February 13, 1999


February 13, 1999

Art world corrupted by UKP:250 fakes


A BRILLIANT conman was found guilty yesterday of masterminding the century's biggest contemporary art fraud by fooling galleries, dealers and auctioneers into buying and selling fake paintings for hundreds of thousands of pounds. John Drewe, 50, paid an impoverished but talented artist UKP:250 a time to produce abstract paintings in the style of 20th century artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Nicolas de Stael, Marc Chagall, Graham Sutherland, Ben Nicholson and Alberto Giacometti. He then donated UKP:20,000 to gain access to archives at the Tate Gallery to alter records of the artists' works to make the paintings appear genuine before selling them to dealers in London and abroad for thousands of pounds. One fake Nicholson fetched $175,000 (UKP:107,000) in the United States. The ingenious fraud, which spanned ten years, rocked the art world, damaging the reputations of some of this century's leading artists and devaluing their work. It has also been a serious embarrassment for galleries, dealers and auctioneers, including Sotheby's and Christie's, which have tried to play down the consequences. Detectives tracked down 60 of the fake paintings but said yesterday they believe up to 140 remain in circulation. "No doubt they are part of prized collections, able to command five- and six-figure sums on the market," said Detective "The implications are horrendous. Drewe so corrupted the archives of various institutions that they now need to be researched, re-catalogued, and then stored very securely indeed. "This is quite simply the biggest contemporary art fraud the 20th century has seen, with these forgeries sold throughout Europe, in the Far East and in America. It was brilliantly carried out and the damage done is considerable." John Bevan QC, prosecuting, said Drewe's primary motive was to make money - an estimated UKP:1 million - but the effort he put into the deception suggested "an intellectual delight in fooling people and contempt for experts". A UKP:20,000 donation to the Tate led to officials trusting him as a serious researcher. At the V&A, he used a readership application, backed by bogus character references describing him as an art historian "of integrity". He also gained access to records at the Institute of Contemporary Art with the gift of two paintings which were probably fakes. All three institutions have since tightened up security and undertaken extensive reviews of their archives. Mr Bevan said the archive material stored at the Tate and the V&A was an invaluable source of research for the provenance of pictures. He said: "The integrity of this vast collection of archive material is obvious and of central importance to anyone who cares about this nation's heritage." The jury at Southwark Crown Court, London, which spent almost five months hearing the UKP:4 million trial, took just under six hours to reject Drewe's defence that he was the victim of an international conspiracy centred on the arms trade. Drewe, of Reigate, Surrey, who conducted his own defence after sacking his counsel on the second day of the trial, will be sentenced on Monday. He faces up to ten years' imprisonment for one count of conspiracy to defraud, two of forgery, and one each of theft and using a false instrument with intent. He was cleared of one count of forgery. John Myatt, 53, the artist Drewe recruited from an advertisement in Private Eye, will be sentenced with him. Myatt, of Scughall, Staffordshire, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count, and became the prosecution's main witness.Drewe's co-defendant, Daniel Stoakes, a 52-year-old psychiatric nurse of Exeter, was cleared of a single charge of conspiracy to defraud. He had told the court that Drewe, an old schoolfriend, had fooled him into helping him. A statement issued by the Tate last night played down the disaster described by the police and prosecution counsel. It said: "John Drewe's activities did not relate to any works in the Tate's collection and the gallery's own records relating to the collection have not been tampered with in any way. "In the course of the police's inquiries, several forged documents were identified, made from photocopies supplied in good faith by the Tate Gallery Archive." Sotheby's and Christie's declined to comment.

