Good art forgers have received what amounts to an endorsement from an unexpected quarter. Promoting the National Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries, the director Nicholas Penny said: “I wish we had more fakes [in the collection]. You only get good at spotting them by seeing them.” Penny touches a sensitive nerve in the secretive international art market which, according to expert estimates, is awash with forgeries. Astonishingly, some put the figure at up to 40%.

Forgers are a peculiar breed and money is only one motive. Anonymous by necessity, they yearn for recognition. Technically adept, often with formal training and a keen sense of colour and form, they have produced work, down to the singular brushstroke or cut of the clay, that rivals the originals. But, by definition, they have not found their own voice; they are unable to put their name to pieces of modest integrity and flair when they know that they are capable of simulating the greats. Lacking the prerequisite metropolitan social connections, they find the international art market – the galleries and auction houses of New York, London and Paris – intimidating, haughty and false: a mercenary, self-regarding conspiracy against the blooming of a thousand flowers. So beating the market is a challenge and a game: fraught with danger but ultimately exhilarating.


David Pallister