Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Former forger John Myatt in his studio

Earlier this week I showed my version of a Van Gogh. That painting was never meant to fool, but some copies pass from "fake" to "forgery" when they are created with the intent to deceive.  I recently read the book Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. The book recounts what has been called the largest and most damaging contemporary art fraud ever perpetrated. In the late 1980's through the mid 1990's con man John Drewe (aka John Cockett among many other aliases) used impoverished artist John Myatt and a host of dealers, museums, art experts and collectors to execute a massive forgery scheme. Over the years, it is estimated that Myatt, initially unaware that Drewe was passing his work off as genuine, painted well over 200 pieces of art by such contemporary artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Roger Bissieres, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland.

John Myatt's version of Ben Nicholson

 Drewe was by all accounts a patient master manipulator who through means of elaborate deception inserted himself into the art inner circle and gained access to the vaunted archives of  the likes of the Tate Gallery and the Institute of Contemporary Art.Once inside, he mined these archives for possible information, letters, catalogs or ephemera. He would then twist this material into what would appear to most as legitimate and undeniable "provenance", the paper trail that legitimizes every work of art. He went to great lengths to do this including faking exhibit catalogs by inserting photos of Myatt's "masterpieces" into the actual pages. He also forged sales records and had Myatt create new art based on descriptions he found in log books and in letters.

One of Myatt's Fake Giacometti works

By the time Myatt was fully complicit in the fraud, he felt trapped, and needing the money, continued to turn a blind eye. The scheme finally unravelled when the forged provenance of arguably one of Myatt's best efforts, a "Giacometti", failed to pass muster with the gatekeepers of the Giacometti foundation. Ultimately, both Drewe and Myatt were convicted of fraud and served prison time but the damage was done and dozens of paintings and drawings persist in museum and private collections worldwide. Many still consider them genuine  because  nobody can prove that they are not the real thing. I found Provenance a fascinating account that is well worth the read.

More about John Myatt here
Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo

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