Illustrious Forgers

Original title: Faussaires Illustres

Author: Bellet, Harry

Publication Date:

October 2018



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia

Illustrious Forgers

Original title: Faussaires Illustres

Author: Bellet, Harry

  • 2 Seas Represents: Dutch, Nordic and North American rights.
  • Rights Sold: Italy (Skira)


Harry Bellet’s joyous portraits are a treat.   Jérôme Dupuy, L’Express

Devilish stories of illustrious forgers. — Sabine Gignoux, La Croix

This book is well written, pleasant to read and full of interesting and revealing anecdotes. Enjoyable and educational for any art amateurs! — Gérard-Georges Lemaire, Verso Hebdo

A short but concise book, especially written with the bright and funny style of Harry Bellet. — Didier Rykner, La Tribune de l’art

A fascinating little book. — Jean-Marc Rapaz, Générations magazine

A lively and daring story, built in an original way. — Beaux-Arts

With his usual verve, journalist Harry Bellet gives us a small anthology of art forgers. — Céline Lefranc, Connaissance des Arts

40% of the works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York are forgeries, at least according to its former director, Thomas Hoving. After further investigation, it seems that this may be an underestimate.

This practice dates back to Antiquity: a century before the common era, the Greek Pasiteles used to sell statues to the Romans that he claimed were four hundred years old, but which he had in fact just sculpted…

In his youth, Michelanglelo was not averse to engaging in similarly dubious practices. Dubious, but at the same time admirable: the failed artist but ‘genius’ forger who manages to fool academics and connoisseurs is hailed as a hero in the vein of Arsène Lupin. Indeed, the gentleman thief owned the actual Tiara of Saitferne, a gold crown purportedly belonging to a possibly mythical Scythian king which turned out to have been manufactured at the end of the 19th century by a goldsmith from Odessa and which made fools of the curators at the Louvre who had acquired it.

The story is akin to the fake Vermeers created by Han Van Meegeren, who was prosecuted after the Second World War for selling a masterpiece by the Dutch painter to Hermann Goring. He pleaded in his defence that he had himself forged the painting in question, and to general disbelief, he produced another one while in his prison cell…

Eight notorious scandals – the most recent being the ‘Beltracchi Affair’, in which the German forger managed to sell dozens of forgeries between 1990 and 2010 – are recounted in this delightful book. Some are comical, many are sad (America’s oldest gallery, Knoedler, closed down after fifty years in the business after falling victim to an art fraud), and there is the occasional tragedy: the killers of the British forger Eric Hebborn, who was murdered by a hammer blow in 1996 in a seedy street in Rome, have never been found.

Out of these stories, two truths emerge: no, there is no such thing as a ‘genius’ forger (except for those who have never been caught), and yes, fakes are everywhere, and they are very difficult to detect.

Born in 1960, Harry Bellet studied art history before working at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Fondation Maeght à Saint-Paul-de- Vence. Since 1998, he has written on cultural affairs for Le Monde. In addition to exhibition catalogues, he has published a variety of works, including three detective novels and two historical novels centred around the painter Hans Holbein: Les Aventures extravagantes de Jean Jambecreuse, artiste et bourgeois de Bâle and Les Aventures extravagantes de Jean Jambecreuse, au temps de la révolte des rustauds (Actes Sud, 2012 and 2018).