John Myatt achieved notoriety for perpetrating the biggest art fraud of the 20th century. Using his incredible skill, Myatt produced more than 200 perfect canvas forgeries in the style of famous artists, many of which were sold for huge figures in galleries and auction houses.
Myatt was arrested by Scotland Yard detectives in 1995 and handed a twelve month sentence, but due to his cooperation during the investigation and good behaviour, he was released after just four months. Nonetheless, jail time became a goldmine of opportunity for Myatt. During his four months at Brixton prison, he received more commissions than many artists could dream of. He has since enjoyed an extremely successful career as an artist creating paintings known as "genuine fakes".
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It wasn’t until 1983, at the age of 38, that John Myatt first discovered his talent for artistic mimicry. Moving from London to his native Staffordshire, Myatt’s wife walked out, leaving him to care for two young children. He knew that his poorly paid job as an art teacher would not generate enough income, so started to recreate famous artworks in the hope of earning a little extra cash. But what started as a clever idea to help earn a living, soon turned into a lucrative yet turbulent career in the art market.
Myatt place a classified advert in Private Eye, offering genuine fakes of nineteenth and twentieth century paintings for around £150. He received a call from ‘Professor John Drewe’, a supposed nuclear physicist who was interested in buying a selection of works. Myatt produced 14 paintings for Drewe over the next two years, generating enough cash to support his family. At this stage, Myatt had no idea how fraudulent Drewe would turn out to be.
In 1986, Myatt created a painting in the style of French Cubist painter Albert Gleizes. Soon after, Drewe called to explain that he had the painting valued by prestigious art house Christie’s, who had been duped into believing it was an original, subsequently valuing the piece at £25,000. Myatt agreed to sell and, one week later, received 50% of the money in a brown envelope, no questions asked.
With one fake painting, Myatt’s financial uncertainty had been stabilised. Lured by the promise of more income, he gradually became entwined in Drewe’s web of deceit. In the years that followed, Myatt created and auctioned 200 forgeries in the style of many art masters, including Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Alberto Giacometti. Nonetheless, Myatt himself was duped by Drewe who would keep the lion’s share of profits for himself. Tired of his business partner’s relentless lies, Myatt put a stop to the fraud in 1993.
Two years later, an ex-partner of Drewe ‘blew the whistle’ leading to the arrest of Myatt by Scotland Yard detectives. Myatt assisted at every step of the way of the four year investigation, revealing the truth behind the fraud and providing the evidence to help prosecute ex-partner John Drewe. Due to his cooperation, Myatt was eventually given a lenient twelve month sentence for conspiracy to defraud. He was released just four months later on the grounds of good behaviour.
Upon release Myatt declared he would never paint again, but the Scotland Yard detective who originally arrested him and the plaintiff’s barristers all wanted mementos of the court case. He was soon persuaded to return to his easel and was commissioned to paint portraits for those involved in the case.
Myatt has continued to paint, with customers stretching from the UK to Canada and the Philippines. He also helps detectives to expose fraudulent schemes and his television programme Fame in the Frame on Sky Arts has seen him paint portraits of celebrities including Frank Skinner, Paul O'Grady and Catherine Tate.