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For further reading:


The Forger's Spell
by Edward Dolnick


The Art Forger's

by Eric Hebborn


False Impressions
by Thomas Hoving


by Laney Salisbury
& Aly Sujo


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amarna princess getty kouros boston throne etruscan warriors brooklyn coptic collection shroud of turin durer self portrait mona lisa rospigliosi emmaus adulteress myatt

amarna princess Amarna Princess, Shaun Greenhalgh

by Brian Williams

Click on images to enlarge.

Sometimes art forgery is a family affair. This supposedly ancient statue, named the Amarna Princess, is now known to have been created by art forger Shaun Greenhalgh (1) and his family. In 2003, they sold the statue to the Bolton Museum (2) in Lancashire, UK for £440,000.

The statue is carved in the artistic style of the Amarna period (3), the brief era in ancient Egyptian history—around 1350 B.C.E.—when pharaohs Akhenaten and Tutankhamen ruled. It bears close resemblance to other Amarna statues at the Louvre (4) and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. If the statue were authentic, it would have been only one of three known examples of this particular kind of sculpture, and one of the oldest artifacts in the Bolton Museum's collection.

Greenhalgh, 51, is an art and antiques dealer and uses his knowledge of the auction industry to perpetrate his crimes. In the case of the Amarna Princess, Greenhalgh got a hold of an auction catalogue for the 1892 sale of the property and inherited art collection of the Earl of Egremont. The catalogue's entries were suitably vague, with descriptions such as "a draped figure of a female, five marble statuettes and eight Egyptian figures" (5). Greenhalgh would be able to create any number of forgeries matching this general description without being tripped up by a crucial detail. Moreover, the catalogue itself would be a highly convincing provenance. So Greenhalgh set about carving an ancient Egyptian statue. He said it took him three weeks "using basic DIY tools and making it look old by coating it in a mixture of tea and clay."

louvre amarna princess When the statue was ready, Greenhalgh's father, George, approached the Bolton Museum in order to broker a sale. He told the museum the statue was purchased by his great-grandfather at the 1892 Egremont auction. The elder Greenhalgh presented the museum with the auction catalogue entry as well as a number of letters his son forged that claimed the statue had been in the family's possession ever since.

Before purchasing the artifact, the museum sought the opinions of Christie's auction house and the British Museum. Both Christie's and the British Museum confirmed the statue's authenticity, although their opinions were largely influenced by the provenance rather than any kind of scientific inquiry into the age of the piece itself. Both institutions referenced the Louvre and Penn Museum Amarna princess statues in their assessment, judging the English statue to be comparable in style and quality, and going as far as saying that "the statuette is the most impressive example of its kind in the world." So in 2003, the Bolton Museum purchased it from George Greenhalgh for £440,000, using grant money from Britain's National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. The Bolton Museum displayed the Amarna Princess for three years.

The Greenhalghs got away with the Bolton scam, but they were caught in 2005 (6) when they tried a similar approach with the British Museum. Using the same auction story, George Greenhalgh tried to sell the museum an Assyrian stone frieze. But under close inspection, museum officials noticed some inconsistencies in the Assyrian artifact; most notably, a misspelled passage of cuneiform script. They contacted Scotland Yard's arts and antiques unit.

Scotland Yard opened an investigation into the Greenhalghs (7), and were shocked by what they found. The Greenhalghs' apartment was filled with forgeries created from ancient materials—Roman silver, Egyptian glass, black limestone, sandstone, marble, and gold—as well as fake paintings and falsified documents. Scotland Yard seized 20 fakes from their home, but estimate that approximately 100 may have made it into the art market. The seized objects, if they had been sold, would have earned the Greenhalghs £10 million.

On November 17, 2007, Shaun Greenhalgh was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison. His mother, Olive, was given a 12-month suspended sentence, and his father, George, was given a 2-year suspended sentence. They each admitted to defrauding museums and auction houses, including Christie's, Southeby's, the British Museum, the Tate Modern Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago, over the course of the previous 18 years. The family was ordered to pay the Bolton Museum £363,000 for the Amarna Princess scam.

The Amarna Princess, confiscated by Scotland Yard in the midst of their investigation of the Greenhalghs, is back at the museum that first displayed it, but this time it is part of the Scotland Yard exhibition Fakes and Forgeries (8), on view at the Bolton Museum from April 16 to July 2, 2011.

