Thursday, 30 April 2009

Provenance is not everything

Between 1986 and 1994, this man painted a lot of pictures, using a lot of emulsion paint, and imitating the style of well-known Surrealist, Cubist and Impressionist artists.

Some were sold as originals by those artists, sold to prestigious buyers, for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

John Myatt's good, but he's not that good. There is a detectable difference between a Myatt and a Matisse, which you can judge for yourself by examining both. The reason his pictures sold for large amounts of money is that most people never really looked at them at all, and those few who did, did not really care. Most people only looked at the provenance.

The provenance was forged by John Drewe, who was good at it. And what it purported to show was that galleries and collectors had catalogued the paintings as what they were said to be. So they comforted themselves with the thought that good painters have off-days; which is certainly true.

Myatt took a pride in his work, and did his best to do it well. But the quality of his painting made no practical difference at all until Drewe fell out with his woman, and she shopped him to the police. (There was a fire, and someone died. It's worth reading a fuller account of the scam. You can also commission a Myatt, if you want.)

Notice that once a well-known gallery had bought it, whether or not they were really that impressed, the work acquired a new and perfectly genuine provenance. But that didn't make it a better picture.

The interested reader can choose their own exercise ...


ghost said...

I once met Martin Prechtel, a Mayan shaman who explained that in his village when you met someone, before you talked about anything you told them your ancestry so they knew where you were coming from. Then you talk.

Anonymous said...

this is true of other cultures too. you are where you come from, both ancestry and geography.

Simba said...

Fascinating story! Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I thought the moral of the story was 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'! ;-)

msHedgehog said...

Well, I'm glad I left out the lesson I drew from it, because all yours were totally, and interestingly, different.

Mine was that where something or someone comes from - in any sense of 'comes from' - may be interesting information; but if you're going to put down money, it's necessary to look at the work.