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A tautly paced investigation of one the 20th century's most audacious art frauds, which generated hundreds of forgeries-many of them still hanging in prominent museums and private collections today. Provenance is the extraordinary narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate deceptions in art history. Investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo brilliant A tautly paced investigation of one the 20th century's most audacious art frauds, which generated hundreds of forgeries-many of them still hanging in prominent museums and private collections today. Provenance is the extraordinary narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate deceptions in art history. Investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo brilliantly recount the tale of a great con man and unforgettable villain, John Drewe, and his sometimes unwitting accomplices. Chief among those was the struggling artist John Myatt, a vulnerable single father who was manipulated by Drewe into becoming a prolific art forger. Once Myatt had painted the pieces, the real fraud began. Drewe managed to infiltrate the archives of the upper echelons of the British art world in order to fake the provenance of Myatt's forged pieces, hoping to irrevocably legitimize the fakes while effectively rewriting art history. The story stretches from London to Paris to New York, from tony Manhattan art galleries to the esteemed Giacometti and Dubuffet associations, to the archives at the Tate Gallery. This enormous swindle resulted in the introduction of at least two hundred forged paintings, some of them breathtakingly good and most of them selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of these fakes are still out in the world, considered genuine and hung prominently in private houses, large galleries, and prestigious museums. And the sacred archives, undermined by John Drewe, remain tainted to this day. Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller, filled with unforgettable characters and told at a breakneck pace. But this is most certainly not fiction; Provenance is the meticulously researched and captivating account of one of the greatest cons in the history of art forgery.


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A tautly paced investigation of one the 20th century's most audacious art frauds, which generated hundreds of forgeries-many of them still hanging in prominent museums and private collections today. Provenance is the extraordinary narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate deceptions in art history. Investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo brilliant A tautly paced investigation of one the 20th century's most audacious art frauds, which generated hundreds of forgeries-many of them still hanging in prominent museums and private collections today. Provenance is the extraordinary narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate deceptions in art history. Investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo brilliantly recount the tale of a great con man and unforgettable villain, John Drewe, and his sometimes unwitting accomplices. Chief among those was the struggling artist John Myatt, a vulnerable single father who was manipulated by Drewe into becoming a prolific art forger. Once Myatt had painted the pieces, the real fraud began. Drewe managed to infiltrate the archives of the upper echelons of the British art world in order to fake the provenance of Myatt's forged pieces, hoping to irrevocably legitimize the fakes while effectively rewriting art history. The story stretches from London to Paris to New York, from tony Manhattan art galleries to the esteemed Giacometti and Dubuffet associations, to the archives at the Tate Gallery. This enormous swindle resulted in the introduction of at least two hundred forged paintings, some of them breathtakingly good and most of them selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of these fakes are still out in the world, considered genuine and hung prominently in private houses, large galleries, and prestigious museums. And the sacred archives, undermined by John Drewe, remain tainted to this day. Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller, filled with unforgettable characters and told at a breakneck pace. But this is most certainly not fiction; Provenance is the meticulously researched and captivating account of one of the greatest cons in the history of art forgery.

