Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
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Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  2,679 ratings  ·  321 reviews
The true story of one of the twentieth century's most audacious art frauds

Filled with extraordinary characters and told at breakneck speed, Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller. But this is most certainly not fiction. It is the astonishing narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery. Stretching from London to Paris...more
Kindle Edition, 364 pages
Published July 9th 2009 by Penguin (first published 2009)
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Lance Charnes
Provenance is the story of a very long con: John Drewe (only one of his names), a pathological liar with a phenomenal memory for trivia, gleefully trashed the modern history of European art through the 1990s while moving hundreds – perhaps thousands – of forged paintings through major galleries and auction houses, all the while being feted by the art establishment. And it’s all true.

Drewe didn’t forge the paintings himself. He outsourced that job to John Myatt, an amateur painter and general sad...more
For those that don’t know, a provenance is a document (or documents) that chronologies the ownership of a historical object. In the art world, the provenance serves almost like a certificate of authenticity as well as a historical document of the ownership, custodies or locations the piece has been displayed. The problem was, there was a time in art history where authenticating a provenance was all you needed to prove the art was genuine. This lead to all kinds of problems, in the world of compu...more
Jan 08, 2012 Janday rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: archivists, curators, art historians
Recommended to Janday by: a professor of archival science
An Archival Case Study

A successful con artist does not break the system. He exploits an inherent weakness in the system which many may not know is at risk. This is exactly what con man John Drewe did to the British art world for nearly a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. In this case, Drewe exploits the heavy reliance on provenance, the documented “life” of a work of art from studio to current owner. Provenances take the forms of sales receipts, correspondence, photographs of works, shipping labels...more
From the book cover: “Filled with extraordinary characters and told at breakneck speed, Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller. But this is most certainly not fiction. It is the astonishing narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery. Stretching from London to Paris to New York, investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo recount the tale of infamous con man and unforgettable villain John Drewe and his accomplice, the affable artist...more
This is a mind-bending walk through The Art of the Con as practiced by con-master John Drewe, simultaneously and serially known as John Cockett, a different Mr. Cockett, Mr. Sussman, Mr. Green, Mr. Atwood, Mr. Martin, Mr. Bayard, and Mr. Coverdale.

John Drewe and the skilled painter John Myatt together perpetrated one of the longest-running and most extensive art frauds of the late 20th century, extending from London to America and the continent, and from there around the world. Breathtaking high...more
Oh yeah, the White Collar writers totally read this and went “yeah, let’s do that! Only sexier and without the mental illness.”

It’s a compelling story of con artistry and, glancingly, of the art world where “real” doesn’t mean nearly as much as everyone says it does. But mostly I was too distracted by the style. This is what happens when a particular breed of reporters write nonfiction, every single time, I swear. They are so focused on hiding the ball, on digesting all of their research into ap...more
Timothy Hallinan
Sociopaths are often interesting, and John Drewe, the subject of this book, is more interesting than most.

Drewe realized that what makes a forged painting "work" is not only the skill with which it's faked, but also the provenance -- the paper trail that tracks the picture over time to its creator or, at least, to an authoritative attribution. He made enormous donations to museums' archives, which many donors overlook and then got permission to do research there. Of course, they searched him whe...more
Brian DiMattia
A terrific history of a crime, Salisbury and Sujo cover all the bases cleanly and entertainingly. They follow the fraud of John Drewe, the artist he worked with, some of the art world figures who weren't taken in and several more who were, and eventually the painstakingly crafted police investigation.

Drewe took paintings made by an English artist named John Myatt in the style of various 20th century artists (like Giacometti and Ben Nicholson), and passed them off as fakes. But his masterstroke w...more
Charles Mathes
An art dealer acquaintance of mine likes to say (in all seriousness) that the most successful members of his profession are basically international Machiavellian criminals. The hero of this book (or villain, or whatever you want to call him) fits perfectly well into this world; in fact he has a distinct advantage over real art dealers who presumably have some sense of conscience or morality, or at least fear of getting caught. Not so with John Drewe, the brilliant sociopath who, circumventing th...more
Sep 06, 2012 Kate rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kate by: Alex
I heartily and thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is not a scholarly examination of the subject, but it covers the importance of why this particular forgery con was more damaging than others. And now I know the reasons why, when I go to the National Archives in the US, they make sure you're not bringing anything in as well as not leaving with anything.

