12th February 1984. ‘Sexton Blakes’. (Fakes).
Good art forgers require high standards of expertise, be technically, extremely adept, needing to get the basic picture correct. Attention to detail is essential and importantly knowledge of the background, idiosyncrasy and nuance of the original artist. One of these was Tom Keating, the man who fooled the art world, who died Today in 1984.
Keating the ‘lovable rogue’, as a socialist, perceived the Picture Gallery system to be rotten, ‘dominated by avante-guarde, often American dealers and critics conniving to line their own pockets, keen to exploit rich, naive collectors, buying works often produced originally by impoverished painters’.
He retaliated by forging Old Masters, deceiving ‘experts’ and thus hoping to destabilize the system by faking Degas, Matisse, Rembrandt, Palmer and Constable and dozens of others in 2,000 paintings.
Keating was surprised that his ‘crude daubs’ had been accepted as authentic. He later claimed that dealers had paid him ‘pitifully small’ fees for pictures in the styles of many artists and sold them for higher prices after signatures had been added.
He even mockingly included ‘time-bombs’ into his work which expert analysis could show his work to be fake: messages under the paint or anachronistic paints.
It was back in 1976 that a glut of 19thc landscapes of the water-colourist Samuel Palmer hit the market, selling for as much as £15,000, which caused concern in the art world.
Then Times art correspondent Geraldine Norman who had been investigating the forgeries for years wrote an article, Keating confessed writing to the paper that he had been faking Palmer for 25 years.
Duly arrested along with his erstwhile partner in crime Jane Kelly, Keating pleaded not guilty in 1979 at the Old Bailey, but owing to poor health the prosecutor pleaded Nolli Prosequi (not wishing to proceed), he was discharged. Kelly whom Keating had befriended when she was 16 pleaded guilty and given a suspended sentence.(2)
Keating went on to write a biography with his former adversary Geraldine Norman called ‘Rakes Progress’, and a 1982 Channel 4 series ‘Style of the Masters’; dying 2 years later.
In BBC 2 ‘Flog it’ in 2009 a lady sold some preliminary paintings done by Keating, given her by the artist, and today Keatings fetch big money, so do fakes of Keating and …
As an end piece: TV art expert Rupert Maas was sold ostensibly a 19thc John Anster Fitzgerald for £20.000, which had been faked by Robert Thwaites. BEWARE!
(1) Constable’s ‘The Lock’ sold at Sotheby’s London November 1990, made well over £10 million.
(2) When Keating was exposed, ‘Two Horse Sleighs in a Winter Landscape’ by Krieghoff, which he had forged in the 1960.s was a key prosecution exhibit PRQ/1. Ironically both Keating and the purchaser a Mr Quilter had to verify it by signing the label.
express.co.uk.5.8.2007. Martin Townsend. Art of Lovable Rogue.
independent.co.uk. Matthew Sweet. Fakers.
freemanart.ca/authentication. Pic of Fake Constable.