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99 of 102 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One surprising flaw
An expertly written, carefully researched and exciting story of the criminal mastermind John Drewe who meticuously created extensive faked provenance to support his sales of hundreds of modern paintings forged by his accomplice artist John Myatt. The single criticism I have is that, although this book has lengthy descriptions of numerous faked Giacomettis, Nicholsons,...
Published on January 14, 2010 by Salenia

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Story Poorly Told
I'm glad so many have read and enjoyed the book and posted enthusiastic reviews here. As long as this is the only book on the astounding tale of Drew and Myatt, it should get a wide audience. I'm hoping that somebody makes a movie of the tale. I know that Michael Douglas was interested in it at one time, but that prospect appears not to be happening.

I just...
Published on February 8, 2011 by Corlyss M. Drinkard


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99 of 102 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One surprising flaw, January 14, 2010
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This review is from: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Hardcover)
An expertly written, carefully researched and exciting story of the criminal mastermind John Drewe who meticuously created extensive faked provenance to support his sales of hundreds of modern paintings forged by his accomplice artist John Myatt. The single criticism I have is that, although this book has lengthy descriptions of numerous faked Giacomettis, Nicholsons, Bissières and Sutherlands, there is not included a single photograph of any of the forgeries or of any genuine works to compare them with, nor are there any photographs of the forged provenance documents. And, although Drewe and Myatt's appearances are described in great detail, not a single photograph of either is included. Anyone reading this book would want, and expect, to see exactly what these paintings looked like and exactly how closely they resemble the genuine ones. The verbal descriptions are excellent, but they are no substitute for photographs. It is inexplicable why none are included. Fortunately, a Google Image search for "John Drewe" or "John Myatt" provides a number of examples of the faked paintings, as well as photographs of Drewe and Myatt (Myatt looks more distinguished to me, and Drewe less, than suggested by the book) and even some of the faked documents supporting the forgeries.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling read, I couldn't put it down!, July 26, 2009
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Kiki (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Hardcover)
I picked this book up because I enjoy reading non-fiction and know little about the art world-- and my knowledge of "provenance" is limited to the explanations given on antiques roadshow. After reading the editorial review on how well researched the book is, I expected this to be a weighty, but rewarding read. But after the first few pages I was surprised how hooked I was-- the story is utterly compelling, a real page turner. I love how the authors described the characters, not only through the documents they consulted and interviews they conducted, but also through a fascinating pyschological analysis on what may have driven their behavior. The book also provided a glimpse of how galleries, dealers, collectors and museums really operate-- I was surprised at the behavior of the "experts" in the art world-- all of which was detailed in a matter fact manner that led the reader to draw their own conclusion. I started this book on Saturday, read it straight through Sat night and finished Sunday because I just had to know what happened next, it's that kind of book.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exciting look at the darker side of the art world, July 27, 2009
This review is from: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Hardcover)
Provenance is a finely paced, tense look at the art world and one of the most massive art frauds perpetuated in recent history on reputable galleries and museums. The story runs from 1986 to 1995 and spans several countries. It reads with the flavor of a mystery and recounts how con man John Drewe's efforts resulted in over 200 forged paintings--some of which evidently are still hanging!

Salisbury and Sujo have meticulously researched their subject and the book is like a fast paced thriller as we watch John Drewe manipulate and draw into the hoax, a struggling artist and parent to become a master forger. And then we follow Drewe as he cons galleries into accepting the works as genuine with an authentic provenance. One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is how Drewe faked the provenances from fabricating restoration records and receipts to manufacturing fake catalogues for art shows that never took place!

This intricate story is truly an interesting look at the world of art and forgery and provenance!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting -, December 27, 2009
This review is from: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Hardcover)
"Provenance" is the account of one of the greatest cons in the history of art. About 240 forged paintings were produced, many selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and netting overall about 2 million pounds over nine years. Many are still considered genuine and hang in prominent places. The authors reveal that museums not only display art, but also assemble and maintain a chain of ownership for the works of the authors they display; funding this effort, however, is difficult and became key to the fraud detailed in the book.

The action begins with a museum reception for Dr. John Drewe, professor of nuclear physics and art connoisseur, who has just donated two 'valuable decades-old' paintings to the museum. Dr. Drewe is accompanied by his 'research assistant' John Myatt, who is shocked to realize that he had just finished painting the valuable donated paintings. Myatt strongly protests to Drewe that the subterfuge will certainly be discovered by the museum's curators, and gets Drewe to withdraw the donation on the grounds that he'd just learned of potential problems with their documentation. Dr. Drewe instead substitutes a $20,000 donation, with promises of another $500,000 later for the museum's provenance work. The point of Dr. Drewe's generosity was to gain access to the museum's records.