More articles:
The Bolton News: Fears of Bolton's master forger in TV spotlight (9)
The Guardian: 'Artful Codger', 84, faces jail for fencing hoax art (10)
Here is a list of Shaun Greenhalgh's known forgeries (11)

1, 2: Retrieved on March 21, 2011
3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11: Retrieved on March 22, 2011

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getty kouros Statue of a Kouros, Unknown

by Brian Williams

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This kouros was purchased by the Getty Museum (1) in 1985 and its authenticity has been questioned ever since. The statue's label in the gallery reads "Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery." The provenance (2), or paper trail of the statue's ownership history, is also suspect and there are no reliable facts about the statue's history before 1983. Nobody has been able to determine where or how it was originally discovered.

The statue and its provenance were presented to the Getty's Board of Directors by the antiquities curator, Jiri Frel, in 1983. Frel was not able to explain why the statue, though complete, was in pieces even though it had presumably been in the art collection of a Swiss doctor since the 1930s.

getty kouros While the Getty was considering the purchase, they invited Greek antiquities experts to study the kouros. Three experts - art historian Frederico Zeri, Greek sculpture expert Evelyn Harrison, and Thomas Hoving, former director of the Met - all believe the statue is a forgery. The statue comprises a mixture of archaic styles - which is not uncommon among Greek kouroi - but the style of the head is one hundred years older than the feet. If the statue is authentic, this divergence in style is unprecedented in the history of Greek kouroi.

Scientific tests have determined that the marble is covered in calcite, which normally happens slowly and naturally over hundreds of years through a process called "dedolomitization" (3). Recent tests have proven, though, that his process can be synthesized in a lab.

The Getty went ahead with the purchase anyway. By then, antiquities curator Jiri Frel had been fired for tax fraud; he had been inflating the value of artifacts donated to the Museum so the donors could claim larger tax deductions. He also acquired a number of other objects for the museum's collection that had turned out to be fakes.

It was after the Getty purchased the sculpture that its provenance was proven to be false. A bank account in one document dated 1955 was not opened until 1963, and another had a postal code that didn't exist until 20 years after it was supposedly written.

Hoving asked the Getty for permission to publish a photo of the kouros in his book False Impressions, but they refused, so he used an artist's drawing of the statue instead.

References: False Impressions by Thomas Hoving

1, 2, 3: Retrieved December 15, 2008.

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boston throne The Boston Throne, Unknown

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warriors Etruscan Terracotta Warriors, Pio & Alfonso Ricardi

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brooklyn coptic collection The Coptic Collection, The Brooklyn Museum of Art

by Brian Williams

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In 2008, the Brooklyn Museum announced that 10 pieces in its Coptic art collection are fake. The phonies had been part of the museum's collection since they were purchased in the 1960s and '70s, and the experts speculate they were at the time no more than 10 to 20 years old. Authentic Coptic art dates from the early Christian Era in Egypt, about 1,300 years ago.

A few experts doubted their authenticity from the beginning, but the museum exhibited them anyway. "There were a couple that are too good to be true and a few that are so bad that I can't believe anyone took them seriously," said Dr. Edna Russman, a museum curator who suspected they were forgeries for years. At the time, the museum staff were afraid to admit they had acquired fakes, but their recent actions have shown a change in the way the museum addresses the mistakes of its past. "One of our goals is to be an educational institution," said Kevin Stayton, the museum's chief curator. In fact, the forgeries were exhibited next to authentic pieces in an exhibition, "Coptic Sculpture in the Brooklyn Museum," which opened February 13, 2009.

The Brooklyn Museum is hoping that other institutions will learn from this lesson and re-evaluate their own Coptic art collections, particularly objects that were acquired at the same time and from the same antiquities dealers who sold the forgeries to Brooklyn. The museum bought the fakes - as well as several genuine objects - from dealers in Switzerland and New York.

More articles:
The Brooklyn Paper: FAKE! But bogus art show will go on
The Art Newspaper: Revealed: one third of Brooklyn Museum's Coptic collection is fake
The Independent: NY Museum admits third of its Coptic art is fake

Links: Retrieved January 30, 2009.