30 review for Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art

  1. 4 out of 5

    Janday

    An Archival Case Study A successful con artist does not break the system. He exploits an inherent weakness in the system which many may not know is at risk. This is exactly what con man John Drewe did to the British art world for nearly a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. In this case, Drewe exploits the heavy reliance on provenance, the documented “life” of a work of art from studio to current owner. Provenances take the forms of sales receipts, correspondence, photographs of works, shipping labels An Archival Case Study A successful con artist does not break the system. He exploits an inherent weakness in the system which many may not know is at risk. This is exactly what con man John Drewe did to the British art world for nearly a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. In this case, Drewe exploits the heavy reliance on provenance, the documented “life” of a work of art from studio to current owner. Provenances take the forms of sales receipts, correspondence, photographs of works, shipping labels, auction catalogs--anything that can provide evidence that a work is what it claims to be. To do this, Drewe visited and planted false documents in gallery archives throughout London, such as the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art. The text reads more like a thriller than a case study. There is a con and a mark. It is evident early on that Sujo and Salisbury’s main source of information was forger John Myatt himself, a hard-working artist who was "set-up." While the opportunity to have a first-hand source is probably titillating, I think these two didn’t take the trouble to offer an unbiased view of the story. I noticed that not once are the works called “forgeries” while they are in Myatt‘s possession. Salisbury and Sujo refer to Myatt’s works by the artists whose styles Myatt forges. He delivers “Bisseres” on time, but never the fakes. In fact, the title is the only place in which Myatt is called a “forger” within the text. So even when Myatt delivers his reproductions in the full knowledge that Drewe is selling them off to dealers and auction houses as the artists’ genuine works, he is still the victim of this tale. When Myatt becomes disgusted with the blatant refusal of art dealers, gallery owners, and auction houses to perform due diligence by examining suspect works rather than hurrying them through sales, he is practically doing the industry some sort of service by diluting the art world with fakes. So if John Myatt is the victim, the mark, the unsung hero of this tale, why does his web site (www.johnmyatt.com) say “the biggest art fraud of the 20th century” in bold, golden letters across the top of the page? While the work was certainly entertaining, the depiction of Myatt as the courageous, industrious, single-father unwittingly drawn into the seedy world of shady art dealings seems highly stylized. Much time and text was spent defending Myatt when it should have been spent examining the weaknesses in this system. Weaknesses such as how stolen and forged art sales run the same routes that drugs and illegal arms run; the desperation for funds that allows dealers and auction houses to rush works of questionable authenticity to the auction block; reliance on provenance from archivists who, although may have some knowledge of the art world from the content of their collections, are not subject specialists. A better look at the case from the archival perspective is Rodney G. S. Carter's article "Tainted Archives: Art, Archives and Authenticity" from the journal Archivaria (vol. 63). Provenance is a core principle of archival science. Despite differing opinions and approaches to the archivist’s role in protecting documents for cultural, evidential, and sustaining value, each archivist has a duty to protect the documents entrusted to his or her institution. This seems to be at odds with another archival value: access. For what is the purpose of protecting and preserving documents if no one can utilize the information held within? This is only one of the many seemingly contradictory duties that the archivist undertakes with each acquisition. In this case, protection meant preventing Drewe (and his cohorts) from removing documents AND inserting false documents. Unlike a library whose holdings include individual works, archives hold collections -- series of items that are related by creation. By planting false documents, the integrity of the entire collection has been compromised. The extent of the corruption of these archival holdings may never fully be known.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    For those that don’t know, a provenance is a document (or documents) that chronologies the ownership of a historical object. In the art world, the provenance serves almost like a certificate of authenticity as well as a historical document of the ownership, custodies or locations the piece has been displayed. The problem was, there was a time in art history where authenticating a provenance was all you needed to prove the art was genuine. This lead to all kinds of problems, in the world of compu For those that don’t know, a provenance is a document (or documents) that chronologies the ownership of a historical object. In the art world, the provenance serves almost like a certificate of authenticity as well as a historical document of the ownership, custodies or locations the piece has been displayed. The problem was, there was a time in art history where authenticating a provenance was all you needed to prove the art was genuine. This lead to all kinds of problems, in the world of computers and photocopiers it became very easier to make a document look authenticate than it was to forge a painting. This book explores this very problem; Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art tells the story of what was described as ‘the biggest art fraud in the 20th century’. Provenance has one of the most extraordinary narratives I’ve ever read in a non-fiction book; it reads like an art thriller, full of suspense and mystery. It wasn’t what I expected from a true crime book on art history, I was hooked in this world and on the edge of my seat to find out what will happen next. The authors of this book, Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo are both investigative reporters and spent the time to research and tell us the story of John Drewe, a villainous con man that set out to defraud the art world. Recruiting a struggling artist, John Myatt, to paint the forges, it is estimated that over 200 forgeries were made and only about 60 of them recovered. This means there is about 140 paintings still out there been accredited to artists like Giacometti, Dubuffet and so on. If I may, I want to quickly touch on the problematic approach to authenticating a provenance rather than a painting. As I said before the use of computers and photocopiers made it easy to fake these documents, but John Drewe went further by sneaking forged documents of auctions, gallery displays and so on into the archives of museums and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. What was scary about the elaborate efforts Drewe went to to make this provenance real is the fact a test on the painting might have been so much quicker. If they took the effort to test the paint they would have found that Myatt used a combination of emulsion paint, K-Y Jelly and then vanish to make the paintings look like oil paintings. All my knowledge on art forgery came from people like Neal Caffrey (White Collar) so I’m not nearly knowledgeable on the topic, as I’d like to be. Art history and art crimes can be fascinating topics and what I loved about Provenance is how it showed how crime seeps in and becomes part of the history. When John Myatt served his time he decided not to point out any paintings that he had done, and that raises an interesting question. Is it better to point out the 140 or so fakes still out there and have the owners lose all that money or not? If a fake is just going to be burnt is it better to own up to the forgery or let it remain a piece of art? The financial and artistic costs would be devastating but what about the moral code that Myatt wished to live by? This is what made for a fascinating read, I learned a small part of art history, art crimes and it also raised some philosophical questions. I know I might have said a little too much but this is history, can you give spoilers on historic events? It is a great piece of narrative non-fiction and a great way to learn more about art crimes. This review this review appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lance Charnes