Dr. Drewe and Myatt had met four years prior when Drewe responded to Myatt's ad for reproductions. Myatt had just been abandoned by his wife, along with with two babies in diapers, and was short of money. Dr. Drewe commissioned a copy, and their relationship grew over time. Meanwhile, world art prices began soaring. Myatt, in turn, switched from making copies to creating original paintings in the style of the more valued artists he was mimicking; doing so, he carefully researched the style and peculiarities of the artists he was emulating. At first he was unaware that Drewe was selling his reproductions and creations as authentic.

Buyers became increasingly demanding of proof of authenticity as prices increased. Fortunately for the con artists, Drewe was now well-positioned to comply - both creating fake entries within the museum records (loose-leaf binders were used) for Myatt's heretofore non-existent paintings, and also using the records to compile credible-looking receipts and other records - again, from both real and invented collectors. Dr. Drewe used computers, old typewriters, and a scanner to revise old photographic records. (Museum security focused on people taking things out; it was especially lax regarding donors.)

Dr. Drewe's cons, however, are not limited to art - he also attempts to con his common-law wife (Batsheva Goudsmit) out of her real estate holdings, has her declared insane (she loses her job as a pediatric eye specialist), and takes custody of the two children. Myatt, on the other hand, eventually concluded that Dr. Drewe was insane (outlandish stories, dealing with guns) and cheating him, and Myatt then refuses to have anything more to do with Drewe.

In the middle of all this a strange fire and death occurs at an apartment owned by Drewe's common-law wife. Investigators meet with Batsheva and she tells them the dead person was probably blackmailing Dr. Drewe - 'something to do with art forgeries,' and later gives investigators Drewe's briefcase, loaded with strange receipts, clippings, art books, etc. Eventually Dr. Drewe is arrested for art fraud and exposed as never having gone past high school. Between Drewe's faking illnesses and fleeing, it took 18 months before he was brought to trial. The trial took another 6 months, he was found guilty in 5 hours, and sentenced to 6 years. Myatt received a one year sentence, served 4 months, and resolved to never paint again. His arresting officer, however, persuaded Myatt that 'he had a gift' and commissioned him to create a painting of the officer's family. Myatt returned to painting, and has done well since - making explicitly clear that his works are not authentic.

My main complaint about "Provenance" is that the suspicious fire and death issues were never resolved - the topic is just left hanging. I'm also at a loss to understand how 'Dr. Drewe' sustained himself prior to meeting Myatt (the book and other sources say that almost no records exist - still, his Batsheva and Drewe's parents provide potential sources), and why his financial situation deteriorated prior to being arrested.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Story Poorly Told, February 8, 2011
I'm glad so many have read and enjoyed the book and posted enthusiastic reviews here. As long as this is the only book on the astounding tale of Drew and Myatt, it should get a wide audience. I'm hoping that somebody makes a movie of the tale. I know that Michael Douglas was interested in it at one time, but that prospect appears not to be happening.

I just wish the book had been better written. It's chaotic presentation, confused timeline, frequent switches to different characters without nailing down the time of the event, jumping back and forward in time without any clear framework made it a very difficult read as intersted as I was in it. It's almost as though the book were written with a movie in mind, using flashbacks. A shooting script is a very different animal from a written narrative. Screenwriters can take liberties with time and character to tell a tale that aren't afforded to a narrative writer because a film can make obvious in a couple of shots what's going on and where the story is.

I wouldn't have a reader avoid this book if he is thinking about reading it because the story is remarkable and compelling. But forewarning is perhaps appropriate. It's unlikely but perhaps Edward Dolnick will take up the tale after a descent interval has passed. I read his unputdownable The Forger's Spell about a similarly astonishingly brazen forger in very close proximity to Provenance and it made me wish he'd written the latter as well.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fake Paintings and Their Fake Histories, September 9, 2009
This review is from: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Hardcover)
In his writing about fakes fifteen years ago, Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, introduced me to a word I had not previously encountered: provenance. The word is one that has become more commonly used in the art world, partially because Hoving emphasized that the genuineness of an artwork needed documentation, and provenance provided it. Forty percent of artworks that he had examined for the Met, Hoving said, were fake or misattributed, so authenticity is no small issue. Provenance is the documentation of the history of ownership of a piece of art; a perfect provenance would include the first bill of sale from the artist to the first owner, and every change of ownership thereafter. Museums do not just hang the art on their walls, but they are vitally involved in documenting provenance in their archives, so that if a work's authenticity is suspect, its provenance can be researched. But what if the forgers are not only forging the art, but forging the provenance, too? That's what had been going on for years, as told in _Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art_ (The Penguin Press) by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. The con man was John Drewe, and the forger he seduced into his game was John Myatt, and Scotland Yard called their scheme the biggest art fraud of the 20th century. The history of the fraud as told here is detailed and exciting, and the intelligence and seductiveness of the ingenious Drewe, well chronicled here, make him one of the most interesting of criminals.

