Hollywood Eyes Art Faker's Tale
For Hollywood, it is an enticing script idea. Amateur painter John Myatt bamboozled the art world with a string of counterfeit Monets and Picassos that were sold to collectors around the world. He got caught and went to jail.
On release, he built a new life selling "genuine fake" canvasses of great artists.
The detective who arrested Myatt was so impressed by his talent that he commissioned him to do a family portrait. Even the lawyers at his trial bought Myatt paintings.
Now Hollywood producers Jay Weston and Fred Levinson have acquired the rights from Myatt for a biopic about the scam that London police once called "the biggest art fraud of the 20th century."
"I am providing all the paintings for the film," said the 60-year-old artist, who this week stages the biggest exhibition yet of his counterfeit paintings at St Paul's Gallery in Birmingham.
"I shall be fully collaborating on the filming of the movie. But I am sure they will be adding car chases and sex scenes which never were in the original," he told Reuters.
"I am told Michael Douglas is also interested in making a film about the case and I believe he bought the rights from a journalist who wrote a story about the trial. I offered to do some paintings for the film but never heard anything back."
Hollywood is full of tales about film deals that never materialise, but Myatt is convinced Weston, who has produced biopics of W.C. Fields and Billie Holiday, will deliver.
"They are confident it will make it to the screen. I have signed the contract. They are planning to start shooting at the end of the year at the latest."
In the Eighties, Myatt worked as an art teacher. When his wife left him, he was stranded at home looking after two young children and churning out his counterfeit Great Masters.
He put an advertisement in Private Eye offering "Genuine fakes" for sale. John Drewe became a regular customer and then one day announced that a major auction house had mistaken one of the forgeries for a genuine painting by Salon cubist Albert Gleizes.
From 1985 to 1993, Myatt supplied up to 200 paintings to Drewe who falsified art archives, faked catalogues and duped auctioneers and collectors.
When police finally exposed the scam, Myatt pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail. He served just four months. Drewe received six years and served three.
Myatt has found that selling "genuine fakes" makes more money. "When I was a criminal I made about 13,000 pounds a year. Now I make more than that," he said.
Myatt, who also gives lectures on art forgery with detectives, said: "I have been given a second chance. A big finger has pointed down from the sky and said 'Don't Mess Up'. I am very conscious of that."
But he is highly amused by one final twist in his surreal career —— he discovered a London forger has been selling fake Myatts. "Isn't it marvellous? Let him get on with it."