Pierre Grassou de Fougères is a mediocre painter who lives off painting forgeries commissioned by an old swindler and art-dealer named Elias Magus. Grassou paints forgeries of works by Titian, Raphael, and other famous artists. Magus resells these forgeries for a large profit to members of the Petite bourgeoisie who are incapable of appreciating good art. Monsieur Vervelle, a prosperous bottle-dealer obsessed with art, is introduced to Grassou by Magus, who introduces the painter as a grand master. Vervelle and his wife are enchanted with Grassou and believe he would make a good match for their daughter Virginie.