You do get a false impression from movies like "Catch me if you Can" and shows like "White Collar" that con-men aren't such bad guys, but this book...more
Sarah Burns
I loved this book. I just simply adored it. I loved how the characters were developed, where in the beginning you admired Drewe for his talent for manipulating people, thinking, "Dang. I wish I could do that. Make my life easier." Then, as the book goes on, you see how his genius criminality takes a slow spiral into insanity, unbalanced perception of truth, and violence. You lose sympathy with him just in time to enjoy the experience of police building evidence against him and watching him butch...more
After watching most of White Collar on Netflix, I wanted a literary fix of high-flying forgery and smart cons. This books is... sort of that book. The events described are certainly stranger than fiction, but I felt that the style was a bit too academic to really thrill. For example, before the first chapter the authors list all the characters, including short but comprehensive descriptions. Obviously the book could only be written if the con man got found out, but knowing every step along the w...more
This book was fascinating. It's part art historical, part true crime and detective work, part human interest and insanely well written. The authors put their journalism backgrounds to good use and did (what I'm sure was) an insane amount of research. Their account was thorough, but not tedious. In regards to art, a provenance is essentially the paper trail that accompanies any given work. So and so bought this painting from the artist in this year, 12 years later put it up for auction at Sotheby...more
This is the true story of how a brazen pair of London con men (one sociopath and one talented but poor artist) successfully conned some of the major art collectors and museums of the world into buying fake works of art. The story reads like a thriller, and you will marvel at the level of detailed deception they created in order to establish provenance for each fake. The damage they did is so deep that it may never be fully repaired. Although convicted, the artist is now free and selling his art...more
I really enjoyed this one - it read like Da Vinci code, a total art thriller- I didn't want to put it down, but it was even better in that it is the true story of one man's ability to rewrite art history. I ended up completely feeling for John Myatt, even though he was the artist churning out hundreds of fake Picassos etc because he was duped by the famous con man John Drewe (<---- who rightfully so comes across as odious in this book). You'll learn a lot from this book as the authors take yo...more
I have a longstanding weakness for caper tales, and Salisbury's "Provenance" is a lovely story of art world deception. The ploy here is simple--- find a forger who can do passable imitations of handful of modern artists (Giacometti, Graham Sutherland, Debuffet) and then back them up with a host of forged documents--- sales receipts, letters, catalog entries, gallery records. I love the details here, love watching the ploy unfold. (Though what does it say that one's sympathies are always with the...more
Provenance is a riveting, non-stop read. For a decade in London in the 1990's a high school dropout and young artiste manque came together to create forged paintings and provenances. They were able to fool many dealers and auction houses (an easy mark) and even penetrated the archives of the Tate (in order to place forged provenances in the archives). This book reveals the psychopathic personality of the con man and the lost soul of the artist forger. More than a good character study, it is a ta...more
This is an interesting book. It starts out very slow but gains momentum about half way through. The book investigates the art world and how a con-artist created a network that faked over 200 pictures over 10 years. It is also represents an archivists worst nightmare as this con-artist actually compromised at least three leading art archives and created fake provenances from the archival materials. If you like art and mysteries, a must read. Recommend reading this in conjunction with False Impres...more
Charles Morgan
Pretty good book. Some good photos would have been nice but I read the Kindle version so not sure if hardcover version differs. I gained interest on this event/story after seeing a recent segment on 60 minutes about the painter...only the 60 minutes segment was about a completely different fraud involving nearly the same M.O. (Youtube Wolfgang Fischer 60 minutes)

