By the time he was caught in 1997, John Drewe had pulled off the biggest art fraud in U.K. history. Drewe met a struggling art teacher with a flare for reproductions and conned him into painting hundreds of fakes. Later, Drewe posed as a wealthy patron of the arts to gain access to museum archives and plant false records that supported the authenticity of his faux masterpieces.
Museum-Security-org has a long article on John Drewe and his partner in crime John Myatt: “Before John Myatt was sentenced to prison in February for his part as a forger in perhaps the most ingenious and damaging art con of the 20th century, he lived in a humble cottage on a narrow lane in the idyllic Staffordshire village of Sugnall, a three-hour drive northwest of London. To his neighbors, he appeared to be an unremarkable painter who had never established a style with which to spawn a career. He also wrote catchy pop tunes. If Myatt was known for anything, it was for a hit single, “Silly Games,” which made the British Top 40 in 1979.
But beginning in 1986, Myatt discovered that he could paint like the masters, and for the next nine years he led a secret and stunningly successful professional life as a painter. Braque, Matisse, Giacometti, Le Corbusier, all became part of his repertoire. He faked their styles with such virtuosity that his paintings passed for the real thing.
Then, one morning in September 1995, Myatt opened his front door to walk his young son to the school bus and found policemen in his yard. A plainclothes officer introduced himself as Jonathan Searle, a one-time painter, restorer and art historian, and now Detective Sergeant at Scotland Yard. Myatt, 50, sturdily built with the toughened hands of a laborer, nodded with resigned expectancy and invited the policemen inside for tea. Then he asked if could walk his son to the bus. While he did, the officers ransacked the house. Upon returning, Myatt stood in the studio with Searle, surveying the chaos. “Do you like this one?” Myatt asked, pointing to a competent if undistinguished drawing of his son. Searle nodded sympathetically, but was amazed by what looked to be paintings by Giacometti, Chagall, Braque and Dubuffet hanging about the room. Drawing pads lying around showed sketched studies for works by Giacometti, Le Corbusier and Ben Nicholson.
Myatt confessed on the spot to having drawn and painted what the police later said were about 200 forgeries in the styles of nine modern masters and personally delivering them to London, one roughly every six weeks, to a man by the name of John Drewe. Scotland Yard already suspected Drewe of masterminding the sale of Myatt’s forgeries (and perhaps those of at least one other painter, still unidentified) through the auction houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, as well as reputable dealers in London, Paris and New York. Then Myatt told Searle something the police didn’t know: that he’d made most of the pictures out of an easily detectable household emulsion paint developed in the mid-60′s, decades after most of the paintings were supposed to have been executed. In some cases, he used K-Y Jelly as a medium to add body and fluidity to his brushstrokes. Myatt had no idea how many millions had changed hands on account of his paintings, but estimated that he had earned as much as $165,000 over the years, some of which was deposited into a Swiss bank account in his name. The painter immediately offered to return the $30,000 he still had and to help snare Drewe.”
Book: “Provenance – How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo” (Penguin Press, 2009)
Masterminds Documentary – The Forger’s Art