Ever wanted to own a particular painting but don't know where to start? You only have to browse online a short time to find out about a whole world of art forgery. There is a plethora of websites offering advice on how to identify forgeries and the best ways to avoid being caught out when buying art. A BBC documentary programme on BBC One (Fake or Fortune) had the nation gripped finding out if paintings are fake or a genuine piece of art. The programme uses scientific technology to analyse the materials used, along with expert insight into the styles, techniques and personality of the artist in question.
The intent to defraud society is understandably a confusing and deservedly punishable crime, hurting not only buyers but the artists and their families. However, the forgers themselves are undeniably talented artists, who have recreated some of the most magnificent art in history. Here’s our pick of the top ten best art forgers of the past 150 years.
Top ten art forgers of the past 150 years (ordered in birth year)
- Shaun Greenhalgh 1960
Shaun sold an ancient Egyptian statue of Tutankhamun’s granddaughter to Bolton Museum in Manchester after it was authenticated by the British Museum and Christie’s. All believed the statue to be 3,300 years old.
It was of course discovered to be fake and a series of forgeries worth over a million pounds by the Greenhalgh family were uncovered. In fact the item had been made in his parent’s shed.
Shaun was sentenced to four years in prison and his parents were given suspended sentences.
- Mark Landis 1955
Possibly one of the very few forgers who received no money or tax benefits from his works. He presented more than 100 of his pieces to museums across 20 states in the US. He used his acting skills to impersonate and became addicted to the vip treatment he received at the museums.
- Wolfgang Beltracchi 1951
The German artist Wolfgang Beltracchi had his forged works on the front cover of a Christie’s catalogue and his works by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst were displayed in some of the most prestigious galleries the world over.
His forgeries were discovered he claims, by the signature. Over the course of his career, 14 works sold for £28.6m and he went to prison for six years.
- Ken Perenyi 1949
Ken is regarded as one of the most skilful forgers of the 18th and 19th century for British and American paintings. His works were finally discovered and investigated by the FBI, who chemically analysed them. The investigation was dropped and now he openly sells copies. In 2013 his memoir was published, ‘Caveat Emptor’.
- Frank Abagnale Jr 1948
Frank inspired the film Catch Me If You Can. He was a con-artist who created perfect copies of cheques and deposit slips in order to receive large amounts of money. He then went on to impersonate other professionals including an airline pilot, lawyer and physician.
- John Myatt 1945
Along with John Drewe, Myatt was the artist involved in one of the UK’s biggest art frauds of the 20th century. He began painting copies in the style of famous artists and was originally honest about his work. However, when Drewe began to sell some pieces as genuine he became a willing accomplice. Myatt painted 200 and only 60 were recovered. Both men were give prison sentences in 1999 but Myatt only served four months of one year and Drewe only two years of six. Myatt continues to paint commissioned pieces, clearly marked as fake copies.
- Eric Hebborn 1934 – 1996
Eric created paintings in the style of master painters rather than copying existing works. This meant that he could not be found out by two owners of the same painting. A curator noticed the paintings by two different artists were painted on the same type of paper and his forgeries were revealed.
- Tom Keating 1917 – 1984
Keating left clues in his forgeries so that they could eventually be concluded as fakes. He did this on purpose as he was discontented with the ‘corrupt’ art world who took little notice of his original works. He began as an art restorer but also painted over 2000 paintings by 100 different artists. He was discovered and arrested in 1977 for conspiracy to defraud but the case was dropped. He later had his own TV show.
- Elmyr de Hory 1906 – 1976
Elmyr de Hory was a Hungarian born painter and forger. He spent time all over the world and sold over 1000 forgeries to reputable art galleries. Throughout his life he was arrested for minor crimes but it was only in later years when he began to tire of the art forgery business that his work suffered and experts unmasked his fakes. He gained celebrity from a book, film and biography. In 1976 he was due to stand trial in France but committed suicide.
- Han Van Meegeren 1889 – 1947
Meegeren was arrested by the Dutch government during World War Two for collaboration with the Nazis and sold a Vermeer to Hermann Goring. He was a popular figure, admired for fooling both art experts and the Nazis. Later, his own son forged his father’s work.
Can the artist tell their own works?
Master forgers always say that they can spot their own works. In a surprising case during 2016 in South Korea though, artist Lee Ufan denied that 13 suspected works were forgeries even when an art dealer (Hyeon) admitted to their counterfeit. Police investigated and found up to 50 fake works but Ufan insisted he could recognise them at a glance.
What if you WANT to buy a fake?
There is a big difference between buying a fake unwittingly and buying one with intent. If there is a particular famous artist whose works you’d like for your home then commissioning an artist is an ideal way to have a perfect replica – and know it.
We are happy to take commissions for John Myatt or source a reputable copy artist for you. Find out more on our commissions page or visit the showroom to discuss.