A show of his own for the forger who copied the best

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The Independent Online

A decade ago the art forger John Myatt was raided by police and faced the wrath of the many auction houses he had duped by passing off innumerable bogus Renoirs, Picassos and Modiglianis as original masterpieces.

Myatt, jailed for a year in 1999 for conspiracy to defraud, has since built a second career in selling "genuine fakes" for thousands of pounds.

But he has tired of copying master painters and tomorrow is launching his first major show of original paintings, entitled The Masters Collection, with the subtitle "In Prison they called me Picasso".

The exhibition, at the Halcyon Gallery in Birmingham, features 50 paintings inspired by the master painters whose work he was so adept at forging.

Myatt's paintings recreate the wide-ranging styles of Georges Braque, Giacometti, Jasper Johns, Modigliani, Monet, Ben Nicholson, Picasso and Whistler.

Highlights include an imagined doodle by Joan Miro entitled The Sea of Love as well as the first water lilies series which Claude Monet painted in 1903 but destroyed in a fit of rage, and a clothed version of a nude painted by Matisse of his mistress, Jeanne Hebuterne.

Myatt has also re-imagined Monet's Poppy Field in Argenteuil with figures in the original painting having moved positions and the light altered.

"Anyone can copy a painting," Myatt said. "What I do here is use a theme of a famous painting and think, what would the scene be like 45 minutes later for example, or take a theme from their and imagine what they may have created.

"I was inspired by Miro's idea of disengaging with the conscious mind and letting the pen doodle over the paper so I sat down with a piece of paper, closed my eyes and started drawing with my left hand and then my right."

Myatt's work has risen significantly in price since he started painting after he left jail, with works now selling for up to £45,000.

He is also the subject of a Hollywood film rumoured to star George Clooney and is preparing to present a television series revealing the "tricks of the trade" as an art fraudster.

The growing value of his work has even resulted in the emergence of "fakes of his fakes" on the market.

The son of a farmer, Myatt attended art school and discovered a talent for mimicking other artists' styles. He worked as a songwriter and then a teacher in Staffordshire but in 1985, Myatt attempted to make a living by painting works in the style of well known artists. He placed an advertisement in Private Eye magazine which read: "Genuine fakes. Nineteenth and twentieth century paintings from £150."

Initially, he was honest about his imitations but John Drewe, a regular customer, was astonished when he was able to re-sell some of the paintings as genuine works.

When he told Myatt that Christie's had accepted his "Albert Gleizes" painting as genuine and paid £25,000, Myatt became a willing accomplice to Drewe's fraud, and began to paint more pictures in the style of masters such as Roger Bissiere, Chagall, Le Corbusier Jean Dubuffet, Matisse, Nicholson, Nicholas de Stael and Graham Sutherland.

According to police estimates, Myatt painted about 200 forgeries over seven years and delivered them to Drewe in London, who sold them to auction houses including Christie's, Phillips and Sotheby's as well as to dealers in London, Paris and New York.

The great art hoaxes

* In 1799, a self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer which had hung in the Nuremberg town hall since the 16th century, was loaned to Wolfgang Küffner. The painter made a copy of the original and returned the copy in place of the original. The forgery was discovered in 1805.

* Forgeries by the Elmyr de Hory, featured in the film F for Fake directed by Orson Welles, have become so valuable that they now appear on the market.

* In May 2004, the Norwegian painter Kjell Nupen noticed that the Kristianstad gallery was selling unauthorised, signed copies of his work.

* Portrait of a Woman, attributed to Goya, was exposed as a fake after X-ray images taken of the painting in 1954.

* Works by Man Ray became frequent targets of forgery. The detection of forged photography is particularly difficult as experts must be able to tell the difference between originals and reprints. In the case of Man Ray, print production was poorly managed during his lifetime, and many of his negatives were stolen by people who had access to his studio.

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