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shroud of turin Shroud of Turin, Jesus?

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durer self portrait Self Portrait, Wolfgang Küffner

by Brian Williams

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In 1799, artist Wolfgang Küffner borrowed this famous self-portrait by Durer from the Nuremburg Town Hall, which had been exhibiting the painting for more than 200 years. The self portrait was painted on a wood panel about a half-inch thick. Küffner sawed the panel in half, parallel to the picture plane, so that the front of the original painting was now separate from the back, which had a number of seals and identification marks attached to it. He painted a copy on the back panel and returned that one to the Nuremburg town hall, selling the original to a collector.

It wasn't until a new owner of the original painting put it up for public display that the city of Nuremburg noticed Durer's self portrait was in two places at once.

The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick

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mona lisa Mona Lisa (La Gioconda), Yves Chaudron

by Brian Williams

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Many copies of Leonardo's most famous portrait have been created over the centuries, and at least six of them are attributed to famed art forger Yves Chaudron (1). He was allegedly involved in the famous 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa.

When Vincenzo Peruggia was arrested in 1913 for stealing the Mona Lisa, he at first said he was motivated by patriotism; he believed the painting belonged in Italy. But years after his trial, a story surfaced that revealed the plot was masterminded by Eduardo de Valfierno, (2) an Argentine con man who called himself "The Marques." According to journalist Karl Decker's 1932 article about the theft, de Valfierno hired Peruggia to steal the painting after he had lined up six buyers who each believed was purchasing the original Mona Lisa but in fact was receiving a forgery painted by Chaudron.

Decker's story could not be confirmed; he said he promised de Valfierno he wouldn't publish the story until after de Valfierno's death.

None of Chaudron's Mona Lisa forgeries - if they in fact exist - have surfaced. Rumors have persisted throughout the 20th Century that the painting recovered in 1913 and reinstalled in the Louvre is a copy, but Louvre historians have concluded that it is Leonardo's 1503 original.

For more information about the Peruggia theft, visit the Stolen Gallery.

1, 2: Retrieved February 8, 2009.

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rospigliosi cup Rospigliosi Cup, probably Reinhold Vasters

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van meegeren christ at emmaus Christ at Emmaus, Han van Meegeren

by Brian Williams

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Han van Meegeren (1) was perhaps the most famous art forger of the 20th Century. His forgeries - created in the 1930s and '40s and marketed as original paintings by the 17th Century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer (2) - ended up in the collections of museums such as the Rijksmuseum (3) and the Museum Boijmans (4) in the Netherlands. Only a small number of experts questioned their authenticity until Van Meegeren was arrested and confessed. What is remarkable about Van Meegeren's forgeries is that they are nowhere near as technically proficient as the paintings of Vermeer. Still, Van Meegeren successfully fooled the foremost art historians of the day, notably Vermeer expert Dr. Abraham Bredius (5).

Although Van Meegeren made millions off his forgeries and was living in luxury while most of his Dutch countrymen suffered through World War II, he was initially motivated to produce forgeries to seek revenge against the art industry. His own artwork, though commercially successful, was denounced by art critics as sentimental and kitschy (6). His own artistic style shows glaringly through his Vermeer forgeries - they look more like Van Meegerens than Vermeers. To confirm the authenticity of the paintings, some experts required no proof other than "Vermeer's" signature, which Van Meegeren had meticulously copied from the Dutch master's paintings.

Van Meegeren wisely executed his scam at a time when Vermeer was in high demand. Vermeer's paintings are exceptionally rare - only 35 or so have been conclusively attributed to him - and museums, dealers, and collectors were desperate to acquire a Vermeer for their collections. Their desperation clouded their judgment and in a few instances, the endorsement of just one expert was enough to convince the others to blindly and wholeheartedly agree. So Van Meegeren set his sights on Bredius, the best-known Vermeer expert, when he needed an endorsement for his first forgery, Christ at Emmaus. Bredius had published an article speculating that somewhere there is a yet-to-be-discovered Vermeer that links's his early style - religious scenes thought to be influenced by Italian Baroque artists such as Caravaggio (7) - with his more numerous and well-known later paintings of interior scenes of domestic life. In Christ at Emmaus, Van Meegeren gave Bredius exactly what he was looking for. Bredius immediately took the credit for discovering what he belived was the painting that linked Vermeer's early and late styles.

