Husband-and-wife writing team Sujo (recently deceased) and Salisbury (co-author: The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, 2005) present the story of what Scotland Yard called “the biggest art fraud of the twentieth century.”
In 1996, British con man John Drewe was convicted of forgery and theft, among other charges. Sujo and Salisbury carefully delineate how he wormed his way into some of the most tightly controlled art archives in the world. His scam—aided by the initially reluctant work of forger John Myatt—spanned ten years, hundreds of forged paintings and dozens of art galleries across the globe. The gripping narrative portrays Drewe as a master of creating pasts and telling people exactly what they want to hear, gathering and using even the tiniest pieces of information to gain the confidence of his marks. Though Myatt was a skilled forger who was able to produce convincing “originals” by modern painters such as Le Corbusier and Alberto Giacometti, it was Drewe’s silver tongue—and pocketbook—that gained access to the materials from which he concocted convincing provenances of the artwork’s originality. As a result, he not only committed fraud; he substantially undermined the system whereby works are authenticated, and thus art history itself. While the story of Drewe and his accomplices—many of them unwitting—is captivating, the narrative flow is occasionally interrupted by the insertion of seemingly irrelevant information. The authors don’t always provide smooth transitions between the increasingly complex elements of the narrative, but the enthralling tale forces readers to rethink the question of what makes art valuable.
A flawed but ultimately mesmerizing portrait of the modern art market.