    Provenance is the story of a very long con: John Drewe (only one of his names), a pathological liar with a phenomenal memory for trivia, gleefully trashed the modern history of European art through the 1990s while moving hundreds – perhaps thousands – of forged paintings through major galleries and auction houses, all the while being feted by the art establishment. And it’s all true. Drewe didn’t forge the paintings himself. He outsourced that job to John Myatt, an amateur painter and general sad Provenance is the story of a very long con: John Drewe (only one of his names), a pathological liar with a phenomenal memory for trivia, gleefully trashed the modern history of European art through the 1990s while moving hundreds – perhaps thousands – of forged paintings through major galleries and auction houses, all the while being feted by the art establishment. And it’s all true. Drewe didn’t forge the paintings himself. He outsourced that job to John Myatt, an amateur painter and general sad sack who whipped up new works by Modernist artists using house paint and scrap lumber. Drewe wasn’t even the first to devise fake provenances (collection histories) for fake paintings. His innovation was to hack the archives of major museums (such as London’s Tate Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum) to insert the fakes into the very fabric of art history. The lengths he went to in order to pass off the phonies as realies are almost as amazing as the fact that so many reputed art experts and galley owners swallowed the scam whole. This will not be comfortable reading for art insiders. Authors Salisbury and Sujo tell the tale in almost novelistic form. The players aren’t just names but full-fledged characters, with their thoughts and dialog recreated convincingly. The authors dole out background information as needed, avoiding the lengthy infodumps that often plague even popular histories. The outline of the story itself is almost cinematic; you can find all the major beats of a crime film in the plot, and the same momentum. The only things missing are the car chases and the climactic shootout. There are a few stumbles along the way. There’s a certain amount of repetition, especially in the final quarter of the book when the police are on the case and are discovering the same facts from different sources. The close focus on the major players loosens during the trial scenes, which become reportage rather than storytelling. A glossary would be helpful for non-specialist readers. And if there was ever a true-crime book that screamed out for pictures, this is it: unless you’re familiar with the works of Giacometti, Nicholson or Dubuffet, you won’t have any idea what the real (or fake) paintings look like. If con artists are your cuppa, Provenance is for you. The same goes if you enjoy seeing privilege with egg on its face. Even if you know nothing about Modern art, you’ll be able to connect with the characters and go along on their long, strange ride. You can’t hope to find a fictional character as outlandish as the real-life John Drewe. And at the end, you’ll never look at a painting in a museum the same way again.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    This is a mind-bending walk through The Art of the Con as practiced by con-master John Drewe, simultaneously and serially known as John Cockett, a different Mr. Cockett, Mr. Sussman, Mr. Green, Mr. Atwood, Mr. Martin, Mr. Bayard, and Mr. Coverdale. John Drewe and the skilled painter John Myatt together perpetrated one of the longest-running and most extensive art frauds of the late 20th century, extending from London to America and the continent, and from there around the world. Breathtaking high This is a mind-bending walk through The Art of the Con as practiced by con-master John Drewe, simultaneously and serially known as John Cockett, a different Mr. Cockett, Mr. Sussman, Mr. Green, Mr. Atwood, Mr. Martin, Mr. Bayard, and Mr. Coverdale. John Drewe and the skilled painter John Myatt together perpetrated one of the longest-running and most extensive art frauds of the late 20th century, extending from London to America and the continent, and from there around the world. Breathtaking high-wire stunts of impersonation and art forgery, archive-diving and modification, provenance creation and solicitation all came to a halt nearly a decade after it had begun when a few of the more than two hundred paintings Myatt had forged and sold came to the attention of New Scotland Yard’s chief of The Art and Antiques Squad, Dick Ellis. The discussion of the fraud holds one kind of fascination; the gathering of evidence and the actual trial holds different thrills. John Drewe was undoubtedly one of the finest liar-performers ever uncovered, and in fact, the con has become known as John Drewe's "performance piece" by insiders and investigators. Drewe kept such an enormous cache of personae in the air at the same time and convinced so many of his rectitude that one would simply love to see him act, as long as his mental acuity was not aimed at one’s life savings, nor one’s unprotected heart. While all of this completely absorbing story holds interest for the reader, I especially loved the graceful way it ended. We learn of the take-down, the trial, the sentencing, and the after-trial outcomes. This is a marvelously-told story with lessons for us all. I can heartily recommend the audiobook narrated by Marty Peterson, though I did listen to it on slow speed. At normal speed I was getting so much info I couldn’t keep track of names and places.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    In the 1980s-90s, a smooth-talking sociopath and self-proclaimed physicist (he had actually dropped out of high school) named John Drewe hired an impoverished single father, John Myatt, to paint fake 20th century artworks and foist them off on unsuspecting buyers and galleries. Drewe's success depended not only on Myatt's skill, but on creating fake provenances for many of the works. He forged letters and signatures, forged the stamps of museums and a priory library, and gained access to the arc In the 1980s-90s, a smooth-talking sociopath and self-proclaimed physicist (he had actually dropped out of high school) named John Drewe hired an impoverished single father, John Myatt, to paint fake 20th century artworks and foist them off on unsuspecting buyers and galleries. Drewe's success depended not only on Myatt's skill, but on creating fake provenances for many of the works. He forged letters and signatures, forged the stamps of museums and a priory library, and gained access to the archives of the Tate Museum, the Victoria & Albert, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where he did the most damage of all, inserting fake records, documents, and exhibition catalogs so that any buyer checking up on him would be fooled by a manufactured art historical record. It's a fascinating story and the authors tell it well. Unfortunately, the book contains no images of any of these faked Giacomettis, Dubuffets, Nicholsons, or Bissières, and what we want most is to look at the fakes and some originals side by side. Typo: Shawn Scully for Sean Scully.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    From the book cover: “Filled with extraordinary characters and told at breakneck speed, Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller. But this is most certainly not fiction. It is the astonishing narrative 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 From the book cover: “Filled with extraordinary characters and told at breakneck speed, Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller. But this is most certainly not fiction. It is the astonishing narrative 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 John Myatt.” One always expects the cover description to be complimentary to the book. All too often, however, it is similar to a movie trailer that highlights the only the very best part of the whole story. Not the case with Provenance. This book truly does read like a thriller. It is indeed fast paced. The authors certainly did their research and managed to wrangle the very, very convoluted escapades of John Drewe into a readable (and quite exciting) look into the world of art and art forgery. I have been reading a fair bit of non-fiction lately and Provenance is the most “current” of the books I have read. It certainly makes for interesting reading when the authors were able to interview the people involved (because they were still alive) and know that the information was reasonably fresh in their recollections. “Frequently there is a tender complicity between faker and victim: I want you to believe that such and such is the case, says the faker; if you want to believe it, too, and in order to cement that belief, you, for your part, will give me a great deal of money, and I, for my part, will laugh behind your back. The deal is done.” – from a letter by Julian Barnes, June 11, 1990. The above quote pretty much sums up how cons like the one perpetuated by John Drewe can go on as long as it did. Yes, the talent of the “con man” makes it happen but the complicity of the those wanting to believe in his story allow it to go on for such a very long time. While reading this book the “what if” question was constantly in the back of my mind … What if …. John Drewe had turned his considerable talents to a legitimate enterprise? What if … John Myatt used his considerable talents not for forgery but for original art? What if … John Drewe’s marriage had not hit the rocks and his wife not become angry enough to go to the police with her suspicions? Definitely the art world would have been turned inside out even more, but we also would have been left without a wonderful telling of the caper. I enjoyed this book a great deal.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lightreads

