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Publisher's Summary

Here is a tautly paced investigation of one the 20th century's most audacious art frauds, which generated hundreds of forgeries - many of them still hanging in prominent museums and private collections today. Provenance is the extraordinary narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate deceptions in art history. Investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo brilliantly recount the tale of a great con man and unforgettable villain, John Drewe, and his sometimes unwitting accomplices. Chief among those was the struggling artist John Myatt, a vulnerable single father who was manipulated by Drewe into becoming a prolific art forger. Once Myatt had painted the pieces, the real fraud began. Drewe managed to infiltrate the archives of the upper echelons of the British art world in order to fake the provenance of Myatt's forged pieces, hoping to irrevocably legitimize the fakes while effectively rewriting art history.

The story stretches from London to Paris to New York, from tony Manhattan art galleries to the esteemed Giacometti and Dubuffet associations, to the archives at the Tate Gallery. This enormous swindle resulted in the introduction of at least 200 forged paintings, some of them breathtakingly good and most of them selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of these fakes are still out in the world, considered genuine and hung prominently in private houses, large galleries, and prestigious museums. And the sacred archives, undermined by John Drewe, remain tainted to this day.

Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller, filled with unforgettable characters and told at a breakneck pace. But this is most certainly not fiction; Provenance is the meticulously researched and captivating account of one of the greatest cons in the history of art forgery.

©2009 Laney Salisbury; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Salisbury and Sujo (who died in 2008) evoke with flair the plush art world and its penetration by the seductive Drewe as well as the other players in this fascinating art drama." (Publishers Weekly)

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Great story with fascinating characters

Any additional comments?

I enjoyed the insight into the mind of a sociopathic liar and the interesting history and inner workings of the art world. The extent to which humans can deceive others and themselves is fascinating and scary.

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Reads Like a Great Mystery!

Artist with two young kids, down on his luck, meets swashbuckling conman who charms the artist into copying less-known works by the masters, for his own personal collection, he says. But not long after, during a visit, the younger artist notices his paintings have disappeared from their prominant place on the conman's walls. It's awhile before this artist fully understands hat his new 'friend' is doing with his paintings, for which he's been given increasingly large(r) sums of cash. And when his wealthy, well-dressed, smooth-talking friend asks him to attend an auction at one of London's most ite art museums, he realizes and is stunned to learn that his friend has donated, as well as sold, many of this young man's forgeries, which have passed the watchful eyes of the art world's elite. An incredible, fast-paced story that explains how the stuffy art world was initially taken for millions, during which its 'provenances' were fabricated to such an extent that many still believe there are fakes out there being mistaken for real. Fortunately, these authors write much better than me. If you like art and a fine story, you won't want to miss this one!

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  • Julia
  • THOUSAND OAKS, CA, United States
  • 09-08-13

Suspenseful Non-Fiction

Even a passing interest in the art world would make this book worthy of your time. The only problem I had was with the narrator. I downloaded it quickly and on a recommendation, not looking at who was reading the audio. I had expected an English person, given both the subject and the general ubiquity of British accents in the world of audiobooks. Instead, it turned out to be an American woman...which would be completely fine, if she hadn't totally disregarded the whole "thriller" aspect of the story. The book is nonfiction, but it's plotted like a suspenseful novel. The narrator ran flatly through chapter-endings that were clearly intended to be cliffhangers, and the effect was a little off-putting.
The book is certainly worth a try, though! Might just be a little better in written form.

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  • Jamie
  • United States
  • 12-19-11

Fantastic Story!

The story is fantastically written and easy to follow despite twists and turns. Unfortunately the narrator takes a little getting used to. She sounds patronizing, perhaps a little stiff, but after a few minutes of listening you get used to it.

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  • Hannah
  • Heidelberg Heights, Australia
  • 06-27-13

Great story, annoying overly American reader.

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Possibly. The story seems quite interesting but the voice over makes it hard to listen.

What did you like best about this story?

The story is interesting.

What didn’t you like about Marty Peterson’s performance?

The narration sounds like an overly Americanised advertisement and it's really hard to listen to.

Was Provenance worth the listening time?

Probably not.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Rachel
  • YAKIMA, WA, United States
  • 06-15-13

meh, I've heard it before

It seems like there are a whole slew of books out there about art forgers. This one was fine. I wouldn't recommend it, others are better.

I felt like the story was similar to ones I've heard before and then suddenly the book ended. I guess in retrospect the story was complete, but it felt abrupt and incomplete.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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More money than brains

Although I know next to nothing about the art world, I found this book pretty interesting. Sometimes I think the magnitude of what John Drewe did escapes me, but the overall impression of a manipulative scumbag was pretty clear. It isn’t the actual forged painting that did the most damage, but the provenance and thus the title of the book. I don’t know if he and the painter really did rewrite the history of art, but they certainly did bilk people out of a lot of money and ruin reputations. Oh and Myatt is almost as adept as Drewe at justifying his participation in this scheme; way to shift all the blame, Myatt!

In some ways, I’m sympathetic to Drewe. These people were asking for it. Valuing art for its circumstances and pedigree rather than its merits makes it really easy to be taken. Greed blinds us all and Drewe knew it. Pretty much everyone who was taken was a willing victim, ignored contradictory evidence and just wanted to be the next star in their particular firmament. It makes it hard to have sympathy for them; too much ego and too much money. Myatt’s musing about how that money could have been better spent is spot on. The grandiose waste is appalling and it’s delicious irony to know that many of his forgeries are still on display, cherished for their provenance rather than their aesthetic. It’s easy to believe these people got what they deserved.

My sympathy is directed at the archivists and the artists who were lied to, betrayed and taken advantage of. At the beginning of the book the author states that archivists are the lowest rung on the art world ladder; the least appreciated, but the most important in terms of preserving provenance and thus proving a work’s credibility. That credibility is what drives up the perceived value of a work and thus the price at which it can be sold. Drewe knew this, too and found a way infiltrate and corrupt a totally legitimate archive.

Even though he’s a lying jerk, Drewe is a talented lying jerk. A plot this intricate and far-reaching is impressive no matter how damaging. His ability to set up events far, far in advance is mind-boggling. Attention to detail, imagination, foresight and a deep understanding of human nature are only part of it. The kind of confidence Drewe displays is his biggest key to success. People want to believe him. They’re dying to be led, shepherded and mentored by such a luminous figure. His looks, accent, clothes, supposed contacts, job and bits of spouted science are enough to convince people he is what he says he is. Daring. I’d never even dream of pulling off that kind of farce. In some ways I have to admire the bravado, but that kind of soulless existence also gives me pause. Crossing with art at its most essential, as human expression, is the most extreme contradiction I can think of. A soulless human cannot create art, but it can exploit it and even art at its most corrupt is susceptible to its charms. You’d think an already morally bankrupt system would recognize one of its own. As I said, greed blinds people and that’s what this is ultimately a story of. The power of greed.

0 of 3 people found this review helpful