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Wednesday, September 23, 1998 Published at 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK


'Art fraudster made fortune'

Drewe, left, recruited school friend Stokes into his fraud campaign

An "unscrupulous fraudster's" lucrative 10-year "edifice of lies" undermined the art world, a court has heard.

John Drewe, 50, conned his way into top galleries to sell fake works by a poor artist, Southwark Crown Court was told.

One alleged fake "Ben Nicholson" made 105,000 in the US, said John Bevan QC, prosecuting.

The BBC's Stephen Cape reports on the hearing
The trial centres around allegations of a sophisticated operation where fake paintings were provided with false histories and put on the market as newly rediscovered works by renowned artists.

The court heard how Mr Drewe, 50, made a fortune from his campaign of deception which damaged the reputations of leading artists.

Mr Drewe conned his way into top art galleries to forge false histories for the fake paintings, which he commissioned from an impoverished artist, it was alleged.

Armed with the bogus backgrounds, he duped a string of salesmen into selling the pictures to an unsuspecting market, the court was told.

[ image: Drewe made a 20,000 donation to the Tate]
Drewe made a 20,000 donation to the Tate
Mr Drewe recruited 'runners' or salesmen who approached auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's and some of the West End's leading art dealers with fake documentation falsely authenticating the paintings.

One alleged fake, which Mr Drewe was said to have described as a genuine work by British painter Ben Nicholson, was sold for 105,000 ($175,000) in the US, it was alleged.

"His primary motive was to make money, although the effort he put into defrauding those he targeted suggests an intellectual delight in fooling people and a contempt for experts," Mr Bevan said.

Mr Drewe shamelessly conned shop owners, business friends and other acquaintances, Mr Bevan said.

A society of Roman Catholic priests was also sucked into his alleged campaign of fraud after a threat of civil action forced them to provide fictitious backgrounds for bogus paintings he hoped to sell, he added.

Mr Drewe, from Reigate in Surrey, and Daniel Stokes, 52, a psychiatric nurse from Exeter, deny one charge of conspiring with Stafford artist John Myatt and others to defraud fine art dealers, experts, auctioneers or collectors between 1 January 1986 and 4 April 1996.

Sufficient skill

Mr Drewe also denies three counts of forgery, one of theft, one of false accounting and one of using a false instrument with intent.

Opening the case - expected to last three months - Mr Bevan told the jury the vast majority of this country's works of art, including paintings by modern artists, could be copied or imitated by those with sufficient skill.

It formed a large and important market which could provide a "fertile ground for fraudsmen seeking to dupe experts, collectors, investors and galleries".

A wealth of archive material, which formed an invaluable source of research for art investigators, was stored in galleries such as the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Mr Bevan said.

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