    Oh yeah, the White Collar writers totally read this and went “yeah, let’s do that! Only sexier and without the mental illness.” It’s a compelling story of con artistry and, glancingly, of the art world where “real” doesn’t mean nearly as much as everyone says it does. But mostly I was too distracted by the style. This is what happens when a particular breed of reporters write nonfiction, every single time, I swear. They are so focused on hiding the ball, on digesting all of their research into ap Oh yeah, the White Collar writers totally read this and went “yeah, let’s do that! Only sexier and without the mental illness.” It’s a compelling story of con artistry and, glancingly, of the art world where “real” doesn’t mean nearly as much as everyone says it does. But mostly I was too distracted by the style. This is what happens when a particular breed of reporters write nonfiction, every single time, I swear. They are so focused on hiding the ball, on digesting all of their research into appropriately textured lumps for mass consumption, that they end up producing something that reads more like a novel. I don’t know where they got a single bit of this information. Not specifically, I mean – I have a vague idea who they interviewed and what they read, but they really don’t want me to know where they got what, or how reliable any given piece of information was, or really that any interviewing or information-gathering happened at all. They want me to swallow this down whole with no analysis from me, thank you very much. I might appreciate that on a Monday morning in the WSJ, but I really don’t in my nonfiction books.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    I heartily and thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is not a scholarly examination of the subject, but it covers the importance of why this particular forgery con was more damaging than others. And now I know the reasons why, when I go to the National Archives in the US, they make sure you're not bringing anything in as well as not leaving with anything. You do get a false impression from movies like "Catch me if you Can" and shows like "White Collar" that con-men aren't such bad guys, but this book I heartily and thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is not a scholarly examination of the subject, but it covers the importance of why this particular forgery con was more damaging than others. And now I know the reasons why, when I go to the National Archives in the US, they make sure you're not bringing anything in as well as not leaving with anything. You do get a false impression from movies like "Catch me if you Can" and shows like "White Collar" that con-men aren't such bad guys, but this book really does correct that impression with Drewe, who conned the people working for him in the forgery ring just as much as the people they were all conning. So all in all, this is not a dry book, it's very narrative and accessible, and anyone interested in art crimes should find this a great read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Leta Blake

