John Myatt: The artist and convicted forger on life and art in and out of prison


I'll always be known as the perpetrator of the biggest art fraud in history I'd go along to the Birmingham Art Gallery, study a painting by, say, Monet, then come back and invent my own hitherto-undiscovered Monet painting, using acrylic paint and mixing it with KY jelly. [Commissioned by his conspirator John Drewe, Myatt went on to sell more than 200 forgeries of famous 19th & 20th century painters between 1986 and 1994.]

Some people don't think art fraud is a crime At first I thought I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was barely making a living selling "genuine fakes" through adverts in the back of Private Eye, for £150 a piece. I worried all the time about feeding my children, so when Drewe [after buying a fake Albert Gleizes painting from Myatt for £150] came back and said, "I've just sold it to Christie's for £25,000 – here's £12,500," it was the answer to so many problems. It wasn't until Drewe came back again and suggested this could become a profitable criminal endeavour that I thought I was doing anything wrong.

You are different people at different times of your life I'm 69 now and I would not do [the fraud] again that I did when I was 49. Back then I was at a particular point in life, with particular circumstances. In any other circumstances I think I would have found Drewe particularly off-putting rather than compelling. The worst part was that I'd given up the crime 18 months before they caught me. [Myatt was arrested in 1995 and sentenced in 1999.]

Money doesn't get you anything in prison It's a barter economy and the principal currencies were drugs and tobacco, but I didn't do either. The only way I had of making money inside was doing prison portraits; I charged two phone cards for one pencil drawing, which was good money.

A lot of people were interested in my work after I got out The arresting officer commissioned me to paint his family portrait, and the barristers who ran the case against me wanted me to paint for them, too, as a memento of the case. By the end of that year art galleries and TV people had started calling me. Now I find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that, were it not for having been part of this crime, I wouldn't be as successful as I am today.

I will never identify any of my remaining 120 fakes That's the number the police believe are still out there. If some of them have been acquired by a pension fund or a granny and I say, "I painted that," I can't see who gains.

The art industry has been nodding through paintings with extremely dubious histories It's been colluding with galleries and auction houses for 50 to 60 years and I know the Police Art & Antiques Unit even went to one museum with evidence of fraud and they weren't interested – they said they were happy that the contagion [of fakes] had now been removed from their archives.

'Girl with a Pearl Earring' is hard to copy I tried several versions while preparing for a TV programme [re-creating masterpieces on Sky Arts' series Fame in the Frame]. Vermeer was phenomenally gifted as a painter and the effects he achieved were incredible; you've only got to move the top or bottom of the eye by a fraction of a millimetre for the whole look to be lost. But it was a lot of fun exploring how he'd done it.

John Myatt, 69, is a British painter and former art forger. His new exhibition of paintings inspired by the Masters, 'Fake by John Myatt', is showing at Castle Fine Art, London W1 (, until 10 August

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas