Art forgery is a divisive topic that inspires awe and anger in equal measure. While galleries, dealers and collectors certainly don’t want fakes on their hands, it’s hard not to be impressed by painters who can imitate the greats so believably. Even with all the technology designed to verify artworks, there are still lots of convincing fakes still on display in museums around the world.
Some of the most high profile art forgers went on to become celebrities in their own right, with plenty of contemporary collectors still willing to knowingly pay thousands for counterfeits. Here, we examine the five painters behind the most famous art forgeries of all time.
British artist John Myatt has gone down in history as the man behind “the biggest art fraud of the 20th century”, as Scotland Yard put it. He painted an estimated 200 forgeries, many of which were sold by some of the biggest auction houses in the world including Sotheby’s and Phillips. His career as a forger began after he started legitimately selling counterfeits, having placed an advert for “genuine fakes” in Private Eye. Though Myatt was honest to begin with, this changed when a regular customer named John Drewe revealed that Christie’s auction house had paid £25,000 for one of Myatt’s ‘Albert Gleizes’ paintings.
From then on, he forged works by artists such as Chagall, Giacometti and Matisse. Myatt ended his partnership with Drewe in 1993, growing tired of the unsavoury way in which Drewe handled their finances. Both were eventually arrested two years later, when Drewe’s angry ex-partner told the police what they had done. As he cooperated and helped to convict Drewe, Myatt was only sentenced to a year in prison, for which he served just four months. Since his release in 1999, Myatt has continued to paint, working on commission, and marking each piece as a fake. He has also enjoyed a television career, appearing on shows like Sky Arts’ Mastering the Art and Brush with Fame.
Tom Keating claimed to have faked over 2,000 paintings by more than 100 different artists, including Rembrandt and Samuel Palmer. The British art restorer and forger declared that his counterfeits were motivated by his socialist politics rather than financial gain. He wrote in his book The Fake’s Progress that: “It seemed disgraceful to me how many [artists] had died in poverty. All their lives they had been exploited by unscrupulous dealers and then, as if to dishonor their memory, these same dealers continued to exploit them in death.” In his eyes, his fakes were an attack on the gallery system, intended to fool the experts, and break the industry.
After The Times published an article accusing him of his crimes in 1970, Keating confessed to his forgeries, and was arrested in 1979 alongwith his former lover and accomplice Jane Kelly. Though she had to serve time in prison after pleading guilty, Keating escaped a sentence after being severely injured in a motorcycle accident, later developing bronchitis in hospital. The charges against him were dropped, as he looked unlikely to survive, although his health did improve and he lived until 1984. Keating’s works still sell for thousands of pounds, and in 2005, The Guardian reported counterfeits of his own forgeries were selling on the market for between £5,000 and £10,000.
Han van Meegeren
Han van Meegeren was a Dutch artist who turned to forgery after his peers criticised his own work for its unoriginality. In response, he decided to prove his talent by creating and selling a piece said to be by Johannes Vermeer and created a ‘new’ Vermeer called Supper at Emmaus in 1937. It was widely admired by critics, with famous art expert Abraham Bredius calling it “the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft”. The painting was then bought by Rotterdam’s prestigious Boijmans Gallery.
Though van Meegeren had initially planned to reveal that he was the true creator, he instead continued forging, creating six new Vermeer works which made him an estimated $60 million according to The Telegraph. As well as selling to world famous museums, he also counted Nazi leader Hermann Göring as a customer. This ultimately led to van Meegeren’s downfall, as he was arrested for selling a valuable piece of Dutch cultural property to the Nazis. Rather than face treason charges, van Meegeren decided to admit the work was fake. He became known as “the man who swindled Göring” as well as the world’s greatest art forger. Van Meegeren died a few weeks into his one-year prison sentence in 1947.
Elmyr de Hory
Hungarian painter Elmyr de Hory started life as a forger in Paris after World War II ended. The idea came to him after selling a pen-and-ink drawing to a British woman who mistakenly believed it to be an original Picasso. He went on to sell 1,000 paintings to galleries across the world, including further forged Picassos, as well as counterfeit works purported to be by Degas, Matisse and Modigliani. Though de Hory did attempt to kickstart his own art career, the money was nothing compared to the huge profits he had become accustomed to from his fakes.
Eventually galleries grew suspicious of him and, in time, art dealers and curators began realising his works were forgeries. Having eluded the police for some time, de Hory returned to his Ibiza home and was sent to prison for two months in 1968. This was for a number of crimes, including homosexuality, which was still illegal at the time. However, his forgery couldn’t be proved, as there was no proof of whether any of his counterfeits were created on Spanish soil. After leaving prison, de Hory was seen as a celebrity, even appearing in the Orson Welles documentary F For Fake. However, he died by suicide in 1976 shortly after the Spanish government agreed to extradite him to France to stand trial for fraud. Many of de Hory’s works are still in circulation today.
Wolfgang Beltracchi started painting in the styles of renowned artists as a teenager, learning from his father who was an art restorer and church muralist. However, rather than creating copies of existing pieces, the German painter started making new works and selling them at flea markets. During the 1970s and 80s, Beltracchi turned his attention to the French Modernists and German Expressionists, as it was easier to find the materials these artists would have used. His paintings in the style of Campendonk would become his speciality, and he even managed to fool leading scholar Andrea Firmenich, who featured some of Beltracchi’s paintings in the Campendonk catalogue raisonné he was compiling.
Many of his works sold for extremely high prices at auction, like his Campendonk painting Landscape with Horses which actor Steve Martin paid $860,000 for in 2004. He also sold a piece called The Forest (2) — painted in the style of Ernst — to a Parisian art gallery for roughly $7 million. Beltracchi was found out in 2008, after some of his Campendonks were tested by a forensic specialist, revealing pigments that were not in use during the times attributed to the works. He was sentenced to six years in prison but secured an early release, agreeing to paint only under his own name from then on.
The late, great Terry O'Neill chronicled the frontline of fame, photographing the celebrities and public figures that defined each era. He captured the stars of the swinging 60s and created some of the most iconic magazine cover photos of all time for the likes of Vogue and Rolling Stone Magazine. Here, we take a look back at three of O'Neill's most iconic shots.
Faye Dunaway, 1977
This iconic shot was taken in March 1977 at The Beverley Hills Hotel and is probably O’Neill’s best-known work. Dunaway had just won the Best Actress Academy Award for her role in ‘Network’. She had previously been nominated in 1967 for ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and in 1974 for ‘Chinatown’.
Dunaway was O’Neill’s girlfriend at the time and they later went on to marry.
O’Neill said of the portrait: “I call this picture ‘The Morning After’. I wanted to get a different kind of ‘Oscar’ picture – one to illustrate what the award meant to actors and actresses. Funny (sic) enough, I was photographing her on an assignment for People Magazine at the time — they always did a piece on the girl they think is going to win. Anyway, they picked Faye Dunaway, and while we were doing the pictures, I said to her, ‘I’ve been to the Oscars before. If you win, they always take the same pictures of you receiving the statue in the press room.’ I knew that wasn’t the real story — the real story is the next day, when they realize suddenly they’re getting all these offers to do films, their value goes from $100,000 to $10 million, and they’re just sort of stunned. I wanted to capture that, so I told her my idea, and she was sport enough to do it early in the morning at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She got up at 6 a.m., and we got that great picture. She hadn’t slept and the implications of a watershed event in her career were only just beginning to dawn on her. It’s become one of the most Hollywood pictures of all time”.
Vanity Fair said: "No image better captures both the allure and the loneliness of celebrity than Terry O'Neill's 1977 photograph of his then girlfriend Faye Dunaway reflecting by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Academy Award she won the previous night posing on the breakfast table."
Terry O'Neill is among the most sought-after artists in the UK and his works are highly collectable.
Frank Sinatra, 1968
This iconic shot captures Frank Sinatra arriving with his entourage, including his stand-in identically dressed, at Miami Beach in 1968. Sinatra was there filming ‘The Lady in Cement’.
O’Neill said of the shoot: "I got friendly with Ava Gardner…I told Ava, one day I'd love to get a chance to photograph your ex-husband (Sinatra). So she writes me this letter, [and] I'm waiting for Frank to come onto the set.. and he comes around the corner with about 4, 6 bodyguards and I suddenly realized what a giant of a man that he was. This was my first view of him and I handed him the letter and he read the letter, he said right you're with me, then he totally ignored me for the next three weeks. Which I realized now, or shortly afterwards, that he was giving me the biggest gift that anybody could give anybody. Because I could go anywhere with him, he didn't even acknowledge the fact that I was there, and I realized the secret of great photography is to fade into the background and make yourself, sort of, as invisible as possible. And that was sort of my first major lesson in taking good pictures.”
Sean O’Hagan, Photography Specialist for The Guardian says of the image:
“The photograph's power resides in its ability to capture Sinatra's presence: the Sopranos-style minders, the look of admiration from the seated man on the left, the way the singer – and his double – both stare hard at the camera, neither offended nor surprised by it. (O'Neill had been introduced to Sinatra by Ava Gardner and was granted unprecedented access to the star.) It dramatises the darker side of Sinatra, a performer whose business interests were allegedly mixed up with the mafia for most of his career, and whose shadier connections were constantly monitored by the FBI”
This iconic shot was taken in 1971 in Spain on the set of ‘Les Petroleuses’ a.k.a. ‘The Legend of Frenchie King’. It is one of O’Neill’s best-known images.
