Forgeries of famous works of art are the subject of a new exhibit that opened Jan. 21 and runs through April 27 at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Massachusetts. Intent to Deceive: Fakes and Forgeries in the Art World is considered to be the most comprehensive exhibit ever assembled of forged artwork. Over 60 paintings make up a display that places genuine masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse and Signac next to their look-alike copies. The show explores the behind-the-scenes world of this multimillion dollar industry and features the work of five forgers whose finished products have fooled not only the general public but art dealers, critics and historians.
This exhibit was organized by the nonprofit group, International Arts & Artists, based in Washington, D. C. It is not meant to glamorize the forgers or the world of art forgery but rather to show that forgeries have been around as long as art itself. According to the curator, Colette Loll, forgery is one of the world’s “oldest professions.” Part of the show is a look at techniques used by forgers to fool the experts into thinking they were viewing an original painting.
Not all forgers copy paintings that already exist. John Myatt, for example, has said that he tried to “invent a painting that Monet or Picasso might have done” had they felt like it. Myatt is one of the five whose forged works are part of the exhibit. At age 68, this British artist had forged more than 200 paintings over the years in various styles including Matisse, Monet and van Gogh.
Myatt’s involvement in fake artwork began because he needed money. His art teacher salary was not enough to take care of his family. He was offered a business proposition which went on for several years. His work was valued by art dealers and auction houses like Christie’s for large amounts of money but his business partner kept most of the profits, leaving Myatt with still no more than a teacher’s salary. He ended up assisting in the four-year investigation which followed but that didn’t erase the four-month sentence he ended up serving in 1999 in Brixton Prison.
Scotland Yard referred to his work as “the biggest art fraud of the 20th century.” Myatt said he was surprised that his forgeries remained undiscovered as long as they did. He said all the signs were already in place such as painting with acrylics instead of oil. He has since been painting under his own name; his original work selling out at exhibitions.
Out of the five forgers who are featured in the Intent to Deceive exhibit, only one other besides Myatt is still living. Mark Landis has been the subject of articles in the New York Times, the Art Newspaper and others. He dressed as a Jesuit priest, traveling throughout the country to donate art to various museums. Even though he did not do it for money, he would present documents and authentication certificates with his forgeries that were also fake.
His questionable works were revealed when he contacted the Hilliard University Art Museum in Louisiana to donate a painting by American impressionist, Charles Courtney Curran. Landis, dressed as a priest, showed up for his meeting with museum officials and said he wanted to donate this work in honor of his late mother. He was given a receipt and went on his way. Something just kept nagging at the museum’s registrar, Joyce Penn, that didn’t “look right.” After she looked at the painting with a blacklight and a microscope, there was no doubt it was a forgery. This discovery led to an investigation that involved numerous art museums going back 20 years.
The subject of art forgeries has been used for movies, documentaries, television programs and books. This exhibit gives the general public a chance to see forged works up close in a way never before possible. It will travel to museums in Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma after it closes in Springfield. For more information about the Intent to Deceive exhibit, the link to the D’Amour Museum is provided below.
By: Cynthia Collins
Photo: Girl With a Pearl Earring original by Johannes Vermeer, 1665 (right side), forgery by John Myatt (left side).