This was a book which, curiously, I was very glad to read but gladder still to have read after I wrote my own novel Rembrandt Sings which is about art forgery and a few other things besides. If I had read the book first I would have been influenced by it, which is fine in a way, but the biggest tribute my own book has been paid is by one of the main characters in book ten who said my novel gave “a remarkable insight into the work of an art forger”. It seems I was getting it right as Provenance confirms.
Provenance by Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo is an art-related, detective story but every word of it is the detailed account of how a self-deluding fantasist, John Drewe, enlisted the, at first, unwitting help of an accomplished painter, John Myatt, who, in a harsh world for creators, had not yet managed to make a sufficiently rewarding impact with his own work. Together, they generated a series of wonderfully realised forgeries, but it was Drewe’s schmoose that enabled him to gain access to and then to falsify the archive records that helped to establish their provenance. With the crucial credibility of provenance they passed them off in front of supposed experts and supposedly sophisticated auction houses and, for a moment until Drewe panicked, get away with gifting some to the Tate Gallery. The non-aesthetic and non-artistic reasons why the fakes, made from house paints and K-Y jelly which were all Myatt could afford at the time, were not discovered sooner had more to do with the marks’ greed and their wish for the ‘discoveries’ to be genuine, and hence vastly more profitable. However, one persistent archivist and author, the director of the Giacometti Association and editor of his catalogue raisonné, kept up her fight to discredit some of the paintings and was eventually proven right.
Despite being convicted and jailed Drewe, the fantasist, still probably believes all his own contradictory stories he brought out while, ‘Walter-Mitty-like’ he conducted his own defence. The whole affair is recounted with the excitement of a detective story.
John Myatt, has now gone on to make a reasonable living as the painter of acknowledged ‘genuine’ fakes and, in fact, it was he who painted the cover illustration for my own novel Rembrandt Sings.
The American edition of this story is called Provenance but it has now been released in the UK entitled The Con Man. I prefer the original title. Verdict 8.5 out of 10