In the '80s and early '90s, John Drewe, the con man in this book's subtitle, made millions of dollars on artwork that he didn't even paint. To perform the messy work of replication, this master fabricator enlisted the unwitting help of John Myatt, a semi-destitute artist, doling out small change for work that resembled the work of the likes of Matisse, Monet, and Turner. Then Drewe's own work began: With meticulous attention, he began constructing each painting's provenance, the intricate paper trail that establishes its authenticity. With his dirty work nearly done, he would then foist his fraud on unsuspecting or greedy dealers and other buyers. Husband-and-wife team Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo tell the story of this beguiling manipulator with just the right combination of awe and disdain. Perfect prison reading for Bernard Madoff.
Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Artby Laney Salisbury, Aly Sujo
Filled with extraordinary characters and told at a breakneck speed, Provenance is the astonishing true story of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery. Stretching from London to Paris to New York, investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo recount the tale of infamous con man and unforgettable villain John Drewe and… See more details below
Filled with extraordinary characters and told at a breakneck speed, Provenance is the astonishing true story of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery. Stretching from London to Paris to New York, investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo recount the tale of infamous con man and unforgettable villain John Drewe and his accomplice, the affable artist and vulnerable single dad John Myatt. Together they exploited the archives of the upper echelons of the British art world to irrevocably legitimize the hundreds of pieces they forged, many of which are still considered genuine and hang in prominent museums and private collections today.
The Washington Post
A decade-long art scam that sullied the integrity of museum archives and experts alike is elegantly recounted by husband-and-wife journalists Salisbury and Sujo. In 1986, when struggling painter and single father John Myatt advertised copies of famous paintings, he never imagined he'd become a key player in one of Britain's biggest art frauds. Myatt soon met John Drewe, who claimed to be a physicist and avid art collector. Soon Drewe, a silver-tongued con man, was passing off Myatt's work as genuine, including paintings in the style of artists like Giacometti and Ben Nicholson. When buyers expressed concern about the works' provenance, Drewe began the painstaking process of falsifying records of ownership. Posing as a benefactor, Drewe even planted false documents in the archives of London's Tate Gallery, but suspicious historians and archivists eventually assisted Scotland Yard in bringing him to justice. Salisbury and Sujo (who died in 2008) evoke with flair the plush art world and its penetration by the seductive Drewe as well as the other players in this fascinating art drama. (July 13)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Read an Excerpt
The grand moment in the reception finally arrived. Two white-gloved Tate conservators entered the room with a pair of paintings, each about five feet tall. There was a moment of respectful silence. Myatt was stunned.
“Ahh, the Bissières, how lovely,”someone in the room whispered.
Myatt cringed as the group praised the paintings and Drewe’s taste and generosity. The two works were carried around the room, and long before they reached Myatt, he recognized the faint but acrid smell of the varnish he had sprayed on them when he’d finished them a few weeks earlier.
Myatt gripped his chair. If they so much as touched the canvas with a fine brush, the paint would give way and the game would be up. A little further investigative work would reveal that the pieces—purportedly painted more than forty years earlier—had been made with modern, ordinary house paint.
The reception over, the Tate brass escorted Drewe and Myatt down the winding staircase. Stopping at a landing, one of the officials pointed at a place on the wall and said: “This is where we’ll hang these two wonderful pieces.”
Placing a work at the Tate was a remarkable achievement for any artist—forger or not—but Myatt could see only one possible end to what had transpired. He had survived many low points in his past, but none as low as this. Surely he would end up in prison.
Once in the taxi, Myatt, usually deferential toward Drewe, exploded. “You have to get them back.”
Drewe argued that if they were to ask for the paintings back, it would involve a terrible loss of credibility, putting at risk all the time he had put into cultivating the confidence of the Tate’s archivists. But he also saw that as long as the twoc arelessly done forgeries remained in the hands of museum curators, Myatt would remain paralyzed by the fear that they would be his undoing.
The following day Drewe was back at the Tate to withdraw the Bissières. There was a problem with their provenance, questions having to do with the previous owners. In place of the two works, he was prepared to offer a sizable cash donation to the Tate’s archives.
Within days the Tate received a check for twenty thousand pounds (forty thousand dollars) to help catalog the archives, along with a promise of half a million more to come. With this donation, Drewe established himself as a respected donor for whom the doors of the heavily guarded archival department would stand open. The historical records of one of the world’s great museums, and its cherished credibility, were about to become irreparably compromised.
Meet the Author
Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo are a husband-and- wife team of investigative reporters. Salisbury is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and has worked for Reuters and the Associated Press. She is the coauthor of the critically acclaimed The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, which was translated into eleven languages. Sujo grew up in the art world and has been a journalist for the past twenty years, covering arts and entertainment for Reuters, the Associated Press, and The New York Daily News.
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