Van Meegeren also knew that is paintings would have to withstand scientific scrutiny. He needed to convince experts that is paintings were hundreds of years old. Oil paint hardens as it ages, and his newly-painted canvases would not be hard enough to pass the alcohol test: swabbing a painting with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol will remove paint from a new canvas, but will have no effect on paintings as old as Vermeer's. So Van Meegeren mixed his pigments in bakelite - an early form of plastic - which would withstand the alcohol test. After finishing each forgery, Van Meegeren baked the canvas in the oven to dry it. The plastic pigment dried hard and brittle, which enabled Van Meegeren to fake another characteristic of old paintings: craquelure (8). To mimic craquelure, he simply cracked the dried canvases over his knee.

The Rembrandt Society bought Christ at Emmaus for $4 million, a considerable amount for a painting at that time, and donated it to Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam. The Society didn't want what they believed to be Vermeer's masterpiece to be sold to a foreign collector or institution. Emmaus was the centerpiece of the museum's 1938 exhibition of Dutch masterworks. The painting currently hangs in the museum's gift shop and is one of the most sought-after in the museum's collection.

Van Meegeren forged a dozen Vermeers that were considered authentic until his arrest, but Christ at Emmaus was his most technically sound. The forgeries he painted after Emmaus got consistently sloppier; when questioned about the poor quality of his later forgeries Van Meegeren said, "Why try to paint them well? They sold for just as much." Amazingly, none of the curators at the time noticed how unusual it was for 12 unknown Vermeers to surface between 1932 and 1945 when only 35 had been found in the 300 years since the artist's death.

More articles:
The New York Times, Errol Morris' blog: Bamboozling Ourselves (9)

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8: Retrieved February 8, 2009.
9: Retrieved July 19, 2009.

Other sources:
The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick

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adulteress Christ and the Woman Taken into Adultery, Han van Meegeren

by Brian Williams

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This is the historical Van Meegeren forgery that fooled a Nazi lieutenant, brought to light Van Meegeren's multi-million-dollar scam and rocked the international art world.

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery was one of Van Meegeren's last Vermeer forgeries. By the time he painted it in 1942, he had already made millions selling his Vermeer fakes to museums and collectors in the Netherlands and abroad. Vermeer was still highly sought-after by collectors, and one man in particular desired a Vermeer painting for his collection: Hermann Goering (1), the Nazi commander of the German Air Force and Adolf Hitler's second in command. He and Hitler were collecting artwork at a feverish pace and had started somewhat of a competition between them. Their motives differed though; Hitler was amassing a collection of Europe's greatest masterpieces to be housed in a national museum he planned to build in Linz, Austria while Goering was filling his country estate, Carinhall, a showcase of gaudy over-abundance intended to impress Goering's guests and convince them that he was a man of culture and refinement. Goering almost grabbed Vermeer's The Art of Painting but at the last minute conceded to Hitler, who wanted it for his Linz museum collection. So, when another opportunity to acquire a Vermeer presented itself, Goering grabbed it without hesitation.

recovered painting with soldiers At the end of World War II, after Goering was captured and imprisoned, Allied soldiers found the salt mine where he had hidden his art collection, much of which had been stolen from museums and private residences all over Europe. Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery was discovered among the paintings to the surprise of the art world - it appeared to be a previously-unknown "Vermeer." It was returned to the Netherlands and the Dutch government opened an investigation. According to Dutch law during World War II it was a crime against the state to conduct business with a Nazi; whoever sold this Vermeer - a piece of Dutch cultural patrimony - to Goering had committed treason.

The paper trail led from Goering through the agents who brokered the sale all the way back to the Netherlands and Van Meegeren. In 1947 Van Meegeren was arrested and confessed - not to treason, but to fraud. He told authorities everything. At first nobody believed him, so he painted another forgery, Jesus Among the Doctors (2) while in custody. At his trial, all of Van Meegeren's Vermeer forgeries were displayed in the courtroom.

