In the press and in popular culture, art theft and art forgery tend to be linked, and are often glamorized to a greater or lesser extent.1 The reality, however, is usually far more mundane, if not outright seedy (although efforts at recovery often have admirable, even >heroic overtones). In recent years, there have been several highly-publicized instances of forgery, including the sales of fake works by modern masters like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock that brought down the eminent Knoedler Gallery, and the extraordinarily successful fakes of the German painter Wolfgang Beltracchi, who after his fraud was disclosed, became the subject of many press articles, newscasts, and even a documentary, “Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery” (2014).
Unlike art thieves, however, art forgers and art fakers sometimes go on to a secondary career as fake-artists in their own right, enjoying a kind of glamorous notoriety, as Beltracchi has done. But Beltracchi is not alone in this. John Myatt now sells his “legitimate fakes,” Others have included Elmyr de Hory, Eric Hebborn, whose posthumous reputation as a master forger resulted in a recent auction of a number of his drawings in the style of old masters, and Mark Landis, who, somewhat uniquely, donated his faked works to museums. Perhaps the most famous forger was Hans van Meegeran, who forged Vermeers in pre-war Germany, selling one to Hermann Goering. Fakes and forgeries are even not infrequently the subject of exhibitions highlighting the forger’s own art. Some commentators have even suggested that fakes may be “the great art of our age.”
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