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7 Art Forgers Who Made a Fortune From Knock-Offs

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Pablo Picasso said, "Good artists copy but great artists steal." Charles Caleb Colton remarked, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." If such aphorisms are taken literally, then the art forgers listed below are both good and great—and obscene brown-nosers. They're also rich...or at least they were.

1. Han van Meegeren

Wikimedia Commons

Dutch painter Jan Vermeer was only moderately successful during his lifetime, never achieving much fame or fortune. When he died, he left his wife and children in debt. But Vermeer's paintings and legacy helped make a lot of other people money—including Dutch forger Han van Meegeren, who made more than $30 million in the 1930s and '40s tricking art historians and expert art dealers into believing a painting that he had conceived just months prior was actually a newly surfaced 300-year-old Vermeer.

2. Pei-Shen Qian

Pei-Shen Qian was recently indicted for his role in a $33 million fraud scheme in New York that involved two Spanish art dealers. The 75-year-old Chinese-American painter is now safe and sound in China, where he has citizenship and is unlikely to be extradited. Qian replicated the works of popular modern masters like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.

3. Wolfgang Beltracchi

Even though it may sound fun, tricking the uber rich into forking over millions for fake paintings is frowned upon. As Wolfgang Beltracchi—the German painter who's admitted to producing more than 100 forged works of 50-plus acclaimed artists—found out, it's also a jailable offense.

4. John Myatt

Scotland Yard called it "the biggest art fraud of the 20th century": Between 1986 and 1994, the English painter John Myatt painted more than 200 forgeries, fooling everyone from Sotheby's to European museums. In 1999, he got caught and sentenced to a year in prison, though he got out in four months on good behavior. Now, Myatt sells paintings as John Myatt.

5. William J. Toye

Not all forgers attempt to imitate the European masters. Although William J. Toye, a New Orleans painter, first started mimicking artists like Degas, Monet, Gauguin, and Renoir, he became most famous when he was implicated in a series of fraudulent sales of works credited to African-American folk artist Clementine Hunter. Because Hunter sold many of her hundreds of paintings door to door in Louisiana as a relative unknown, it wasn't necessarily improbable that a New Orleans native would have happened upon several of her works at a garage sale.

Toye's fraud was eventually unveiled by the FBI, and he and his wife (an accomplice) were sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay $426,393 to the people he hoodwinked. To this day, Toye remains bitter and unapologetic, and he continues to offer no appreciation of the woman who helped make him famous, saying of Hunter's paintings: “They’re junk, and really only good as dartboards.”

6. Elmyr de Hory

Wikimedia Commons

Hungarian artist Elmyr de Hory was imprisoned for political dissidence in his home country, sent to concentration camps by the Germans for being both Jewish and openly gay (he was a homosexual, but not Jewish), jailed in Mexico City on suspicion of murder, and jailed again in Spain for "consorting with criminals" and homosexuality.

But the man, who admitted to faking hundreds of works by famous painters from Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to Alfred Sisley and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, never faced trial for his artistic dupery. He committed suicide in 1976, before Spain had the chance to extradite him to France to pay for his crimes of creative duplicity.

7. Robert Driessen

Driessen Art

Dutch artist Robert Driessen is the most successful forger that very few people know about—but those few people include the European authorities, who are keen to arrest the man that allegedly sold more than 1000 fake Alberto Giacometti sculptures, netting more than $10 million. But while Driessen's German accomplices sit in prison, he is free and running a small cafe in Thailand. "I am trapped in paradise," he says.

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The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
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Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Tessa Angus
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Surprising Sculptures Made From Fallen Feathers
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire is a British sculptor with an unusual medium: feathers. Her surreal, undulating works often take the form of installations—the feathers spilling out of a drain, a stove, a crypt wall—or stand-alone sculptures in which antique bell jars, cabinets, or trunks contain otherworldly shapes.

MccGwire developed her obsession with feathers after moving to a studio barge on the Thames in 2006, as she explains in a video from Crane.tv recently spotlighted by Boing Boing. The barge was near a large shed full of feral pigeons, whose feathers she would spot on her way to work. "I started picking them up and laying them out, collecting them," she remembers. "And after about two weeks I had like 300 feathers." At the time, concerns about bird flu were rife, which made the feathers seem "dangerous as well as beautiful."

When not supplied by her own next-door menagerie, the feathers for her artwork come from a network of racing pigeon societies all over the UK, who send her envelopes full every time the birds molt. Farmers and gamekeepers also send her fallen feathers from birds such as magpies, pheasants, and roosters.

The cultural associations around birds are a big part of what inspires MccGwire. “The dove is the symbol of peace, purity, and fertility," she told ArtNews in 2013, "but it’s exactly the same species as a pigeon—which everyone regards as being dirty, foul, a pest.”

The same duality is present in her own work, which she frequently shares on her Instagram account. “I want to seduce by what I do—but revolt in equal measure. It’s really important to me that you’ve got that rejection of things you think you know for sure.”

You can see some pictures of MccGwire's work, and watch the video from Crane.tv, below.

Kate MccGwire's installation "Evacuate"
Evacuate, 2010
J Wilde

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Convolous"
Convolous, 2015
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's installation "Gyre"
Gyre, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Gag"
Gag, 2009
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Writhe"
Writhe, 2010
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Quell"
Quell, 2011
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Taunt"
Taunt, 2012
Tessa Angus

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