the completed portrait, and knows how it was made. He begins making forgeries of the portrait - like, hundreds if not thousands of them. These are distrubuted throughout the nation/empire. The people realize what evil is controlling them once they see it in the copies of the portrait, and eventually a revolution rises and brings down the dictatorship.

It was probably older than the 1970s. I expect earlier than 1960.

Any ideas?

  • @user14111: Short story.
    – JRE
    Apr 11, 2018 at 20:44
  • Could the portrait have been made as holographic light scupture? Seen from the normal front angle it looks Good, but as you move around it the evil and corruption you describe can slowly be seen.
    – NJohnny
    Apr 11, 2018 at 22:13
  • I remember reading this. I think it might have been in one of Isaac Asimov's "Great Stories" anthologies.
    – LSerni
    Apr 11, 2018 at 22:24
  • @NJohnny: I don't know. I really don't remember what the medium was for the portrait. Only that it was done without photography - the forger could recreate it from memory. If it were photo based, he would have had a much harder time making copies.
    – JRE
    Apr 11, 2018 at 22:46

1 Answer 1


The Portrait of Baron Negay by Barry B. Longyear, 1981. I have this in Asimov's magazine June '81.

The story begins with Tomasi the forger selling a painting to Negay.

"I assure you that this painting is as genuine as the others that have been authenticated since the fire." Tomasi nodded. I know; I forged those, too.

The Baron decides to hold Tomasi until the painting is determined to be genuine; he puts Tomasi in a cell with Balum, the court mind-painter, to assist Balum in painting a portrait of the Baron.

The two collaborate and create a multi-layered painting of the Baron.

Layer by layer Tomasi had worked the gel. Balum himself had assembled the layers.

The portrait looks normal (but makes viewers uneasy) until examined under a light array. Each revealed layer shows a grotesque version of the Baron.

Tomasi is freed, taking with him sketches of the painting.

Balum closed his eyed and nodded."I suppose I am to become the latest victim to be exploited by the great forger Tomasi."

"You know Peter will examine the painting with the light array, and what will happen afterwards."


"Balum, the sole work of a great artist should bring a good price"..."It may even bring a bloody empire to its knees."

Tomasi made over 1400 copies of the portrait. He inscribed each copy "For Balum."

  • 1
    Perfect. That's it. Thank you.
    – JRE
    Apr 12, 2018 at 11:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.