Regardless, this was interesting book and pretty well-told -- though the "main" fraudster John Drewe was given very little background i...more
Cheryl Van Allen
I SOOOO wanted to like this book because the story itself was absolutely worth telling. (that is the book's saving grace - the story/characters were worth bringing to life.) Unfortunately, it wasn't even till about 2/3 the way through that there was any real hook. The writing style was overly wrought with details, prone to tangents and slow. It's SO unfortunate, because the characters (real!) were worthy of more, I think.
I should haven taken the advice from the reviewer in The Christian
Science Monitor. He said not to read it before going to bed because you'll not want to put it down. So true. I learned not just about this amazing 9 year long caper, but also about con people in history. Utterly fascinating, well written. Would make a great movie. I see Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Jude

I love reading about about art lately, and I am fascinated by psychopaths. This true story about forgery has both. I highly recommend it to anyone as fascinated by the art world and it's pricing structure, and a con man who undermined the whole system, as I am. There are thousands of fakes hanging on the walls of the elite everywhere. I'm not sure who has the last laugh here!
AS billed, this non-fiction work was written as a thriller. It was an astonishing array of greedy and snookered dealers and buyers. The central character and mastermind of the scheme reminded me of the character from "Catch Me if You Can." Even those without knowledge of art or artists should enjoy this book.
Washington Centerville Public Library
A con man with delusions of grandeur, his talented but unwitting accomplice, counterfeit records, and hundreds of crimes trailing across all of Europe and the United States: it almost reads like some international spy thriller. But I am actually describing the book Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. They track the real story of the conman John Drewe as his ensnares the down-and-out artist John Myatt to sell hundreds of forger...more
It is hard to believe this is true and not fiction - this was a gripping and fascinating glimpse into the world of high art. Makes me wonder how many works I have seen were really painted by who I thought they were...
Barbara A
If you like watching paint dry, you will love this book. Meticulously researched---very meticulously---this is the ploddingly told story of the perils of the art world. Better I shouldn't know!
Jonathan Lopez
A terrific book, really gives a nice view of the ins and outs of art fraud, showing both the technical and logistical hurdles involved in introducing fakes into the market.
After watching Monuments Men, I really wanted to read something about art, so this book was on my shelf and I jumped at it.

John Myatt was a struggling single father with a background in art who was befriended by John Drewe, who asked if Myatt could paint a reproduction for his house. Myatt needed the money and he was very good at copying others' work, even if his own paintings had never been considered very good. Drewe asked for another and another and another, until Myatt could no longer preten...more
Shaun Wright
A con man with delusions of grandeur, his talented but unwitting accomplice, counterfeit records, and hundreds of crimes trailing across all of Europe and the United States: it almost reads like some international spy thriller. But I am actually describing the book Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. They track the real story of the conman John Drewe as his ensnares the down-and-out artist John Myatt to sell hundreds of forger...more
Valley Cottage Library
This was an interesting book. Having worked in museums and auction houses as both an art handler and as an archival researcher, I have always taken for granted the issue of provenance. I know how much work goes into the verification of the works of art, the need for the paper trail proving the change of hands from the artist all the way to the current owner. Even so, I knew that forgeries - and GOOD forgeries are out there in the art world.

What I didn't know was the lengths to which Myatt and Dr...more
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“By the end of the twentieth century Interpol was ranking art crime as one of the world’s most profitable criminal activities, second only to drug smuggling and weapons dealing. The three activities were related: Drug pushers were moving stolen and smuggled art down the same pipelines they used for narcotics, and terrorists were using looted antiquities to fund their activities. This latter trend began in 1974, when the IRA stole $32 million worth of paintings by Rubens, Goya, and Vermeer. In 2001, the Taliban looted the Kabul museum and “washed” the stolen works in Switzerland. Stolen art was much more easily transportable than drugs or arms. A customs canine, after all, could hardly be expected to tell the difference between a crap Kandinksy and a credible one.” 0 likes
“Detective Sergeant Jonathan Searle, a Cambridge-educated art historian who worked at Special Branch, the muscle behind British intelligence on national security and espionage.” 0 likes
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