    Very helpful for research. I learned a lot about forgeries and art archives, etc.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    "It occurred to [Myatt] 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 could not absorb the number of fakes they were producing. If they continued as usual, they would almost certainly get pinched." Provenance "It occurred to [Myatt] 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 could not absorb the number of fakes they were producing. If they continued as usual, they would almost certainly get pinched." Provenance was a whirlwind of a read from beginning to end. The building up of characters, much like a play, created the perfect setting to recount this tale of fraud and deception. As the story went on, more people were pulled into the con, real and imaginary. Drewe's ability to spin lies and keep them sorted out is truly unbelievable, and that that many people ate them up is even more unbelievable. It began with an artist down on his luck, just looking for a way to earn some extra cash. John Myatt put an add into a local paper advertising his talents, hoping just to keep food on his table and to pay his bills. John Drewe, who soon came to be the perpetrator of this whole scam, commissioned a painting. Once he realized Myatt was incredibly talented, the scam was born. There have been many art fakes and forgeries done through out the years since art was recognized as a commodity, but none have been so thought-out as this one. The Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the Tate Gallery have permanent warnings on their websites about the archives being corrupted. Many first hand documents from artists, galleries, and patrons can no longer be relied upon. Provenance makes a great point in saying that sometimes the provenance of a piece has greater weight than what the piece actually looks like. Sometimes though, you need to go with your gut feeling. This is definitely worth a read, especially if you are interested in the art world. Fakes and forgeries are a serious problem, and should not be taken lightly. I don't agree with France's and Belgium's policy of destroying them outright. There should be the option of destruction, or the art piece being marked. The owner should be allowed a choice in the matter since they paid big money for it. As technology becomes more advanced, criminals will too. John Drewe pulled this whole scam off in the early nineties, when there wasn't even internet. Provenance serves as a good warning to all museum professionals out there about the ingenuity some criminals have and the lengths they are willing to go to carry out their scheme.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brian DiMattia

    A terrific history of a crime, Salisbury and Sujo cover all the bases cleanly and entertainingly. They follow the fraud of John Drewe, the artist he worked with, some of the art world figures who weren't taken in and several more who were, and eventually the painstakingly crafted police investigation. Drewe took paintings made by an English artist named John Myatt in the style of various 20th century artists (like Giacometti and Ben Nicholson), and passed them off as fakes. But his masterstroke w A terrific history of a crime, Salisbury and Sujo cover all the bases cleanly and entertainingly. They follow the fraud of John Drewe, the artist he worked with, some of the art world figures who weren't taken in and several more who were, and eventually the painstakingly crafted police investigation. Drewe took paintings made by an English artist named John Myatt in the style of various 20th century artists (like Giacometti and Ben Nicholson), and passed them off as fakes. But his masterstroke was to create fake documents making the frauds seem legitimate and inserting them into the archives of museums. But what makes this book particularly good is the way the authors examine the environment that made all this possible. The lack of support for the policing of art crimes, the way art world luminaries would bend over backwards at the prospect of donations, and the archivists who consider record keeping not just a job, but a calling. Honestly, I started reading this as a fan of art, looking to understand the "Modern" art period better. But as the proud son of two librarians, my new hero is Jennifer Booth, the archives curator who realized early on what was being done to her archives and fought long and hard to get her museum to see the danger of a donor they were courting. The authors do spend a great deal of time excusing the behavior of Myatt, who actually painted the fakes. They go into great detail about how Drewe seduced him and how he was merely doing this, as a divorced father, to provide for his children. But the man did spend several years helping Scotland Yard build a case against Drewe, and Drewe's many crimes beyond simple forging (potentially having set a fire that killed someone, faking documents to steal money and their children from his first wife, etc.) mean that he is clearly, unmistakably the villain of this piece. This is a compelling, fascinating book that will leave you better informed about 20th century art and art crime, but also about the psychology of the con-man and the con itself. It's a terrific, easy read and I highly recommended it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Charles Mathes

    An art dealer acquaintance of mine likes to say (in all seriousness) that the most successful members of his profession are basically international Machiavellian criminals. The hero of this book (or villain, or whatever you want to call him) fits perfectly well into this world; in fact he has a distinct advantage over real art dealers who presumably have some sense of conscience or morality, or at least fear of getting caught. Not so with John Drewe, the brilliant sociopath who, circumventing th An art dealer acquaintance of mine likes to say (in all seriousness) that the most successful members of his profession are basically international Machiavellian criminals. The hero of this book (or villain, or whatever you want to call him) fits perfectly well into this world; in fact he has a distinct advantage over real art dealers who presumably have some sense of conscience or morality, or at least fear of getting caught. Not so with John Drewe, the brilliant sociopath who, circumventing the security designed to prevent people from stealing items from the hallowed Tate art library, smuggled in forged catalogs and records, then used these to document forged paintings. I'm an art dealer myself and can testify that in our world, where brand names trump connoisseurship, too many people look only at the name of the artist, not the painting. What makes a Picasso these days is not the brush strokes, or the concept, or its beauty (or lack of it) -- it is the paperwork. This story reads like a novel and, even if you're not interested in art, is a very good read. If you like it, then you will probably also like THE BILLIONAIRE'S VINEGAR by Benjamin Wallace, which is another well-written and very similar true story, that one set in the world of rare wine.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alexa

