Stoke & Staffordshire

Art fraudster John Myatt life story film in the pipeline

John Myatt
Image caption Mr Myatt is holding an exhibition of his work at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

He was a former art teacher who played a part in what Scotland Yard called "the biggest art fraud of the 20th Century".

But now John Myatt is bringing an exhibition to a Birmingham gallery and a film production company is writing a script about his life.

It is a remarkable turnaround for the man who was once given a one year prison sentence in 1999 for forgery.

He painted more than 200 works in the style of masters such as Matisse which were sold to auction houses and art dealers.

He now makes his living by painting what he calls "genuine fakes" from his studio in Staffordshire, and the story of his life is being turned into a screenplay which he hopes will eventually be made into a feature film.

"There have been a lot of hitches with this project, but now it's got to an English company [Green Gaia films] who are scripting it," he said.

"I get to see the script in two weeks time, but I appreciate there might be some artistic licence, the odd car chase or sex scene, but it is based on real events."

Mr Myatt also hopes to paint some of the artwork for use in the movie and that he will also get the chance to write songs for the soundtrack. (He previously worked as a songwriter, writing the UK top 40 hit Silly Games for Janet Kay in 1979.)

Emulsion and KY Jelly

It was between 1986 and 1994 that John Myatt worked with John Drewe to forge and auction off about 200 paintings by artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Roger Bissiere and Nicholas De Stael.

The fraud was so elaborate that auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's were duped into authenticating the pictures.

"I never used original oil paint in any of my forgeries. It was acrylic paint and household emulsion mixed with KY Jelly, but no one ever seemed to spot the difference [between mine and the original]."

Myatt was sentenced to a year in prison but was released after four months on good behaviour. Drewe, who was said by police to be the ringleader, was given six years.

Drewe amassed up to £1.8m by selling the fake paintings, with Myatt estimating that he made around £275,000 from the scam.

Myatt vowed to never paint again but a Scotland Yard detective involved in his case persuaded him to paint a family portrait for him.

"He said to me there's an awful lot of police people, barristers and lawyers who were involved in this case who would love a momento," he said.

I ended up doing work for all of them and by the end of 1999, my bank account had something like £18,000 in it.

"I felt I could be a regular guy again, all that criminal stuff was behind me."

"Genuine fakes"

Myatt has since worked with Scotland Yard's arts and antiques squad, helping them train police officers to spot forgeries.

But it is his business painting "genuine fakes" which remains his main source of income.

In September, his work will go on display in an exhibition at the Waterhall Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

He said: "I don't do copies. There are millions of painters who could do a copy of the Mona Lisa, for example, but I'm very happy to look at doing a work in the style of Leonardo Di Vinci. That's the difference."

"It's like a Rory Bremner impression. He'll do a wonderful take on John Major for example, and although he's not copying the words of John Major he'll use his voice and the audience will go along and have fun with him and that's what I do with painting."

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