Myatt, Drewe's forger, was a skilled artist in his own right, but was failing to make money at it. Myatt could get a better living turning out paintings that looked like the work of Monet or Turner, but which were clearly reproductions and did not pretend to be the real thing. He was a single father, trying to get by, and was delighted to come to the attention of John Drewe in 1985. Drewe originally contracted with Myatt for a "small Matisse" and then he asked for a Klee, and then others, and soon he was Myatt's biggest customer. Drewe was chatty and complimentary. Before long, he told Myatt that he had sold one of Myatt's reproductions, of a cubist painting supposedly by Albert Gleizes, as genuine, and had gotten £25,000 for it. Drewe offered half the money to Myatt, who accepted and was hooked. Drewe ingratiated himself into the Institute of Contemporary Arts, persuading the staff that he knew just how essential archiving was, and that he knew how it was hard to get money for the behind-the-scenes work of the archivists, and that he was just the hero to rescue the institute's disorganized records. He proceeded to organize the dusty shelves and file boxes, kindly getting them out of everyone's way by taking them home so he could do the work there. He thus had a treasure trove of stationery, receipts, handwriting, and catalogues which he could collage together to invent a provenance for Myatt's paintings. He arranged to have pictures of the works inserted into the binders that documented previous exhibits. He dreamed up a connection with a religious order that supposedly had held some of the artworks and had sold them off, and he documented the sales. In fact, sometimes Drewe did his job too well; the artist Alberto Giacometti was informal about his business practices, but Drewe's documentation of provenance for one of his paintings was perfect, and in this case, perfection was suspect.

In his trial, Drewe represented himself and pictured himself the victim of various conspiracies and mysterious dirty tricks by the government he had tried to serve in his imaginary capacity as consultant. He served four years in prison, and still swears he was innocent, although he failed to supply to the authors the documentation that he said would prove it. Myatt cooperated with the investigation, served four months, and had a far more satisfactory outcome. He returned to his previous career of making his fakes, but signing them with his own name; some clients have asked him not to put his indelible stamp "Genuine Fakes" on the back of his works, but he has declined. His notoriety in this case has only added to the value of his works, proving that sometimes crime does (eventually) pay. Among the more startling facts within this gripping true-crime book is that not all the forgeries are found. There were around 200 forged paintings sold, and only 80 have been rounded up and kept off the market as fakes. The rest are out there somewhere, still ready for the next buyer. They look pretty close to the real thing, and they all have papers to prove they are genuine.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Well Written, April 9, 2010
By 
E. Lacey (Los Angeles, CA, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Hardcover)
This is some of the most exciting nonfiction I've read in quite a while. I absolutely couldn't put it down.

The book tells the story of John Drewe, an English con man who, over the course of a decade floods the international art market with fakes and doctors museum paperwork to support his fraudulent acts. His partner in crime, John Myatt, is a talented artist who soon begins to regret his role in the scam but can't afford to give it up.

The slow unraveling of Drewe's career is fascinating. The personalities at work on both sides of the issue are compelling and sympathetic. The author does a great job of laying out the events and makes this story read like fiction.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling art hoax story, July 22, 2009
This review is from: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Hardcover)
I just loved this story about the most amazing hoax pulled off in the art world, with John Drewe, the con man you love to hate, hatching and actually implementing the most fantastical schemes to make even the staff of the world's fanciest museums believe in the authenticity of the phony works he was peddling. A great thriller, and the personalities of the leading characters really come through: brilliant, ruthless Drewe, and the tragic figure of the talented but unsuccessful painter John Myatt who got roped into his schemes. Go Scotland Yard!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars great story just not an easy read, September 6, 2012
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The story was great but it was not easy to read. As soon as the plot would get really good, the author would revert back to facts and make you lose focus. Overall I am glad I read it but won't be recommending it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enthralling page turner, truth stranger than fiction, April 8, 2010
By 
Ivor E. Zetler (Sydney Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art (Hardcover)
This enthralling book, proving that truth is stranger than fiction, should be a must read for those interested in the art world and/or crime. I read it voraciously in two sessions. John Drewe, the con man at the centre of the story, is certainly a nasty piece of work. Pity the people who crossed his path (particularly his first wife) in the course of their lives.

The authors have expertly researched their fascinating subject and write entertainingly. The shortish chapters are as gripping as a Dan Brown novel; the difference is that these amazing events actually happened.
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