Tom Keating

I just discovered Tom Keating, an art forger. I was reading a junky $5 book in a book remainders store on famous criminals (as you do) and as I read his story I’m afraid I liked the guy for the way in which his great skills seemed ‘genuine’ as it were – driven by the love of and respect for the work (and a hatred of the cynicism of the art market). When on trial for one of his forgeries and on being shown the painting in question he said “Yes, I’m ashamed” and the reason he was ashamed was that, though he didn’t doubt he’d painted it (he’d painted thousands of ‘forgeries’, often giving them away to friends) the particular painting he was being shown was poorly executed with what Keating obviously felt was inadequate respect for the artist.

Well I was sympathetic from there on. And the story has an ending which, whether or not it is happy (as Dorothy Parker said, there have been billions of people in the world and not one had a happy ending), is just. His ‘forgeries’ are now sought after by collectors. And rightly so.

It would make a good opera.

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Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
9 years ago

thousands of paintings? Of the quality you put up and in many different styles? Wow, that’s a class act.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
9 years ago

There was a family years ago that owned a beautiful Dutch painting by a unknown artist. The painting gave them much pleasure. Then one day an expert saw this painting and pronounced it to be a Rembrandt and because the painting was now too valuable to hang and insure in a middle class house, it had to be placed in a bank vault. A few years later another expert pronounced that the painting was actually by Rembrandt’s most gifted pupil, Carl Fabritius. Fabritius was killed by an explosion, before he was able to paint more than a few pictures and thus his reputation and prices were much lower than Rembrandt’s. Therefore the picture was again not worth much. It was taken home and rehung on the wall. More years passed and Fabritius’ reputation grew; there weren’t many of his works but they were exceptionally beautiful, hence their value grew to be more or as much as a Rembrandt. The painting was then returned to the bank vault. The painting hadn’t changed over this time.

Ian Milliss
Ian Milliss
9 years ago
Reply to  john r walker

It’s that damn invisible hand that I blame in this instance.

john walker
john walker
9 years ago
Reply to  Ian Milliss

market smarcket… the prestige is a much older trick.

Pam Trueman
Pam Trueman
9 years ago

I did a Fine Art thesis on Samuel Palmer at around the time the Tom Keatng fakes were turning up. I was told by my tutor, an eminent art historian, to re-write the thesis as I had obviously missed all these later paintings. My tutor said the paintings recently unearthed were evidence that Samuel Palmer’s style and technique had improved over his life. (The pastiches were better than the originals). Also at this time I had received a rejection from the Courtauld Institute in London, so was feeling pretty miserable about so called art experts. The man who rejected my application? Sir Anthony Blunt, keeper of the Queen’s pictures and a spy for the Russians also as it turned out – he was given immunity for grassing on the others in the Burgess Maclean spy scandal. Moral of the tale: never trust an “expert”.

Ian Milliss
Ian Milliss
9 years ago

Really you are confessing here that you don’t have much of an idea what art is really about.

Paul Bamford
Paul Bamford
9 years ago

Keating’s rationalisation of his forgeries reminds me a lot of the Greenhalghes.

Pam Trueman
Pam Trueman
9 years ago

I love the way in this story, as when Tom Keating was discovered, the “experts” say the forgeries weren’t that good really. Just good enough to fool you plonkers for many years! Plus saying that the museum people worked it out because of a spelling mistake wouldn’t have been made on a tablet made for royalty, do me a favour! These forgers were grassed up by a relative. The museum staff and the police were way too unintelligent, and the agents only cared about the commission.