    After watching most of White Collar on Netflix, I wanted a literary fix of high-flying forgery and smart cons. This books is... sort of that book. The events described are certainly stranger than fiction, but I felt that the style was a bit too academic to really thrill. For example, before the first chapter the authors list all the characters, including short but comprehensive descriptions. Obviously the book could only be written if the con man got found out, but knowing every step along the w After watching most of White Collar on Netflix, I wanted a literary fix of high-flying forgery and smart cons. This books is... sort of that book. The events described are certainly stranger than fiction, but I felt that the style was a bit too academic to really thrill. For example, before the first chapter the authors list all the characters, including short but comprehensive descriptions. Obviously the book could only be written if the con man got found out, but knowing every step along the way makes it less fun to read. That said, the really interesting parts were about how Drewe, the con man in the title, duped art experts by playing on their hopes and assumptions. I was fascinated the many shifting, contradictory and downright crazy stories he invented. The authors do a good job of explaining how cons work, and my favorite section was the one that gave a short history of different forgers, their tricks, and their motivations. I do wish it had been written a little more sensationally (or maybe been a longer version of that overview?) but it was a very well researched look at a unique and odd facet of art history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Hallinan

    Sociopaths are often interesting, and John Drewe, the subject of this book, is more interesting than most. Drewe realized that what makes a forged painting "work" is not only the skill with which it's faked, but also the provenance -- the paper trail that tracks the picture over time to its creator or, at least, to an authoritative attribution. He made enormous donations to museums' archives, which many donors overlook and then got permission to do research there. Of course, they searched him whe Sociopaths are often interesting, and John Drewe, the subject of this book, is more interesting than most. Drewe realized that what makes a forged painting "work" is not only the skill with which it's faked, but also the provenance -- the paper trail that tracks the picture over time to its creator or, at least, to an authoritative attribution. He made enormous donations to museums' archives, which many donors overlook and then got permission to do research there. Of course, they searched him when he left the archives, but he wasn't taking things out -- he was putting things in. People following one of his forgeries' chains of provenance would see a citation to a catalogue or document in the archives of the Tate Museum, for example, and when they looked, there it would be. And that was generally enough for them -- in spite of the fact that the painter who created the "masterpieces" was using house paint. A riveting book and a real eye-peeler about "expertise" and the world of fine art.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Althea Ann

    I don't read very much non-fiction in book format; though I do read a bunch of magazines. I read something about this book (an excerpt?) in one of said magazines, and it intrigued me enough to get the book. Having worked in a museum archive, I was fascinated by this true story of how this art-forgery-fraud duo used falsification of archives in order to pass off their fakes as the genuine article - complete with historical documentation, to be found in multiple, respected repositories. The truly a I don't read very much non-fiction in book format; though I do read a bunch of magazines. I read something about this book (an excerpt?) in one of said magazines, and it intrigued me enough to get the book. Having worked in a museum archive, I was fascinated by this true story of how this art-forgery-fraud duo used falsification of archives in order to pass off their fakes as the genuine article - complete with historical documentation, to be found in multiple, respected repositories. The truly amazing part was how truly crappy some of their work was, and how long no one noticed it for. It really makes you wonder - if someone bothered to do a less shoddy job; would they ever be caught? Have people done so? The estimates some interviewees give on what percentage of the art market is false or misattributed merchandise is shocking. So - interesting book, mainly because of the content. Like so much non-fiction, though, the prose is unexceptional. It simply gets the job done.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    This was such a fun read. I was impressed that the authors were able to cram such a complicated story into such a manageable book and still make it enjoyable. Every now and then there would be a completely random bit of information that seemed out of place, and I did wish there had been more dates given to help with following the chronology of the story, but ultimately, it was a fascinating story that makes me look at the art world with a new perspective.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Autumn

    Loved this. I have a special affinity for art crime procedural drama anyway, so this was a perfect read for me. The story blew my mind and I learned tons about how the art world works. That being said, I will never look at a museum painting the same way again.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Very detailed look at a couple of crooks. Morally fuzzy, boring and not well suited to audio.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Karen Rettig

