The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App

Art Forger Back In Business

art forger
It was, according to Scotland Yard, the "biggest art fraud in Britain in the 20th century." Buyers thought they were getting a genuine Matisse or Picasso; instead, they paid small fortunes for clever fakes.

Now the forger is back in business, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

John Myatt, master forger, is happy to share the tricks of his trade. After all, these days everyone knows his masterpieces are fakes.

"I love to see that smile crack over their face before they move onto the next painting," Myatt says of art patrons who view his work,

But it wasn't so funny back in the early 1990's when Myatt, then a near-broke single father, ran an ad for fake art in a magazine. A sophisticated con man, John Drewe, spotted it and set up a scheme to sell the paintings as genuine.

Myatt never expected the scam to work so well.

"Down went the hammer and I just got up and walked out. I felt... ooh, I felt terrible," Myatt says.

Eventually the pair were caught and sent to jail.

Drewe got six years and Myatt got one – but he was released after 4 months for good behavior.

"In fact they actually said, 'you should stay in prison a bit longer because you're a good influence on the rest of them,'" laughs Myatt. "Very kind offer, officer but no, I think I'd rather go home."

And home he went - depressed. Then the police officer who'd investigated him commissioned a painting. Five years later, Myatt's first London show this month was a triumph.

"Thanks to John, I have a Matisse in my kitchen and a Picasso in my loo," laughed one woman.

The foreman of the jury that convicted him also bought a Matisse.

Myatt's notoriety has added value to these paintings – now carefully identified as fakes.

Myatt signed his paintings on the front but "on the back you've got a computer chip which is embedded on the canvas which you can't get rid of unless you want to cut a big hole in the canvas," he says.

John Myatt no longer misbehaving – but many of his misdeeds live on.

Scotland Yard detectives think about 120 of his forgeries are still prized as genuine in art collections around the world.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for