Van Meegeren was the one on trial, but the public disclosure of his crimes embarrassed many scholars and curators in the art industry. These experts had to testify that they had been fooled by these plastic Vermeers, and their testimonies brought laughter to the crowds in the courtroom more than once. Van Meegeren's trial was a fitting end to his scam - originally conceived to get back at the art industry and the haughty, know-it-all critics who looked down at his work with distain and dismissal.

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myatt The John Myatt/John Drewe art forgery case

by Brian Williams

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In the early 1990s, Professor John Drewe was known among his acquaintances as an accomplished physicist, lecturer, historian and philanthropist. His father had been a scientist at Cambridge University in the 1930s, and Drewe himself earned his Ph.D. in physics at SUNY Buffalo (Landesman, 1999; Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). In addition to lecturing at universities, he was developing new weapons technologies for Britain's Ministry of Defence (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). But Drewe liked to say that his true passion was art. He had inherited a collection of paintings from John Catch, his mentor at the Atomic Energy Authority, and was interested in selling the works to dealers and galleries (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). He was also a dedicated art historian and archivist, donating his money and expertise to the archives of some of London's most prestigious museums: the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the Tate Gallery. Because of his £20,000 donation to the Tate (and a promise of a half-million pounds more) he was granted unrestricted access to the museum's records for his historical research.

But everything about John Drewe was an invention. Drewe is a con artist and a pathological liar, and he was using his fake credentials to swindle art collectors, dealers, and museums on both sides of the Atlantic in what would be known as "the biggest art fraud of the twentieth century" (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009, p.7). With his partner-in-crime, art forger John Myatt (1), Drewe perpetrated a ten-year scam that was so elaborate and well executed that it took years for investigators to catch up with him. Art forgery is common, but the Myatt/Drewe case is unique. While Myatt was creating fake paintings, Drewe created fake provenances for these paintings that would fool even the most skeptical experts. It was this act of faking the documentation that allowed Myatt and Drewe to continue scamming the art world for so long. Drewe infiltrated the archives of England's most renowned art museums and inserted fake provenances for Myatt's paintings, thereby rewriting the history of modern art. To this day, archivists are unsure of the extent of the contamination. As a result, some files are stamped with a warning to future researchers: "This documentation may have been compromised" (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009, p.300).

Among cases of art fraud, the Myatt/Drewe case presents a particularly interesting methodology, particularly in respect to the internal psychological motives of its primary aggressor, John Drewe. It is important to emphasize that the scam was originally Drewe's idea; Myatt was merely his accomplice. Consequently, the two men set about defrauding the art world for different reasons. For Myatt, "there are only three motives for forgery: greed, vengeance, and thrills. Or maybe a toxic soup of some combination of the three" (Dolnick, 2008, p.66). But Drewe has not offered any such insights into his motives; he continues to assert his innocence despite being caught, convicted, and sentenced to six years in prison. So in order to gain insight into Drewe's motives, one must study his behavior over the course of the ten-year-long scam. It goes without saying that he was driven by the profits he was earning selling Myatt's fakes, but this alone does not explain the magnitude of his deception. His deviance is likely the result of an undiagnosed personality disorder, such as antisocial personality disorder, paired with pseudologia fantastica (2)--pathological lying.

Not much is known about Drewe's past. He was born John Cockett in 1948, raised in Sussex, England, and was a bright young student with a propensity for physics. When he was seventeen he took an internship at the Atomic Energy Authority--where he met John Catch--but two years later he dropped out of college, quit the AEA internship and disappeared (Landesman, 1999; Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). No official record of Drewe's whereabouts exists until 1980 when he reemerged in London, living with his partner Batsheba Goudsmid in the upscale neighborhood of Golders Green. It was during this fifteen-year absence that Drewe changed his name, supposedly earned his Ph.D. (although there is no record of him graduating from any of the universities he claimed to have attended) and claimed to have worked for the Ministry of Defence (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). It is not known if Drewe committed any other crimes during his absence, or if the art forgery/provenance fraud scam he perpetrated with Myatt beginning in 1986 was his first.

