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An Art Forger Tells All

Ken Perenyi made millions forging famous works of art. Now he tells all.

In an exhibition on forgeries at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a painting titled "A Female Saint", left, that once was attributed to Italian artist Sandro Botticelli is exhibited alongside "The Resurrected Christ," right, a Botticelli painting from around 1480. (AP)

In an exhibition on forgeries at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a painting titled “A Female Saint”, left, that once was attributed to Italian artist Sandro Botticelli is exhibited alongside “The Resurrected Christ,” right, a Botticelli painting from around 1480. (AP)

For most of us, high-tier art forgery is the stuff of movies and, almost, fairy tales. A master forger, moving among the rich and famous, cruising galleries and museums, gliding through glittering auction houses. Then going back to the studio to paint elegant fakes – forgeries – so fine they fool the masters. Make millions.

For Ken Perenyi, this was life, he says. The machinist’s son from Jersey with a gift for emulation. And an incredible story to tell.

This hour, On Point: the forger’s tale. Master art forger Ken Perenyi tells all – or something like it.

- Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Ken Perenyi, art forger and author of the new memoir “Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger.”

Henry DePhillips, art conservation scientist and art forgery specialist.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “Over the next few years, he says, the F.B.I. continued to keep a close watch on him at his bayside bungalow here, tracking his work and where it sold, and talking to his friends and associates. Though the authorities never charged him, the scrutiny pushed Mr. Perenyi to develop what he calls “a new business model”: openly selling his faked oils as the reproductions of the finest masters.”

The Huffington Post “The business of oil painting reproductions has been around for some time, and one might argue it’s not really hurting artists like Paul Cezanne or other painters who are no longer with us. Instead, it’s allowing art enthusiasts on a budget to admire a work of fine art — albeit a fake — in their own home. But for contemporary and emerging artists, it’s a drastically different story.”

Excerpt: “Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger”

Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.

Gallery

Here are some forged paintings by our guest Ken Perenyi paired with the real paintings as well as a photo of Ken at work.

Playlist

“Sinnerman” by Nina Simone (from The Thomas Crown Affair Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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