    This is a nonfiction book that reads like a thriller. In the art world, “provenance” refers to all of the letters, receipts, gallery catalogs, and other documents that prove the authenticity of a work of art. In the 1980’s, a brilliant con man, John Drewe, discovered that he could pass off forged works by major 20th century artists as authentic if he also forged the provenance. These artworks were not copies but rather works done in the style of the artist. Drewe took advantage of the fact that This is a nonfiction book that reads like a thriller. In the art world, “provenance” refers to all of the letters, receipts, gallery catalogs, and other documents that prove the authenticity of a work of art. In the 1980’s, a brilliant con man, John Drewe, discovered that he could pass off forged works by major 20th century artists as authentic if he also forged the provenance. These artworks were not copies but rather works done in the style of the artist. Drewe took advantage of the fact that art was increasingly being purchased as an investment rather than something to be enjoyed. A forged work that could be passed off as a minor work by a major artist could be sold, not for millions, but for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to investors who would sell it a couple of years later for a huge profit. Drewe did not paint the works himself, but he falsified the provenance of fakes and did it so well that the archives of several of the major art museums in London are still contaminated and no one is sure what is authentic and what isn’t. It took nine years to unravel the scam and arrest Drewe. This was a fascinating book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    It's always amazing to hear how people pull off such convoluted schemes. Drewe's forgery business was fascinating, and the book was focused, fast paced, and fun. I've been straying from nonfiction recently because I keep running across good stories that are badly told, so this was a nice break from that trend.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Harriett Milnes

    Great read! Forging a work of art is only half the story, you have to forge the provenance also. This book goes into all the details of the famous Drewe case, also giving a history of other famous forgers, yet remains very readable! a page-turner.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kylie Brooks

    A great read for anyone interested in the art world at all. This is a wonderfully told true story about a long con that fooled the art world. The writing is easy to breeze through, and the details shocking as the story unfolds.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Haley Nimer

    This book was fascinating. It's part art historical, part true crime and detective work, part human interest and insanely well written. The authors put their journalism backgrounds to good use and did (what I'm sure was) an insane amount of research. Their account was thorough, but not tedious. In regards to art, a provenance is essentially the paper trail that accompanies any given work. So and so bought this painting from the artist in this year, 12 years later put it up for auction at Sotheby This book was fascinating. It's part art historical, part true crime and detective work, part human interest and insanely well written. The authors put their journalism backgrounds to good use and did (what I'm sure was) an insane amount of research. Their account was thorough, but not tedious. In regards to art, a provenance is essentially the paper trail that accompanies any given work. So and so bought this painting from the artist in this year, 12 years later put it up for auction at Sotheby's, it was bought by this museum, etc. It allows potential collectors and buyers to verify the authenticity of a work of art as well as preserves a piece of history/cultural patrimony. This book covers a nine year period in the 90s in and around London where John Drewe and John Myatt produced massive amounts of forgeries and infiltrated the upper echelons of the the art world. Their crime was unique because while Myatt, more of an unfortunate pawn in the scheme, produced the paintings, Drewe wormed his way into the carefully guarded archives of major museums such as the Tate to alter the already existing provenances. I thought Provenance was extremely well done and I found myself thinking about it constantly, even when I wasn't reading. I came away from this book having learned a great deal and formulated more of my own opinions on the modern art market. I highly recommend it although I would say to be prepared... the writing gets a bit wordy and long winded. I often found I could read only a few chapters at a time and then had to take a break because it was mentally tiring. Not your light summer read, but deeply informative and well done.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Burns

    I loved this book. I just simply adored it. I loved how the characters were developed, where in the beginning you admired Drewe for his talent for manipulating people, thinking, "Dang. I wish I could do that. Make my life easier." Then, as the book goes on, you see how his genius criminality takes a slow spiral into insanity, unbalanced perception of truth, and violence. You lose sympathy with him just in time to enjoy the experience of police building evidence against him and watching him butch I loved this book. I just simply adored it. I loved how the characters were developed, where in the beginning you admired Drewe for his talent for manipulating people, thinking, "Dang. I wish I could do that. Make my life easier." Then, as the book goes on, you see how his genius criminality takes a slow spiral into insanity, unbalanced perception of truth, and violence. You lose sympathy with him just in time to enjoy the experience of police building evidence against him and watching him butcher his own legal defense by becoming his legal defense. I highly suggest this book to people who love real life and the fun people in it. The greatest shock to my system was reading my book, knowing that it was non-fiction, but not having it sink in that they were real people. Then I read the agnologements. And read the people I had admired and laughed with and grew angry with thanking the authors for DINNER AND INFORMATION! and it suddenly hit me HEY, THEY'RE REAL, I COULD TALK TO THEM IF I HAD THEIR TELEPHONE NUMBERS! I love nonfiction.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I really enjoyed this one - it read like Da Vinci code, a total art thriller- I didn't want to put it down, but it was even better in that it is the true story of one man's ability to rewrite art history. I ended up completely feeling for John Myatt, even though he was the artist churning out hundreds of fake Picassos etc because he was duped by the famous con man John Drewe (<---- who rightfully so comes across as odious in this book). You'll learn a lot from this book as the authors take yo I really enjoyed this one - it read like Da Vinci code, a total art thriller- I didn't want to put it down, but it was even better in that it is the true story of one man's ability to rewrite art history. I ended up completely feeling for John Myatt, even though he was the artist churning out hundreds of fake Picassos etc because he was duped by the famous con man John Drewe (<---- who rightfully so comes across as odious in this book). You'll learn a lot from this book as the authors take you through the world of art to famous auction houses, galleries/museums around the world, people's homes, and of course the Tate archives. Interestingly, Myatt is now out of prison and painting for a living and is highly sought after!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    This is the true story of how a brazen pair of London con men (one sociopath and one talented but poor artist) successfully conned some of the major art collectors and museums of the world into buying fake works of art. The story reads like a thriller, and you will marvel at the level of detailed deception they created in order to establish provenance for each fake. The damage they did is so deep that it may never be fully repaired. Although convicted, the artist is now free and selling his art This is the true story of how a brazen pair of London con men (one sociopath and one talented but poor artist) successfully conned some of the major art collectors and museums of the world into buying fake works of art. The story reads like a thriller, and you will marvel at the level of detailed deception they created in order to establish provenance for each fake. The damage they did is so deep that it may never be fully repaired. Although convicted, the artist is now free and selling his art as "Genuine Fakes"! (you can find these on the internet). My only complain ablout the book is that there were no pictures of the players, and no pictures of the forged art as compared to the originals (again, all avilable on the internet). A really fun read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    DoctorM