Mastermind: Mystery man made fraud an art


DETECTIVES say that much of John Drewe's career is a mystery. In later life, there is no official record of him holding a steady job or paying tax. He had no criminal convictions. Yet he drove a string of expensive cars, was a qualified helicopter pilot and appeared extremely wealthy. With an IQ of 165 and a chameleon-like capacity to absorb people's personalities, he was able to pass himself off in a variety of different guises and could beguile people into becoming unwitting accomplices in his schemes. He convinced medical doctors that he was one of them, persuaded physicists that he had a PhD in physics and impressed art experts with his knowledge and powers of persuasion. As well as tampering with archives, he wrote to the families of the artists to trick them into authenticating works. He persuaded an order of Roman Catholic priests into equipping him with fake documents for paintings. In court he tried to bamboozle the jury with carefully crafted phrases and convoluted explanations. Defending himself, he would punctuate his softly spoken charm with huge roars and gestures. A juror asked Drewe a question via a written note to the judge, then sent another note ten minutes into an incomprehensible reply, asking to withdraw the question, to the court's amusement. Drewe's compulsion to deceive is evident from his days as an insecure teenager. Born John Cockett, he left Haywards Heath Grammar School, West Sussex, in 1964 with six O levels and went to work for the Atomic Energy Authority at Amersham, Buckinghamshire. There he impressed his boss, John Catch, with his knowledge of physics, although tests showed that he did not really understand the basics. Dr Catch encouraged him to take A levels on day-release but he dropped out, complaining that the work was too easy, and eventually resigned from his job at the age of 19. Dr Catch, 81, whose name was later used by Drewe as the fake head of a modern art consortium, said: "He was extremely clever and was able to talk about advanced physics very convincingly but did not understand the basics. He just memorised things from text books. He was unwilling to do A levels because he thought he knew it all already." In 1970, aged 22, Drewe was appointed to teach physics at Hazelwick School, Crawley, as "Dr Drewe". He told staff he had a PhD and was about to do research at Oxford but he was recognised by an old acquaintance and dismissed. He went on to teach at Pardes House, an orthodox Jewish School in North London. A former colleague recalled: "He said he was a professor. Despite being an imposter, he was a good teacher but he tried to make a lot of himself, talking about spying and working for the Government. He left suddenly under mysterious circumstances." The rest is a mystery. Drewe claims to have been a well-paid nuclear physicist who also wrote papers on Western technology for the Soviet Union. The self-proclaimed communist spent time researching Nazi history and claimed he was employed by a South African secret agent to sell art to raise money for arms. Detective Sergeant Jonathan Searle said Drewe's overwhelming attitude was contempt for authority. "He is anarchic in his attitude to anybody who may have a higher situation in life. He has to try to take them on and does a very good job at it," he said.

Friday, February 12, 1999

'Extraordinary' art fraud trial nears end

Tate Gallery: Archives allegedly corrupted

The jury in the trial of a man accused of masterminding an international fine art fraud has retired to consider its verdict after "extraordinary" court proceedings lasting almost six months. John Drewe, 50, is accused of amassing large amounts of money by selling fakes of modern masters on the art market as newly rediscovered works. It is also alleged that he corrupted valuable art archives - including those at the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum - by forging histories for the works, thereby damaging "British heritage" and potentially ruining the reputations of the artists involved.

'Art for arms'

One suspected fake, which was said to have been described as a genuine work by British painter Ben Nicholson, was reportedly sold for UKP:105,000 ($175,000) in the US. Mr Drewe, of Reigate, Surrey, who conducted his own defence, denies three counts of forgery, one of theft, one of false accounting and one of using a false instrument with intent. He said he was selling what he maintains are genuine pictures as part of an "art for arms" scandal involving intelligence agents. He also said he was the victim of a conspiracy to "get" him. The jury at London's Southwark Crown Court have heard evidence from international witnesses from the UK, France, the United States and Israel since the trial began in September 1998.


A key prosecution witness is John Myatt - a "highly-talented" artist from whom Mr Drewe allegedly commissioned pastiches of 20th-Century works of art as part of the fraud plot. Mr Myatt, 53, of Sugnall, Stafford, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy with Mr Drewe and others between 1986 and 1996. Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, QC, who took three days to sum up what he described as an "extraordinary" case, cautioned the jury against believing that they were on a "mission to clean up the art world". Mr Drewe and a schoolfriend, Daniel Stoakes, 52, from Exeter, have already pleaded not guilty to one charge of conspiring with Mr Myatt and others to defraud fine art dealers, experts, auctioneers or collectors.
The jury will continue to consider its verdict on Friday, February 13, 1999

