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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Provenance by Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo, 2009, * * * * *

A decade-long art scam that sullied the integrity of museum archives and experts alike is elegantly recounted by husband-and-wife journalists Salisbury and Sujo. In 1986, when struggling painter and single father John Myatt advertised copies of famous paintings, he never imagined he'd become a key player in one of Britain's biggest art frauds. Myatt soon met John Drewe, the consummate con man. Drewe told Myatt he was a lecturer in nuclear physics, a consultant to the ministry of defense, a descendant of the Earl of York, a weapons expert and an art collector. None of it was true. It could have been the basis for the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. Soon Drewe passed off Myatt's work as genuine, including paintings in the style of artists like Alberto Giacometti, Ben Nicholson, Georges Braque and Nicolas de StaĆ«l. When buyers expressed concern about the works' provenance (the history of the ownership) Drewe used a painstaking process to ginn up receipts for prior purchases; created catalogs for exhibitions that never took place; and fabricated records for restoration work. In a master stroke, he smooth-talked his way into the files of the prestigious Tate Gallery in London, where he inserted some of his phony documents into the existing archives. The files remain tainted to this day.  Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller, filled with unforgettable characters and told at a breakneck pace. However, this 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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