Between 1986 and 1994, John Myatt forged more than 200 new works by surrealists, cubists and impressionists, passing them off as originals with the help of an accomplice, John Drewe, an expert at generating false provenances. Despite the fact that many of John Myatt’s paintings were laughably amateurish (they were executed in emulsion, not oil), they fooled the experts and were auctioned for hundreds of thousands of pounds by Christie’s and Sotheby’s. It was, said Scotland Yard’s art and antiques squad when they finally caught up with John Myatt in 1995, bursting into his Staffordshire studio at the crack of dawn, “the biggest art fraud of the 20th century”. Indeed, to this day, some 120 “Myatts” are still said to be in circulation.
Now, having served his time – John Myatt was sentenced to 12 months in prison in 1999 but was released for good behaviour after four months – and with Michael Douglas poised to turn his exploits into a feature film (working title, Art Con), John Myatt feels he has nothing to apologise for.
“If someone came to me with one of my fakes now I wouldn’t let on,” says John Myatt, who is 60. “I figure that the paintings aren’t doing any harm. Besides, I’d be losing a perfectly innocent person money.”
Instead, John Myatt is seeking to forge a new career, so to speak, as a purveyor of what he calls “genuine fakes”. These are works by the very same artists he used to imitate when he was a criminal – not only Giacomettis and Nicholsons but Monets, Matisses and Renoirs. They even come with the artist’s signature. The only difference is that on the back of the canvas is a computer chip and the legend “Genuine fake” written in indelible ink.