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The Art of the Con

Anthony Amore

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The cycle

Step 1: a talented but impoverished artist (Peri-Shen Qian) or a talented and egotistical artist (Wolfgang Beltracchi)

produces realistic ("in-the-style-of") versions of famous or nearly-famous (dead) artists.

Step 2: an unscrupulous dealer adds provenance (a convincing back story) and sells forgeries to credulous nouveau riche.

Step 3: doubts arise as to the veracity of the provenance; scientific tests are commissioned, and the painting(s) are found to have anachronistic pigments.

Step 4: lawsuits and prosecutions ensue; perpetrators end up in jail.

Step 5: the artist becomes a romantic figure (John Myatt) and, after release, embarks on a profitable career selling 'real' fakes.

(Step 5b: the fakes become worth faking: a NZ gallery was forced to withdraw a painting attributed to a forger when it was found that it was in fact a forgery of the forgery.)

Ely Sakhai had a twist to standard scam: he actuallyowned the original. He got Chinese students to copy both front and back of his painting, then he used his own provenance record to sell the duplicate. Eventually however, a client would see "his" painting in an auction catalog and call in investigators.

Picasso is comparatively easy to forge. So prolific that there is no register of everything he produced - less than half of an estimated 50,000 works. As well, Picasso is the most-stolen artist: as of 2012 there were 1147 Picassos listed as stolen on the Art Loss Register (ALR).

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