Provenance

“On his way home on the train, Myatt reflected on what had been a very good first meeting.  It dawned on him that he had been suffering from an insidious form of low-level isolation and loneliness, and that in some profound sense he’d taken leave of the real world.  The work he was doing for Drewe might be a way back.” (page 14)

We’re moving on from book thefts to art fraud.  I don’t know a lot about the art world and even less about art forgery. But I fell in love with the show White Collar and it motivated me to do a little reading.  One of the books I picked up was Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo.  

provenance

This non-fiction book tells the story of how two men, a down on his luck artist and a highly-skilled con artist, worked together to pull off some major art frauds.  The artist, John Myatt, was a reluctant participant at first but his partner John Drewe was a master manipulator and knew how to string him along.

“It hit Myatt that Drewe had already sold the piece. He could no longer deny what he had suspected, that Drewe was passing off his works as genuine.  He had already painted fifteen or twenty pieces for the good professor, and Drewe wanted more.  

Myatt took the cash and realized that with that one small gesture he had crossed the line.” (page 37)

The lengths that Drewe went to in order to pass off these forgeries as the real deal is incredible.  He began to create fake documentations to establish a provenance for their works and even managed to get them into the Tate Gallery’s archives.  But Drewe wasn’t satisfied with just a few well-crafted forgeries… he was always looking for the next scheme to pull off.

“It occurred to him that Drewe was addicted to the con, that every sale was like a junkie’s rush to him.  The money wasn’t the object, it was the scam itself.  Drewe had begun to believe in his imaginary status as a collector and to speak about the paintings as if they were authentic.  Like every bad drug run, this would all come to a dreadful end. The market simply could not absorb the number of fakes they were producing.  If they continued as usual, they would almost certainly get pinched.” (page 165)

Provenance is a well-researched book and very enjoyable to read.  It didn’t take me long to get through it the first time and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading it again.

From The Cover: Filled with extraordinary characters and told at a break-neck 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.

Just One More Thing: “For his part, Drewe never let the facts get in the way of a good story, particularly one that could help him sell more fakes.” (page 53)

This Edition: Paperback published by Penguin (2010)

Other Books by Laney Salisbury: The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against and Epidemic (with Gay Salisbury)

You Might Also Like: Priceless: How I Went Undercover To Rescue The World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman

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