Guilty: Modern art conman of the century

By Will Bennett, Art Sales Correspondent

A CONFIDENCE trickster who masterminded Britain's biggest modern art fraud was found guilty yesterday of tampering with national archives to create false histories for fake paintings. For almost a decade, John Drewe ran rings around Britain's art establishment, gaining access to records at the Tate Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum and fooling art dealers and leading auction houses. Drewe is estimated to have made about UKP:1 million from the fraud which has embarrassed the British art market. An estimated 140 fake pictures are still unaccounted for. A jury at Southwark Crown Court, south London, convicted Drewe, 50, from Reigate, Surrey, of two charges of forgery and one each of conspiracy to defraud, theft and using a false instrument. Drewe, who pleaded not guilty, was acquitted of one forgery charge. Daniel Stoakes, 52, a psychiatric nurse from Exeter, Devon, who was alleged to have posed as the owner of a collection of paintings, was acquitted of conspiracy to defraud. A third defendant, John Myatt, 53, from Stafford, who painted many of the fakes, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and became the principal witness against Drewe. Drewe and Myatt will be sentenced on Monday. The fraud began in 1986 when Drewe answered an advertisement placed by Myatt in Private Eye, in which he offered to paint "genuine fakes" from UKP:150. All the faked artists, who included Alberto Giacometti, Graham Sutherland, Marc Chagall and Ben Nicholson, were dead, thus reducing the chances of detection, and Myatt proved skilled at imitating their style. Drewe then persuaded several "runners" to sell paintings to dealers or via auction houses in the West End of London, thus distancing himself from the transactions. Detectives believe that about 200 fakes were painted, some by an artist who has not been traced. Only 60 have been recovered, in New York, Paris and Britain. Drewe ingratiated himself with the Tate Gallery by donating UKP:20,000 and wrote his own reference to obtain a reader's ticket at the V&A. He then set about doctoring the archives at the two institutions, inserting photographs of Myatt's paintings and adding fake records to make it appear that the works were painted 30 or 40 years ago. His operation was finally uncovered when his girlfriend Bathsheva Goudsmid went to the police and the Tate after she had split up with him. At about the same time two dealers also reported their suspicions to Scotland Yard.