In 1986, Myatt was in his late thirties, divorced, and struggling to raise two young children working part-time as an art teacher. He lived in a run-down old farmhouse in Sugnall, Staffordshire, England, that was heated by a single coal-fired stove (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Desperate for money, Myatt posted an ad in Private Eye Magazine offering his services as a skilled painter and copyist. It advertised "genuine fakes: 19th and 20th Century paintings, from £150" (Landesman, 1999; Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). He sold a number of paintings through the ad, mostly copies of famous portraits in which he replaced the features of the original sitter with those of the commissioner. When Drewe contacted Myatt, he requested a painting in the style of a famous artist. "I want a nice Matisse," Drewe told Myatt, "something colorful, memorable, not too large" (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009, p.12). Drewe was impressed with the "Matisse" Myatt delivered a few weeks later and commissioned another; this time a painting in the style of artist Paul Klee. After that, Drewe asked Myatt for a pair of Dutch portraits and a seascape (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Drewe paid Myatt generously for these paintings, and at first Myatt believed Drewe was simply interested in hanging them in his house or giving them to his friends as gifts; he continued to paint copies for Drewe for years. But by 1988, when Drewe paid Myatt £12,500 after he sold one of Myatt's paintings to Christie's auction house as an original, Myatt could no longer deny that Drewe was using his paintings to commit fraud (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Despite his initial hesitation, Myatt accepted the money from the Christie's sale. For Myatt, it was a year's salary (Dolnick, 2008). He quit his teaching job and went to work painting forgeries full-time for Drewe.

At first, Myatt was able to rationalize his involvement in the scam. He needed the money, and painting allowed him to stay home with his children. Myatt had tried to establish himself as an artist after he graduated from college in the 1960s, but after a few fruitless years, he gave up. His detailed, realistic style was unpopular in an era when abstract expressionism, pop art, and minimalism were the major influential movements. So, Myatt was happy to finally be making money doing what he loved. Besides, it gave him a sense of satisfaction knowing that art dealers were paying tens of thousands of pounds for his paintings, even if he was signing other artists' names on them. It was a way for Myatt to prove to an industry that rejected him that he was as good as the artists he was forging. In this respect, Myatt had much in common with other famous art forgers of the twentieth century. In the 1930s, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren (3) was caught forging paintings by Vermeer in a plot intended to embarrass Holland's art critics. The critics--who van Meegeren derisively called "a slimy bunch of drunken madmen"--had denounced van Meegeren's work as being kitschy and sentimental (Dolnick, 2008, p.15). Van Meegeren successfully fooled experts and curators with his fake Vermeers, despite them being wildly inconsistent and lacking the technical proficiency of the master. And in the early 1980s, only a few years before Myatt and Drewe began their own scam, artist Eric Hebborn admitted that he infiltrated the art market with hundreds of fake drawings (4).

Both van Meegeren and Hebborn made fortunes selling fakes, but they were less motivated by money than by revenge. Van Meegeren's trial in 1947 was the culmination of his revenge strategy; the experts who testified against van Meegeren were publicly humiliated when they were forced to admit that van Meegeren's poorly executed Vermeers fooled them (Dolnick, 2008). Hebborn was similarly motivated to retaliate against an establishment that he believed had wronged him. He went as far as to accuse art dealers who unknowingly sold his fakes of being the real criminals. Hebborn says dealers raise the price of artwork based on the artist's signature alone, without checking the work's provenance. Hebborn's argument is that art dealers are no more reputable than forgers like himself; at least he admitted to being a swindler. Hebborn's autobiographies, Drawn to Trouble (1993) and The Art Forger's Handbook (1997), are more than explanations of how he became a career forger or how he produced convincing fakes; they are his indictment against an industry that he believed is mired in corruption and scandal. In 1996, Hebborn was murdered (5) in Rome, Italy, soon after publishing one of his books.

While Myatt was busy producing forgeries, Drewe set about establishing convincing documentation to prove that the fakes were in fact authentic. Using his bogus credentials to ingratiate himself to the staff at the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, he managed to gain access to and contaminate their archives (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). This was no easy feat, and it goes to show how convincing Drewe could be as a con artist. Museum archives are heavily guarded, and visitors are under constant surveillance. But archivists are on the lookout for people taking files out; they never suspected someone would be putting files in (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009).

