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Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art Hardcover – July 9, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 135 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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, who claimed to be a physicist and avid art collector. Soon Drewe, a silver-tongued con man, was passing off Myatt's work as genuine, including paintings in the style of artists like Giacometti and Ben Nicholson. When buyers expressed concern about the works' provenance, Drewe began the painstaking process of falsifying records of ownership. Posing as a benefactor, Drewe even planted false documents in the archives of London's Tate Gallery, but suspicious historians and archivists eventually assisted Scotland Yard in bringing him to justice. Salisbury and Sujo (who died in 2008) evoke with flair the plush art world and its penetration by the seductive Drewe as well as the other players in this fascinating art drama. (July 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo are a husband-and- wife team of investigative reporters. Salisbury is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and has worked for Reuters and the Associated Press. She is the coauthor of the critically acclaimed The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, which was translated into eleven languages. Sujo grew up in the art world and has been a journalist for the past twenty years, covering arts and entertainment for Reuters, the Associated Press, and The New York Daily News. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1st Printing edition (July 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202206
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202209
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #480,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: 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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Format: 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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Format: 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.
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