Art forgery has a long history, but it began to get public attention perhaps only a couple of centuries ago, owing to science and technology that started recognizing the fakes. Even then, there have been some geniuses who successfully tricked everyone with their forged works for quite a while. Here is the list of top 10 such art forgers in history:
10. Yves Chaudron
This guy has the dubious distinction of faking the most popular painting on the Earth, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The French painter was recruited by Eduardo de Valfierno, who was behind the theft of Mona Lisa in 1911. According to Valfierno, Chaudron created many fakes and they were sold as genuine works to foreign buyers even before the theft. Chaudron was never caught since his part in the crime was revealed only after his death. He reportedly forged other paintings as well, though not as popular as Mona Lisa.
9. Han Van Meegeren
Perhaps no other forger can be held in as great regard in his country as Han Van Meegeren. Meegeren is one of the greatest art forgers ever. The Dutch painter turned to forging the works of master painter Vermeer due to the failure of his own creations. He sold forgeries of original Vermeer paintings. The world did come to know of his fraud only when he was arrested for selling one to a Nazi officer. Tried with treason, Van Meegeren reproduced the painting in exactness to prove that the work was a forgery. By the time he died, he became one of the most popular persons in his country and his forged works were sold at high prices.
8. Eric Hebborn
The interesting thing about Eric Hebborn is that he didn’t create the exact replicas of the classic paintings. He rather copied the styles of master artists and created his own paintings in them. He also turned to forgeries after his genuine works were not appreciated enough. Hundreds of his fakes were sold through prominent auction houses. His trickery was found out by curator Konrad Oberhuber, when he noticed that two paintings he recently acquired had been done on similar papers. Hebborn confessed his deeds in 1984. He is also the author of The Art Forger’s Handbook.
7. Elmyr de Hory
A Hungarian painter and art faker, Elmyr de Hory was the subject of Clifford Irving novel Fake and the Orson Welles film F for Fake. He has sold more than a thousand fakes, among them the works of faking works by masters such as Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, and Renoir. He was later revealed as a forger and later acquired a celebrity status after that. Hory even spent a few months in prison, though not for forgery. He eventually committed suicide.
6. John Myatt
John Myatt is the British artist who, along with John Drewe, perpetrated what has been touted to be ‘the biggest art fraud of the 20th century’. He sold his early works as explicit fakes but later collaborated with Drewe to expand the business. Myatt duplicated the works of artists including Chagall and Le Corbusier. He supposedly created about 200 forgeries, many of which were sold at reputed auction firms. Myatt and Drewe were caught at last and served time in prison.
5. Giovanni Bastianini
The Italian sculptor Giovanni Bastianini is one of the earliest art forgers to have been brought before the public eye. He, in collaboration with art dealer Giovanni Freppa, marketed various sculptures mimicking the works of renaissance era. They were bought by renowned museums including Louvre. Later Freppa confessed their forgery when he was given a rough deal by the museum.
4. Mark A. Landis
Mark Augustus Landis is an American art counterfeiter who donated numerous fake paintings as genuine works to American art galleries and museums. He tricked the museums for more than two decades. He never made any money since none of the paintings was sold. He also mixed his genuine works with the fake ones. The documentary Art and Craft is based on his life.
3. Shaun Greenhalgh
The British national Shaun Greenhalgh is one of the top 10 art forgers to ever live and his family was described as the most diverse forgery team ever by the Scotland Yard itself. Starting from 1989, Greenhalgh produced numerous fake crafts which were marketed by his family members. The crafts ranged from ancient sculptures to modern paintings. The crafts were bought by reputed museums and private collectors. Greenhalgh was finally caught in 2006 and was sentenced to nearly five years in prison.
2. Tony Tetro
Anthony Gene Tetro was an American art falsifier who reproduced the works of master artists like Rembrandt, Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall. His works was perfect imitations of the respective originals and they were sold in various auctions. Naturally, he went on to become very wealthy. He was caught only when painter Hiro Yamagata found a forgery of his own work for sale in a gallery in 1988. He spent a few years in prison and after release, continued to create reproductions.
1. Tom Keating
At number one in our list of top 10 art forgers is Tom Keating. Keating is a singular character among the ingenious forgers. His aim was not merely to make a fortune. It was rather to dismantle the entire system of art business, which he hated on principle. He believed it to be rotten and corrupt, where the credit went to those undeserved. He claimed to have forged nearly two thousand works, among them works of Rembrandt, Edgar Degas, Francois Boucher, Samuel Palmer and Amedeo Modigliani.
Top 10 Art Forgers in History Who’d Leave You in Awe
- Tom Keating
- Tony Tetro
- Shaun Greenhalgh
- Mark A. Landis
- Giovanni Bastianini
- John Myatt
- Elmyr de Hory
- Eric Hebborn
- Han Van Meegeren
- Yves Chaudron
Written by: Nikhil Rajagopalan