Over the course of the decade-long fraud, Drewe became a master at constructing fake documents from originals he scanned into his computer. He would forge sales receipts, auction catalogues, journal entries, letters and correspondences written and signed by the artists Myatt was forging. Then he would pay a visit to the museum archives and insert these fraudulent provenances into their files. Therefore, if one of Myatt's fakes raised a cautious dealer's suspicions, a visit to the archives would alleviate any doubt. There in the museum's records would be the complete history of the painting in question; beginning the moment it left the artist's studio.

But there was one expert who was never fooled by Myatt or Drewe. Mary Lisa Palmer, the director of the Giacometti Association in Paris, was contacted in 1995 by Armand Bartos, an art dealer in New York City, who wanted her to send him a certificate of authenticity for a Giacometti painting he purchased, titled Standing Nude, 1955. (Bartos bought the painting from art dealer Sheila Maskell, who in turn purchased it from one of Drewe's associates in London.) Despite its well-established provenance in the Tate archives, Palmer immediately suspected something was not right about the painting. Most experts would have brushed aside their suspicions in the face of such thorough documentation. In fact, the thoroughness of the provenance heightened her suspicions; she thought it was too perfect, especially for a painting by Giacometti, who was notoriously disorganized with his records (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Palmer believed somebody had forged the provenance as well as the painting. When Palmer contacted Jennifer Booth, the Tate archivist, to voice her suspicions, she was surprised to hear that Booth agreed with her. Furthermore, Booth believed she knew who the culprit was: Professor John Drewe. Unlike her supervisors at the museum, who were easily won over by Drewe's ostentatious prestige and monetary gifts, Booth had never trusted Drewe (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). It took years, but Booth was finally able to convince her superior to call Scotland Yard's Art Squad and tip them off to Drewe's suspicious actions in the archives. Palmer contacted the police department as well, and corroborated Booth's claim.

The Art Squad had been getting calls for some time from art dealers who had been seeing questionable paintings surfacing in collections and auction catalogues from London to Paris and New York (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Then came the call from the Tate claiming somebody was contaminating their archives, followed soon after by a call from Palmer, the director of the Giacometti Association. A case was emerging, and it appeared to be incredibly wide-ranging and intricate, involving perhaps dozens of unsuspecting dealers trading in forgeries. Dick Ellis, the head of the Squad at the time, was too busy to pursue the case, so he handed it over to Detective Jonathan Searle. As Searle investigated these leads, he began to see that they all had a common thread: an individual named John Drewe. The case was blown wide open, though, the day Drewe's estranged wife, Batsheva Goudsmid, walked into Searle's office with two garbage bags filled with cut-apart remnants of documents, letters, photos, scans and copies: the residual evidence of Drewe's ten-year provenance fraud (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009).

By September 1995, the game was over for John Myatt. Searle had gotten Myatt's name from Goudsmid, and early one morning he and his team of detectives drove to Myatt's home in Sugnall to question him (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). As it turned out, Myatt had already decided to put an end to the scandal; he had severed all contact with Drewe after his pleas to get out of the fraud business went unheeded. In fact, Drewe's actions were becoming increasingly more aggressive and erratic and Myatt feared for his safety (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). So, when Searle knocked on Myatt's door that September morning, he was more than willing to cooperate. Myatt was to become Searle's star witness in his case against Drewe.

Searle and his team arrested Drewe on April 3, 1996. The Art Squad detectives thoroughly searched Drewe's home and found more incriminating evidence, including a number of typewriters Drewe had used to forge old documents (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Drewe proclaimed his innocence throughout the entire investigation, leading investigators to become increasingly exasperated with his continuous denials even in the face of irrefutable evidence (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Drewe did not stop the deception even after he was caught. He repeatedly evaded his court appearances by producing forged doctor's notes claiming he suffered from a number of ailments, from migraines and heart attacks to injuries sustained from a car accident (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009).