O’Neill said of the portrait: “I had been hired to get publicity images from the set (of ‘Les Petroleuses' a.k.a. 'The Legend of Frenchie King'). I had photographed Brigitte before, although we never really became friends. She had a stature and a presence that were extraordinary. I found a spot some distance away from her. The wind was blowing, and she had a cigar as part of a scene. I was surrounded by hundreds of people, and was praying they didn't move or jostle me, as I had this perfect composition. I just wanted the wind to blow once more – and it did. Then everyone started pushing and shoving and I lost the place – but I knew I had that frame. It was a picture in a million”.
The shot has been used on several magazine covers around the world.
Iron working, something that wouldn't immediately spring to mind when thinking of legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. But, according to the artist himself: "I’ve been around iron all my life ever since I was a kid, I was born and raised in iron ore country”— “where you could breathe it and smell it every day. And I’ve always worked with it in one form or another.”
'Iron Wall Hanging III' measuring 37 1/8 x 37 1/8 x 2 1/2 is made out of a recycled iron chain welded into a circle with a variety of iron and recycled vintage objects inside of it. This sculpture acts as an artistic representation of Dylan's upbringing, with a variety of metal tools and scrap metal instruments, such as a spanner, horseshoe and gears. It encapsulates his boyhood growing up around these implements and a great iron industry, especially in the mining of iron ore.
He calls these sculptures "Gates" as they act as a means to transport the viewer into the time and place of his youth. They are portals into another world, one of industry, mines and furnaces. These sculptures are not Dylan's first venture into the world of metal work however. In 1978, Dylan told the Minnesota Times that when he returns to his home state: "I like to blast sculpture out of metal".
Michael Olsen is one Britians leading lepidopterogical artists. His hand painted butterflies on feathers stand out as truly unique and beautiful works of art.
Inspired by the Butterfly Domes of the Victorian era Olsen has created pieces that embody that style, but with a contemporary twist. His butterflies are encased within a box of acrylic, giving the impression that they are floating in space. Olsen, in his work is able to bring the beauty and colour of nature into people's homes.
Olsen has had a life-long fascination for nature and especially butterflies. He admits that he finds the moment when a butterfly stops to let an onlooker admire it's form utterly captivating. His work is an attempt to recreate this experience. Bring one fleeting moment of unity with a creature to life in ways that can't be imagined. His pieces are both large enough, and hold within them enough detail for them to be admired on a daily basis, but yet always find something new, to find within his work a new story. This, it can be said, is indicative of nature itself, where even if one looks into the same garden every day, there will always be something new to see if one takes the time to really observe.
Olsen's previous work was in retail, but spent a great deal of his time creating things simply for his own pleasure, or for a practical purpose. He has now embraced his artistic impulses and has set out on a new venture, turning what once was a hobby into a new and exciting journey of artistic expression and discovery.
The Artist Behind the Guitar
Ronnie Wood is a man of many talents, primarily known for being one quarter of The Rolling Stones the English musician and songwriter has enjoyed a life in the limelight. But it was from this very fame that Wood used painting to escape from. Using his talents he developed while receiving a formal art training at The Ealing School of Art he found a peaceful solace in his painting, a creative outlet away from the scrutiny of the press who often commented on his lifestyle.
From Caricature to the new wave of Pop RealismGerman artist Sebastian Krüger, after completing his university degree, worked as a commercial painter, whose talents were used to design and illustrate various LP covers in both his native Germany and abroad. However Krüger, who desired to work entirely as a free painter, used this exposure as a stepping stone in order to hone his own artistic abilities as well as make a name for himself as one of the top 'star caricaturist' artists.
Why Train Tracks is Bob Dylan’s most popular work
Train Tracks was part of the original collection of paintings by Bob Dylan entitled Drawn Blank. The paintings derive from sketches he made whilst on tour in the 80s and 90s and were first exhibited in Germany in 2007. This exhibition marked the first time legendary musician Dylan had publicly shown a major body of artwork.
From building site to building a masterpiece.
Canvas Gallery is proud to be hosting an exhibition of works from John Myatt, the artist famed for producing remarkable 'genuine fakes' of world famous artists. In this exclusive interview, John explains more about his journey from prison to highly respected artist, and why the Mona Lisa - his latest project - is so legendary.
It's the world's most famous painting, provoking endless debates and enthralling millions. Thanks to John Myatt, you can now own a 'genuine fake' Mona Lisa. What makes this painting endure and what would it be like to own your own version of this legendary work?
Here are the five artists making waves today who are also likely to become highly collectable in the future.
We’re proud to show the latest work from two of the country’s most exciting artists, Dan Pearce and Mark Grieves.
The music of Bob Dylan has been played countless times and the lyrics dissected by those looking to derive meaning. Now his fans are experiencing the essence of Dylan through an entirely new medium.
Bob Dylan art, Drawn Blank and The Brazil Series
At Canvas Gallery, we're privileged to sell works from some of the most exciting and highly regarded artists in the world. In this series of blogs, we introduce our artists, starting with the legendary musician Bob Dylan.