LLAM Member Book Review

By Katherine Baer
Maryland Collections & Reference Librarian
Maryland State Law Library

We are calling on LLAM members to write reviews of their favorite stuff and share them with the rest of us.  Do you have a favorite new book, movie, or web site? If so, submit a review for the next LLAM eNews.

Book Review: “Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art” by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo.

I am a sucker for any book, fiction or non, that has a library, book, or archive as a main feature.  The one I read recently is  “Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art” by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo.

This is the true story of British con man, John Drewe, and how he committed one of the biggest art frauds in history.  His fraud spanned more than a decade and resulted in the distribution of dozens of art forgeries.  Several are still out there, with some owners refusing to believe they are fakes.  John Drewe accomplished this fraud by manipulating several people in both his personal life and in the art world.

He would never been able to achieve this long-time con without the biggest manipulation of all, luring in his forger, John Myatt.  Myatt was a talented artist who had never really made it, but it turned out he could create masterful recreations.  Myatt originally believed that people wanted to buy his “genuine fakes,” not realizing that Drewe was passing them off as real.  Eventually he caught on, but by this time Myatt was too attached to the dependable money.

The really interesting part of the story comes when Drewe realizes that the forgeries themselves are not enough for most dealers and that he must actually recreate the extensive provenances that most art works carry.  This is when he insinuates himself into the Tate Museum archives and plants information by recreating art show brochures as well as letters and other types of documentation.  He creates elaborate forgeries himself, and many believe there is still some of his handiwork left behind in the Tate archives. Eventually, Drewe’s fraud is uncovered, but not after much damage has been done.  This was a fast-paced read that gives a glimpse of the inner workings of the art world and the ease in which people can be duped.

Other Titles of Interest:

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime, by Miles Harvey

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester