It has been estimated that as much as 20% of all the art in museums is counterfeit. Even while today's digital technologies make it easier to spot, counterfeit art, especially the art of the masters, is big business.
It's a practice that probably started with the ancient Romans. Roman sculptors would often copy the works of the Greek masters, and pass them off as their own. During the Renaissance, with a quickly growing middle-class, the practice became even more prevalent. Even some of the great masters, such as Michelangelo, are known to have created counterfeit copies of ancient Roman sculptures. But only in recent years have we have come to realize the astonishing amounts of money involved in the business of art frauds.
The most common forgeries are styled after the modern artists of the 20th century, such as Picasso, Matisse, Paul Klee, and Salvador Dali. Presumably, the materials they used are more readily obtainable, and their abstract styles easier to copy. Here are a few of the major players of the counterfeit art world who were finally caught.
British artist, Jonh Myatt, in cahoots with art gallery owner, John Drewe, is credited with being "the biggest art fraud of the 20th century". Myatt is reputed to have painted over 200 forgeries, with a great deal of them being sold at some of the most prestigious auction houses around the world. Myatt created fakes in almost any style, including Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Renoir. After milking Southeby's and Christie's out of several hundred thousand pounds, they were finally caught in 1998. Myatt was convicted, but served only 4 months in jail. He subsequently became a 'celebrity artist', even starring in his own TV show about how to fake the best art. Now, his authentic 'fakes' sell legitimately for thousands of dollars.
Elmyr de Hory
Elmyr De Hory, who painted more than 1000 art fakes, is considered to be perhaps the most prolific of all the known forgers. His trickery, however, was not discovered until after his death. De Hory was trained in the traditionalist 'old school' style, but by the time he completed his studies, the modernist styles of Cubism and Impressionism had become in vogue. Following the war, De Hory settled in Paris, where he soon discovered that he could make a better living copying the art of the masters than selling his own works. Many of his forgeries sold for thousands of dollars. But some of his attempted sales were often suspect, and De Hory spent much of his life one step ahead of the authorities. Many of De Hory's forgeries are still in high demand by collectors, even today.
Tatiana Khan was not an artist herself, but the owner of a prestigious L.A. art gallery, the 'Chateau Allegre'. In 2006, Khan commissioned an artist to make a copy of Picasso's 'La Femme Au Chapeau Bleu'. The forger was paid one thousand dollars to replicate the painting, which Khan then sold to one of her clients for two million dollars. The very fact that a reputable dealer had initiated the scam shook the art world at the time.
Han van Meegeren
Van Meegeren was a highly talented artist who was disillusioned that his work was not getting the respect he thought it deserved. He turned his talents to counterfeiting art, and developed a way of achieving his 'Old Masters' style by baking his paintings in an oven. Doing so aged his new canvasses so that they looked hundreds of years older. It is estimated that Van Meegeren was so successful that he scammed over $60 million. Upon being caught, Van Meegeren was accused of having stolen the 'original' paintings he sold. At his trial, he actually painted a fake Vermeer in the courtroom to prove that he was not selling genuine priceless originals.
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