Timothy Hallinan's Reviews > Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art

Provenance by Laney Salisbury
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's review
Sep 20, 2011

really liked it
Read in September, 2011

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 when he left the archives, but he wasn't taking things out -- he was putting things in. People following one of his forgeries' chains of provenance would see a citation to a catalogue or document in the archives of the Tate Museum, for example, and when they looked, there it would be.

And that was generally enough for them -- in spite of the fact that the painter who created the "masterpieces" was using house paint. A riveting book and a real eye-peeler about "expertise" and the world of fine art.
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