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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

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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

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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 Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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This 77-Year-Old Artist Saves Money on Art Supplies by 'Painting' in Microsoft Excel
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It takes a lot of creativity to turn a blank canvas into an inspired work of art. Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi makes his pictures out of something that’s even more dull than a white page: an empty spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

When he retired, the 77-year-old Horiuchi, whose work was recently spotlighted by Great Big Story, decided he wanted to get into art. At the time, he was hesitant to spend money on painting supplies or even computer software, though, so he began experimenting with one of the programs that was already at his disposal.

Horiuchi's unique “painting” method shows that in the right hands, Excel’s graph-building features can be used to bring colorful landscapes to life. The tranquil ponds, dense forests, and blossoming flowers in his art are made by drawing shapes with the software's line tool, then adding shading with the bucket tool.

Since picking up the hobby in the 2000s, Horiuchi has been awarded multiple prizes for his creative work with Excel. Let that be inspiration for Microsoft loyalists who are still broken up about the death of Paint.

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist's process in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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