Peter James learns the tricks of the art forger trade

Peter James learns the tricks of the art forger trade

Peter James learns the tricks of the art forger trade

They are the tricks of the art forger’s trade: from wearing 18th century aprons (fibers in painting) to aging paintings for weeks in front of wood stoves (crepe) or smoking 60 cigarettes a day next to a work of art (patina).

And they were shared with bestselling mystery writer Peter James for his next novel about the world of fakes and fakes, and who was given a look at some of the most dubious talents of counterfeiters.

A scammer confided that, before the CCTV cameras, he visited stately homes open to the public, photographing high-value paintings and copying them, before returning to trade them.

James said, “Look at some of those properties and you’ll see fakes that date back 30 years.”

Another forger revealed that a museum curator lent him an 18th-century apron from his collection so he could wear it while faking a 1770 painting, making sure no incriminating fibers from modern clothing fell into the paint.

James said, “He said to me, ‘I would also like to put some of the fibers from the apron into the paint so that if it ever was carbon dated, it would look like 1770 fibers.'”

James is best known for creating Det Supt Roy Grace in what has become one of the most famous crime series in the world, selling 21 million copies, translated into 37 languages ​​and topping the bestseller charts 19 times. In the pursuit of realism, the search for him involved putting his own life in danger and joining the police in raids and investigations, coming face to face with thieves and drug dealers who inspired his fictional characters.

He has now woven some of the real-life stories of counterfeiters into his new novel Picture You Dead, which will be released on September 29th. She reflects how far art scammers go to make sure their fakes are not detected.

For his central character – Daniel Hegarty, “rightfully known for being the best art forger in the world” – he found inspiration in former master forger David Henty, who gave him extraordinary insights into art crime, showing him how to paint. a perfect forgery in recreating a landscape by the 18th century French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

James said, “I asked him, could you fake a Fragonard so well that the world’s number one Fragonard expert couldn’t say it’s a fake? He said “yes” and told me how he would do it. “

He added: “In the book, I made up that Fragonard had made four paintings of the Four Seasons… long lost since the French Revolution. From what I’ve described, he actually painted me a picture.

Copyist artist David Henty

David Henty: ‘I have a Mona Lisa downstairs.’ Photograph: Jim Holden / Alamy

Through an antiquarian friend in France, Henty bought a period religious painting for a few thousand pounds. He erased the original, added a lead white base and created all his paints, just like Fragonard.

To get small cracks in the paint, called craquelure, he placed the painting in front of a wood stove for two weeks. To recreate the aged patina, she left it for two months in the house of a friend who smokes 60 cigarettes a day.

James said: “Everyone I show his work to is completely blown away. He can copy many different artists, from Fragonard to Caravaggio. They are simply stunning.

He recalled that Henty gave him a fake of Lowry which fooled a high profile expert, who was shocked when told it was not genuine: “He said, ‘unbelievable, I wouldn’t have noticed.'”

James was introduced to Henty by the policeman who arrested him in the 1990s for forging British passports. Two misspellings betrayed him, and Henty was jailed for five years.

In prison, he discovered a knack for copying Modigliani and Picasso, among others, eventually selling his fakes through auction houses, retailers, and online.

Some were painted from scratch, others were “improved” minor paintings.

He told the Guardian that he bought a 1930s still life in a market for £ 3, upgrading it to a 1934 painting by Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell, signing it “VB34”: “I made £ 1,000 and then it seen in a London gallery for £ 7,000 as a certified Vanessa Bell.

He mocked the so-called experts who look first at the signature and then at art. Sometimes he would enhance a painting by attaching a brass plaque with an impressive name: “It’s like a magnet, they can’t take their eyes off that plaque.”

He was unmasked in 2014 after revealing that he painted a Picasso and now has a legitimate career as a copyist. “I have a Mona Lisa downstairs,” he said.

When asked if deceiving the experts was satisfactory, he spoke of “professional pride”, adding: “It’s not about the money.”

He recalled a trader who bought many forgeries, believing they were stolen originals, telling him, “I’ll have as many as you can.”

Comparing the unregulated art world to the wild west, he said others knew they were fakes: “There is so much money in the art world that greed takes over.”

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