Exhibition honours the forger who fooled the world's foremost art experts

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The Independent Online

His expertise at forging the works of great masters using house paint and KY Jelly fooled art experts around the world and generated millions of pounds on the way to landing him a jail sentence.

Now the man believed to be the world's most-prolific art forger, John Myatt, is staging an exhibition of his latest paintings created after he pulled off some of the most audacious art frauds of the 20th century.

Myatt, 60, whose derivative works now command five-figure prices, is exhibiting more than 100 works at St Paul's Gallery, in Birmingham, from 12 May, including previously unseen paintings in the style of Joan Miro, Monet and Gigliani.

From 1987 to 1994, Mr Myatt produced counterfeit works that were passed off as the real thing and sold to auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's.

Yesterday he recounted the extraordinary story - soon to be made into a film starring Michael Douglas - that saw him sell some 200 works painted "in the style of" Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall and Giacometti as originals to art collectors across the world.

Then an art teacher, he moved towards forgery after placing an advertisement in Private Eye for his painting services. "I got quite a lot of customers so I was able to make a living from home. Some would give me a family portrait and want me to paint them in the style of Gainsborough or Reynolds," he said.

One such customer, John Drew, who claimed to be a physics professor, kept coming back for more paintings, until one day he told Mr Myatt he had sold a painting in the style of German Cubist painter, Albert Gleizes, for £25,000, after a valuation at Christie's.

"He re-framed it in an old frame and sold it. He gave me half the money. I just couldn't believe it. It was not even painted in oil but in household emulsion softened by KY Jelly.

"As more were sold, I couldn't believe that experts could not tell the difference. But in fairness, auction houses work on the basis of trust," he said.

Around 80 of Myatt's fakes are still believed to be in circulation with owners unaware that they have been the victim of a fraud, which has been estimated to be worth more than several million pounds. Mr Myatt said even he may not recognise them as his.

In 1995, Scotland Yard detectives were tipped-off to the fraud, and Mr Myatt served four months in Brixton Prison, where he was affectionately known as "Picasso" for his portraits of fellow inmates, commissioned in exchange for phone-cards.

On his release, he resolved never to paint again but his arresting officer commissioned a portrait of his family.

In the past decade, his "genuine fakes" have received critical acclaim and he set up his company, Genuine Fakes Limited, four years ago.

"As someone who paints these things, you don't copy a work such as the Mona Lisa and take it to an expert, because everyone knows the genuine work hangs in the Louvre.

"I'm not copying a painting, I'm making a new painting that someone such as Picasso may have painted in say, 1911. So I study everything he was producing in that year, read as much as I can about him, and then begin," he said.

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