The art conman who changed history

DETECTIVES waiting at Battersea heliport in London were impressed as Professor John Drewe arrived in a helicopter claiming to have links with the Israeli secret service. The dapper, articulate Drewe was carrying photographs of paintings he said had been stolen by the Mafia, which was trying to sell them in London. Indeed the paintings had been stolen, although a man Drewe named as being involved was acquitted by a jury. But Drewe's claim to be a professor at a secret Israeli installation trying to recover a stolen plan for a "Stealth" helicopter was pure fantasy. Detectives now believe that Drewe arranged the meeting with them in 1994 to try to establish himself as a trusted informant in case the art fraud he was already running was uncovered. It was a typically devious piece of thinking by Drewe and yet the fraud itself, the biggest involving modern paintings this century, was devastatingly simple and has sent shivers through Britain's UKP:2.2 billion-a-year art market. The provenance of works of art, the record of their previous history, is crucial. A prospective buyer wants to inspect it just as the purchaser of a used car wants to see the logbook. Drewe realised that dealers, auctioneers and collectors would be less likely to question the authenticity of a fake painting if he created a provenance as bogus as the work of art itself. He inserted false information into the records of the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London so that the paintings which he was paying an artist to fake acquired an instant history. Then, distancing himself to lessen the chances of detection, he persuaded others to sell the pictures. The famous auction houses and plush art galleries to which they were taken in the West End are a world away from Drewe's modest upbringing. He was born John Cockett in 1948 in Sussex, where his father Basil, a telephone engineer, and his mother Kathleen lived in a farm cottage near Uckfield. He was educated at Bexleyheath Grammar School, Kent, which he left after passing O-levels. When he was 17 he took a lowly job with the Atomic Energy Authority. Dr John Catch, his boss at the time, found him clever but arrogant and disinclined to take advice and the teenager left after two years. Much of the next 20 years of his life is a mystery, although at some stage he changed his name to Drewe, adding the letter 'e' to the second half of his mother's maiden name of Barrington-Drew. Briefly, he taught A-level physics without any qualifications at two schools in Britain and later falsely pretended to have a degree from an American university. In 1979 a mutual friend introduced Drewe to Bathsheva Goudsmid, an Israeli. They moved in together in Golders Green, north London, and she had two children before the relationship ended acrimoniously in 1994. By the late Eighties, Drewe appeared well-off, driving a Bentley and dining in expensive restaurants. Dozens of paintings, apparently by famous artists, passed through his home. Drewe told Miss Goudsmid that the pictures belonged to John Catch, using the name of his old boss at the Atomic Energy Authority. He added that Catch was a peer of the realm and a German baron who was going to leave him his UKP:2 million fortune. According to Drewe, Catch wanted to sell the paintings but did not want this to become widely known and had asked Drewe to sell them on his behalf in return for a commission. The reality was that in 1986 Drewe had replied to an advertisment in Private Eye magazine offering "genuine fakes, 19th and 20th century fakes from UKP:150". It had been placed by John Myatt, an impecunious art teacher from Staffordshire. Drewe told Myatt that he was a research scientist, was paid by the Government to inspect nuclear submarines and gave the impression that he was involved with British intelligence. Short of money and with his marriage on the rocks, Myatt did not question this and produced paintings in the style of Alberto Giacometti, Roger Bissi?re, Jean Dubuffet, Marc Chagall, Graham Sutherland, Ben Nicholson, Nicholas de Stael and others at up to UKP:250 a time. Drewe paid him between UKP:50,000 and UKP:100,000 over the next few years. Myatt produced a painting about every two months, once taking five days to paint a fake Giacometti nude using household emulsion. Drewe then aged the picture with dust tipped from a vacuum cleaner and varnish and coated the frame tacks with salt to rust them. Myatt used a mixture of emulsion and lubricating jelly to imitate de Stael's brushstrokes and found that faking Bissi?res became "a kind of addiction". At first, the artist thought Drewe wanted the pictures for his home but gradually realised he was involved in fraud. However, he continued because Drewe fascinated and frightened him. Meanwhile, Drewe smoothly burrowed his way to the heart of Britain's art establishment. He donated UKP:20,000 to the Tate Gallery which was "bowled over". When he applied for a reader's ticket for the V&A's archives as Dr Drewe, his character reference was written by himself in the name of Dr Cockett. The archives at the Tate and the V & A contain records of thousands of paintings, including files from now defunct art galleries and dealers. Drewe tampered with this mine of information and inserted photographs of Myatt's paintings into the records, the labels on them being produced on an old typewriter. He even bought archive paper of the right age. He stole a catalogue of an exhibition held at the defunct Hanover Gallery in London, replacing it with a bogus version which contained some of the fakes. Drewe forged a receipt purporting to show that a Giacometti had been sold for UKP:1,900 in 1958 and inserted it into the records. The picture had been recently painted by Myatt. He approached the families of the artists being forged for information and, with threats of legal action, bullied a Roman Catholic religious order into providing fake histories. The fake pictures were sold by runners who fell for a series of lies. One was Daniel Berger, who was told that they were being disposed of by a man who did not want his children to know he was selling them. Clive Bellman fell for Drewe's story that the paintings were being sold to buy archive material in Russia to prove that the Holocaust took place. Drewe was said to have paid his co-defendant Daniel Stoakes, an impoverished male nurse from Exeter who had been a schoolfriend, a retainer to pose as the owner of a collection of Nicholsons. Stoakes was acquitted. Numerous experts were fooled by the paintings. Fifteen fake pictures were sold through Sotheby's, Christie's and Phillips. Nahum, a leading London art dealer and Antiques Roadshow expert, bought a fake Sutherland for UKP:5,250. He and the art market middleman Ivor Braka bought a bogus Nicholson. Altogether Drewe cost Mr Nahum about UKP:40,000. Whitford Fine Arts, a gallery in London's West End, complained after a de Stael sold to them turned out to be a fake but were persuaded to accept four bogus Sutherland sketches in exchange. The biggest victim was an American gallery owner who became worried about a Giacometti for which he had paid UKP:105,000 and hired a specialist firm to verify it. Ironically the company was run by Drewe, who charged the man UKP:1,140 to authenticate a painting which he had had faked in the first place. In 1995 Drewe's operation was revealed after almost a decade. Miss Goudsmid, horrified by what she had read in documents left behind by Drewe, contacted the Tate and the police. Mr Nahum, suspicious about the Sutherland, and the Mayfair art dealer Leslie Waddington, an expert on Dubuffet who was unhappy about sketches he had seen, also went to police. Drewe denied tampering with the records and claimed the fakes had been sold by arms dealers and countries desperate for hard currency. Myatt confessed his part in the fraud and gave evidence against Drewe. However, he did not paint some of the fake Nicholsons and police believe that there may be another artist involved. It is thought that Drewe, now married to a medical practitioner, Dr Helen Sussman, made at least UKP:1 million. Only 60 of about 200 fakes which he sold have been recovered in Paris, New York and Britain. The damage to Britain's art market is containable because only the works of a few artists were involved. But pictures by them will be treated cautiously for years and the embarrassment caused to a business priding itself on expertise is immense. In one sense Drewe's life has been a tragedy. John Bevan, QC, prosecuting, said: "It was a waste of a clever, hugely retentive brain on a lifestyle which left a trail of victims in its wake."


