Provenance by Lanley Salisbury & Aly Sujo

And now for something completely different!

This is a madcap, true story about a con artist who infiltrated the Tate Museum so he could sell his forged masters to the art world.

Let’s start with the title.

An artwork’s provenance is the uninterrupted paper trail that traces it back to its original painter. It’s what justifies the crazy money you’re paying because you absolutely have to have the painting on your wall.

The brilliance and couldn’t-give-a-shitness of the con artist, John Drewe, is gobsmacking. He had a sociopath’s nose for human weakness. Vulnerabilities, egos, or just plain need for money, he did what it took to pull his marks into his web – from the struggling artist who painted the forgeries for him, to those running the archives at the Tate and V&A museums in London, under whose noses he fudged records to match the forgeries he was selling.

John Drewe understood the psychology behind world-class museums and billionaires falling so hard in want with a masterpiece that they believed the paperwork he put in front of them, when a simple lab test would have revealed that the oil paint on that Monet was actually a mixture of KY Jelly and DIY-store emulsion paint.

John Drewe duped the art world because he could, because he was addicted to the con, and the rush of seeing arty-farty professionals go weak at the knees for “his” paintings. Ten years and two hundred paintings later, he was exposed thanks to the gut feel of a woman from the Giacometti Association in Paris, and the doggedness of the chief of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad.

It’s brilliantly told and reads like a thriller… but you’ll never look at a famous painting again without wondering if it’s real.