    I have a longstanding weakness for caper tales, and Salisbury's "Provenance" is a lovely story of art world deception. The ploy here is simple--- find a forger who can do passable imitations of handful of modern artists (Giacometti, Graham Sutherland, Debuffet) and then back them up with a host of forged documents--- sales receipts, letters, catalog entries, gallery records. I love the details here, love watching the ploy unfold. (Though what does it say that one's sympathies are always with the I have a longstanding weakness for caper tales, and Salisbury's "Provenance" is a lovely story of art world deception. The ploy here is simple--- find a forger who can do passable imitations of handful of modern artists (Giacometti, Graham Sutherland, Debuffet) and then back them up with a host of forged documents--- sales receipts, letters, catalog entries, gallery records. I love the details here, love watching the ploy unfold. (Though what does it say that one's sympathies are always with the con man--- he is the active agent, the one with the plan? After all, uncovering a forgery is never quite as entertaining to read about as the forgery itself...) Nicely written, nicely done.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shakeia

    I first saw this book on a write up of a friend and his fiancée in the Chicago Tribune. They listed this as one of their favorite books. I am incredibly interested in art heists, cons, and diamond thefts so this book seemed appealing. So happy I picked it up. Though nonfiction, the writers manage to tell the story in a way that it felt like fiction. (I understand some folks will have a problem with that.) I was captivated by the detail of the con, how long it went on, and at the sheer probabilit I first saw this book on a write up of a friend and his fiancée in the Chicago Tribune. They listed this as one of their favorite books. I am incredibly interested in art heists, cons, and diamond thefts so this book seemed appealing. So happy I picked it up. Though nonfiction, the writers manage to tell the story in a way that it felt like fiction. (I understand some folks will have a problem with that.) I was captivated by the detail of the con, how long it went on, and at the sheer probability that this con can never be undone/fixed.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carlyn

    Provenance is a riveting, non-stop read. For a decade in London in the 1990's a high school dropout and young artiste manque came together to create forged paintings and provenances. They were able to fool many dealers and auction houses (an easy mark) and even penetrated the archives of the Tate (in order to place forged provenances in the archives). This book reveals the psychopathic personality of the con man and the lost soul of the artist forger. More than a good character study, it is a ta Provenance is a riveting, non-stop read. For a decade in London in the 1990's a high school dropout and young artiste manque came together to create forged paintings and provenances. They were able to fool many dealers and auction houses (an easy mark) and even penetrated the archives of the Tate (in order to place forged provenances in the archives). This book reveals the psychopathic personality of the con man and the lost soul of the artist forger. More than a good character study, it is a tale of the flimsiness and smoke and mirrors of the "elegant" art world.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This is an interesting book. It starts out very slow but gains momentum about half way through. The book investigates the art world and how a con-artist created a network that faked over 200 pictures over 10 years. It is also represents an archivists worst nightmare as this con-artist actually compromised at least three leading art archives and created fake provenances from the archival materials. If you like art and mysteries, a must read. Recommend reading this in conjunction with False Impres This is an interesting book. It starts out very slow but gains momentum about half way through. The book investigates the art world and how a con-artist created a network that faked over 200 pictures over 10 years. It is also represents an archivists worst nightmare as this con-artist actually compromised at least three leading art archives and created fake provenances from the archival materials. If you like art and mysteries, a must read. Recommend reading this in conjunction with False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes by Thomas Hoving.

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