Leading artists were targets for the tricksters

Among the artists whose works were faked were:

The Forger (The Times of London)

JOHN MYATT was the master faker who fooled international art experts by creating "lost" works by modern masters using materials such as household emulsion, KY lubricating jelly and the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag. Some of the paintings, for which Drewe paid him UKP:250 each, took just two hours to complete and he used a variety of methods to age them convincingly. A graduate of Gloucester Art College and a former professional musician, the talented but impoverished artist was contacted by Drewe after he placed an advertisement in Private Eyeoffering to paint "genuine fakes".
As the fraud gathered momentum, he accepted Drewe's offer of a cut of the profits and had his own Swiss bank account in which to deposit proceeds, estimated at UKP:100,000. Myatt relished the challenge of imitating celebrated artists such as Marc Chagall, Graham Sutherland, Ben Nicholson and Alberto Giacometti. He even took perverse pleasure in faking sketches by Le Corbusier, the French architect whose designs he said he "hated". His unorthodox methods included using a mixture of emulsion and KY jelly to fake a De Stael in order to get the paint to "move" like oil paint used in the originals. Works were aged with the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag and salty water was used to distress nails for the frames. He also faked signatures. After taking just two hours to complete a Nicholson, he forged the signature by copying it from a book about the artist.

The Vengeful Women

BOTH John Drewe's ex-wife, Batsheba Goudsmid, a key prosecution witness, and his present wife, Helen Sussman, a doctor, attended court regularly. It was Ms Goudsmid, the mother of Drewe's two teenage children,who went to the police with vital evidence after he walked out on her. The Israeli ophthalmologist told of her "horror" at discovering incriminating letters from Myatt to Drewe amid the piles of paperwork he left strewn around their home in Golders Green, northwest London. She said: "They described the things they would and would not do. I was so horrified when I read them that I took them to the police." She told detectives that she believed the dozens of paintings that arrived at the house were the property of John Catch, Drewe's first employer at the Atomic Energy Authority. Drewe had told her that Mr Catch was Lord Chelmwood and also a German baron and that he was to sell pictures for him on a commission basis. She said: "I always believed the paintings were genuine. Over the years he said Mr Catch had supported him, helped him with his studies, given him money and was to leave him all his money. At one time I was told he would give him UKP:2 million." Ms Goudsmid admitted she knew nothing about art but said that when some canvases arrived without frames, she saw Drewe making frames from bits of old wood in the garden. She said he took photographs of the paintings and also treated them in the garden. She said: "Once in the garden he put mud on a painting. He said it would make it look older because these paintings had been in a vault for many years and they looked new." During her evidence, she claimed that her 17-year-old son was not Drewe's child, but that the 15-year-old daughter was. The court was told of a long-running custody battle over the children, who were called by Drewe as defence witnesses. Ms Goudsmid is also involved in a civil case with Drewe and is seeking a share of his frozen bank accounts, believed to contain at least UKP:1 million.
Drewe married Helen Sussman soon after leaving Ms Goudsmid and moved to Reigate, Surrey.

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