Laetitia led a group to Springfield, Massachusetts. Their destination was the Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts that had an exhibit on famous art forgeries called “Intent to Deceive.” Five forgers were featured:
Frustrated by meager public interest in his own paintings, Han Van Meegeren created several works that were supposedly painted by seventeenth century Dutch Master, Vermeer, during a previously unknown early religious period. He added Bakelite (an early plastic) to his paint to give it the hardness and tendency to crack that characterized that of Vermeer’s era. These forgeries found their way into museums and art collections of prominent Nazi’s like Hermann Göring. After World War II, Van Meegeren had to confess his fakery and demonstrate his skill at it to avoid being convicted of treason for selling Dutch art treasures to the Nazis. That he fooled the Nazis made him a folk hero but he still had to serve time for forgery.
Charm and a fabricated persona as a dispossessed Hungarian aristocrat gained Elmyr de Hory access to the social circles of the rich and famous. Another frustrated artist with a lackluster career, he and partner, Fernand Legros, are credited with selling into the art world over 1,000 forged works over a 30-year period, supposedly painted by known masters such as Modigliani, Picasso, and Matisse. Though often pursued by authorities, de Hory’s only jail time was two months in Spain for homosexuality. In 1972, Orson Welles featured the forger’s life of notoriety in a film called F is for Fake. He died in 1976, allegedly of a sleeping pill overdose.
Eric Hebborn trained at the Royal Academy of Arts, the most prestigious art school in England. Although he produced exquisite art, it didn’t sell. Unable to support himself as an artist, he taught and worked as an art restorer. He soon realized it was a relatively short step between restoring a damaged authentic work of art and creating a de novo fake. In the 1960s, he established a gallery in Rome that exhibited authentic works of art along with forgeries attributed to Bruegel, Castiglione, Corot, Mantegna, Piranesi, Rubens, Tiepolo, and Van Dyck. He sold his fraudulent pieces only to art dealers apparently following a somewhat unorthodox ethic based on the question, “Is a fake so exquisite that it can’t be distinguished by an expert from that of a master not of comparable value with a genuine piece?” He wrote two books, Drawn to Trouble and The Art Forger’s Handbook. Shortly after the latter was published, he was found with a fatal head injury on a street in Rome. His murder has never been solved.
John Myatt was a farmer’s son who went to art school and amused his friends by mimicking the works of other artists. Afterwards, he became a teacher and had some success as a songwriter. After his wife left him, he quit teaching and attempted to support himself and his children by painting and selling “genuine fakes,” works in the style of masters that were clearly identified as imitations. When he learned that his best customer, John Drew, was selling his imitations as genuine works at auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, he quietly continued supplying the paintings even though he now knew he was participating in fraud. Drewe created false documents and altered records in museum archives to cover his tracks. Myatt served four months in jail; Drewe served a longer sentence. The notoriety enhanced the demand for Myatt’s paintings. They now sell for up to $45,000.
Mark Landis poses as a priest and approaches small art museums offering to donate art works from his family’s collection. The donated works are fakes painted by Landis himself. Since he has a history of mental illness doesn’t charge money for the donated paintings, he has never been prosecuted.
Laetitia viewed the exhibit as a cautionary tale for those who purchase expensive works of art and turned her thoughts into a limerick.