Art can also be faked… And some have made copying the work of the masters a genuine art form! Though you might not recognize their names, they have made the lives of leading experts – and the authorities – extremely difficult… In what is essentially a game of spot the difference, how can we be sure to tell the difference between an original and a fake when the forgers themselves are such accomplished artists? KAZoART takes a look at five master forgers…

#1 Guy Ribes

Now aged 68, Guy Ribes is one of France’s greatest forgers and studied draughtsmanship for 16 years in a silk workshop. In 1975, he then left for Athens, where he met the local jet set… That was when he began copying masterpieces.

Ten years later, he met an art dealer in Paris and started producing fakes to order, from Matisses, to Renoirs, Modiglianis, Chagalls and Picassos… He didn’t copy existing paintings but instead created paintings “in the style” of renowned artists. He used only the materials and pigments from the relevant era and sometimes spent an entire year immersed in a painter’s work to understand how to mimic their style. In 2005, he was finally arrested by the police and stopped working as a forger… instead painting under his own name.

Guy Ribes

#2 Han van Meegeren

Han van Meegeren (1889 – 1947) was a painter and forger who specialized in Vermeer. He started his career as a painter and was fascinated by the Dutch Golden Age, but the critics deemed his work boring and unoriginal. Out of spite, he decided to practice copying the masters and eventually became a forger. He was able to perfectly imitate the paintings of Pieter de Hooch, Jérôme Bosh and, of course, Johannes Vermeer, who was still relatively unknown at the time. Even the leading specialists fell into his trap and his artworks found their way into leading museums!

His troubles first began when, during WWII, he sold a number of pastiches to the Nazis (who did not know they were fakes). At the end of the war, he was arrested for selling cultural national treasures to the enemy. He decided it was better to admit they were forgeries and, as proof, copied a painting by Vermeer in his cell in front of witnesses…

Paintings in the style of Vermeer
Paintings in the style of Vermeer

#3 David Stein

David Stein (born 1935) is just one of the many pseudonyms of the criminal forger who spent his life evading both the authorities and his creditors. Stein copied artists who were his contemporaries, such as Picasso, Matisse, Klee and Chagall. And it was actually Chagall who uncovered his fraud in 1966, during a visit to New York, when he noticed artworks signed in his hand… that he had never painted. Stein spent four years in prison. He also laid claim to an incredible “fake”, the Supermans by Andy Warhol that were exhibited at the MoMA…

David Stein with a fake Modigliani
David Stein with a fake Modigliani

#4 Yves Chaudron

Little is known about Yves Chaudron, but his name is associated with a very well-known theft – that of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in 1911 (which Apollinaire was accused of). Chaudron seems to have been commissioned by Eduardo de Valfierno, an Argentine crook who decided to take advantage of the situation to produce fakes of the Mona Lisa. The copies eventually ended up on the American market but were not identified as such and made significant profits, with each buyer thinking they had bought an original. The real Mona Lisa was finally recovered in 1914 and returned to its place at the Louvre. The thief, who had worked at the museum, had kept the painting in his bedroom in a suitcase hidden under his bed, right in the heart of Paris…

In the Salon Carré at the Louvre: the Mona Lisa, Louis Beroud
In the Salon Carré at the Louvre: the Mona Lisa, Louis Beroud, 1911, © RMN Photo Agency

#5 Wolgang Beltracchi

Real-life Bonnie and Clydes, Wolfgang Beltracchi and his wife Hélène produced and sold over 300 fake paintings for several million dollars. A great imitator of Fernand Léger and Georges Braque, Beltracchi fooled a large number of gallery owners and museums – with the New York Met at the top of the list. The couple offloaded the fakes using the story that Hélène Beltracchi’s grandfather had left her a large collection of paintings unknown to experts because they had always been kept hidden away. She then produced a long list of proofs, such as labels, certificates of authenticity and fake photos from the period, in order to back up her claims.

The couple was finally outed in 2010 – a few too-recent pigments gave Wolfgang away. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

The Beltracchis in their studio
The Beltracchis in their studio