What has the royal family from the Gulf state of Qatar and an 85-year-old former builder from Eastbourne got in common?
Besides enjoying enviable hours of sunshine each year, both have the same painting on the wall of their very different homes.
Well, almost the same painting. The Qatari royals have a £160million Cezanne – the world’s most costly ever painting.
The pensioner, George Ridge, has a near perfect copy, painted by his own fair hand and a snip at around £159,999,950 cheaper than the original.
Mr Ridge, you see, has a talent for reproducing some of the greatest works of art ever seen and his home is more like a fantasy art gallery, full to bursting with classics from Van Gogh, Lowry and Rembrandt.
What they lack in a price tag though, the pieces more than make up for in time. “Some of the paintings can take months to finish,” Mr Ridge explained.
“Three months is not uncommon. It is not just a case of painting them, you have to build up layers and textures which takes time. Time can really fly by once you get painting.”
Remarkably, Mr Ridge is completely self-taught and only embraced his artistic side following retirement from the building trade.
Since then he has completed an array of copies, some of which hang in his home, some of which have been donated to charity to help raise funds. Some have been given to family and friends.
His home is stashed with countless other works of art behind the sofa in the delightfully kept home.
But Eastbourne’s very own renaissance man has resisted the temptations of cashing in on his copies. Instead, rather than profit from producing near perfect forgeries, he adds his own personal touches to the paintings.
“I love Lowry’s work,” he enthuses, “but whenever I copy one of his pieces I always add a man in military uniform and a woman pushing a push chair with a teddy bear in it.”
So, has the painting pensioner actually improved on some of the great works of the old masters? He wouldn’t like to say. But he admits he often prefers his versions.
Sadly, Mr Ridge has had to put a temporarily stop to his prodigious paintings because treatment for a heart condition has resulted in a less-than-steady hand. Not to be deterred however, he says if it does not improve he will simply learn to deal with it by adapting his painting style.
And perseverance is something he has in abundance. Before moving to Eastbourne Mr Ridge became the first person ever to sail a paper boat down the River Thames. And by sail, I mean he was aboard the boat – made from 500 copies of his then local paper the Oxford Mail.
“People laughed at me,” he admits. “They thought I was stupid to try it. Everytime I asked companies for sponsorship they laughed down the phone, but I made it.” Making it is perhaps an understatement. Mr Ridge sailed a mammoth 40 miles plus in the boat, named Paper Dream, raising thousands of pounds for his local hospice.
And, were it not for his health and his wife’s nerves, he would happily go one better.
“I did want to build a paper boat to cross the channel and I am convinced I would have made it, but I realise that isn’t possible now.
“I have always been creative and I get a lot out of art. Hopefully I will be able to paint again, I have a few unfinished pieces and a lot of works I want to try.”
His work may not be identical enough to make him millions as a master forger, but Mr Ridge manages to capture the essence of the originals while adding a touch of his trademark enthusiasm. His work – even his Lowry copies – shine with the same twinkle as Mr Ridge’s eyes. And they are all the better because of it.