Tuesday, March 4, 2014

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

After watching Monuments Men, I really wanted to read something about art, so this book was on my shelf and I jumped at it.

John Myatt was a struggling single father with a background in art who was befriended by John Drewe, who asked if Myatt could paint a reproduction for his house. Myatt needed the money and he was very good at copying others' work, even if his own paintings had never been considered very good. Drewe asked for another and another and another, until Myatt could no longer pretend to know that he must have been selling them. But he needed the money so he turned a blind eye.

Meanwhile Drewe, who periodically described himself as a physicist, professor, military consultant, and spy (none of which turned out to be true), figured out that the key to passing off fakes in the art world wasn't the painting itself--after all even the best painters had off days--but the paperwork behind the paintings. The provenance that purportedly proved the painting had existed previously and been collected and owned by reputable members of the art world. And so he began faking the provenance for what was eventually hundreds of paintings, mostly by twentieth-century artists.

This book was a lovely combination of art, history, crime, and thriller. Would they be caught? How? Would the paintings be exposed? Would Drewe get his comeuppance? I worried the book would be dry and pedantic but my fears couldn't have been further from the truth. I whipped through this smoothly-written book in no time, only wishing there had been a photo insert. It's a fun crime caper but has a ton of research behind it, and Drewe is such a crazy character he could only be real as he'd never be believed in fiction. It was a thoroughly enjoyable book and perfect for any art lover.

I got this book for free from the publisher as a favor at my previous job. They were not expecting me to do a review.

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