Despite months of evasive maneuvers, though, Drewe could no longer delay his trial, which began on September 22, 1997 (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). For those spectators who anticipated a memorable trial for such a notorious scam artist, Drewe did not disappoint. On the second day of the proceedings, Drewe fired his defense team, preferring to defend himself (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). It was a colossal blunder; the jury regarded Drewe as a pompous and arrogant defender who badgered witnesses and lectured endlessly about irrelevant details. Drewe was caught lying a number of times, but it never slowed him down. (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). On the stand, Myatt called Drewe a "psychopath" and a "liar" to his face (Landesman, 1999). Drewe dragged out the trial into a six-month ordeal, blaming everybody except himself for his crimes. Drewe's defense centered on his assertion that he was a scapegoat, an innocent victim caught in a vast, top secret conspiracy that involved the British government trading art for weapons (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Nobody was fooled, except perhaps for Drewe, who expressed surprise that the jury did not believe him (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). The presiding judge, Geoffrey Rivlin, harshly condemned Drewe's actions, citing Drewe's "extraordinary and alarming talent for manipulating people" (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009, p.289). Judge Rivlin went further, explaining that when Drewe's unwitting associates--€”the art dealers who unknowingly sold his forgeries--tried to distance themselves from Drewe, he "did not hesitate to threaten them" (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009, p.290).

So what drove Drewe to perpetrate such an elaborate hoax? Is Drewe a typical con artist, or could there be a medical explanation for his behavior? Drewe exhibits symptoms of a rare, relatively understudied psychological condition called pseudologia fantastica. People suffering from this disorder--who are known as pseudologues, mythomaniacs or pathological liars--construct elaborate fictions on a monumental scale. The effects of such lies can be incredibly damaging to the pseudologue and those close to them. It is important to point out that the condition is not caused by mental deficiencies or illnesses; pseudologues are not delusional. They know the difference between fiction and reality despite their attempts to deceive even themselves with their untruths (Birch et al., 2006). Research conducted by psychologists King and Ford in the late 1980s showed that pseudologues were "typically found to be average or above average" in intelligence, and "several cases showed significantly superior verbal vs. performance abilities" (Birch et al., 2006). Furthermore, "half of the pseudologues in this study were reported to engage in crimes such as theft, swindling, forgery, and plagiarism" (Birch et al., 2006).

Drewe's case differs from other cases of pseudologia fantastica, though, in respect to motive. Drewe's incredibly destructive drive for social affluence and personal monetary gain is not evident in the cases of other pseudologues. According to Birch et al. (2006), a typical pseudologue "is primarily stimulated by internal, psychological motives (e.g., self-esteem regulation or fantasy fulfillment), rather than by external, situationally-determined motives (e.g., financial gain or punishment avoidance)." Although internal motives may have originally driven Drewe to invent a fictional persona, it goes without saying that by the time he began altering the Tate's and the V&A's archives and forging provenances, he was driven by external motives. Like many pseudologues, Drewe falsely accused others of committing the crimes that he committed, but, unlike other pseudologues, Drewe's behavior was a reaction to an external situation; in this case, punishment avoidance. These motives, in conjunction with Drewe's personality traits such as his superficial charm, aggressiveness, and lack of nervousness, remorse or shame are more akin to antisocial personality disorder (Ogloff, 2006). It is entirely possible that he suffers from both pseudologia fantastica and antisocial personality disorder.

John Myatt was sentenced to one year in prison for conspiracy to defraud; the jury condemned Drewe to six years in jail for his crimes (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Myatt was released after only four months for good behavior, and has since built a thriving business for himself selling his "Genuine Fakes." He refuses to sell any paintings without his ascribed "Genuine Fakes" logo on the back of the canvas (Salisbury & Sujo, 2009). Ironically, Myatt's involvement in one of the twentieth century's greatest cases of art forgery ultimately led him to attaining his dream job--painting full time.

John Drewe was released in 2000. He still refuses to take credit for one of the greatest fraud cases of the twentieth century and continues to proclaim to anybody who will listen that he is innocent of all charges.


Birch, C. D., Kelln, B. R. C., & Aquino, E. P. B. (2006). A review and case report of pseudologia fantastica. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 17(2), 299-320. doi:10.1080/14789940500485128

Dolnick, E. (2008). The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century. New York: HarperCollins.

Hebborn, E. (1997). The Art Forger's Handbook. New York: The Overlook Press.

Landesman, P. (1999, July 18). A 20th-Century Master Scam. Retrieved on June 10, 2010, from

Ogloff, J. R. P. (2006). Psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder conundrum. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40(6/7), 519-528. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1614.2006.01834.x

Salisbury, L. & Sujo, A. (2009.) Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art. New York: The Penguin Press.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Retrieved July 21, 2010.

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