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Monday, August 19, 2013

Convicted Art Forger Explains How It’s Done

John Myatt is an artist and a convicted forger. (Castle Galleries)

John Myatt is an artist and a convicted forger. (Castle Galleries)

In New York City, federal prosecutors have charged an art dealer named Glafira Rosales in connection with $80 million worth of forged art.

These are not copies — they’re paintings that look like they’re in the style of famous artists. The painter has not been charged in the case.

But John Myatt, an artist who also made forgeries of the great masters, was caught and charged. He has been described by Scotland Yard as one of the 20th century’s biggest art frauds.

Like the artist in the New York case, Myatt made imitations of masters from Ben Nicholson to Le Corbusier that fooled auction houses such as Sotheby’s and museums including the Tate Modern.

To make forgeries, Myatt would go to a museum and look at a painting to take it apart technically.

“I would create a new painting, not copy the one I had looked at, but using the same methods, the same techniques, based very much on the way my target artist did it,” Myatt told Here & Now. “It didn’t dawn on me for a while that I was a crook, and then when it did, I didn’t like it.”

Myatt was charged and imprisoned for his forgeries.

When he was released, Myatt said he was “absolutely determined not to paint again.”

But as fate would have it, the police officer who led the case again Myatt rang him and asked him to make a family portrait and an imitation Ben Nicholson painting.

It led to Myatt’s current pursuit: “genuine fakes” — where he paints in the style of great masters.

“Six months after I had come out of prison, I got something like over 10,000 pounds in the bank and I earned it legally,” Myatt said. “And I was very proud of that.”

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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