If you are fortunate enough to have a da Vinci or a Rembrandt hanging in your lobby you are unlikely ever to want for much. But what do you think would be the going rate for a Sexton?
Far from being a painter, Sexton Blake of course was a fictional detective. And being a Londoner, talented art restorer Tom Keating knew a little about rhyming slang.
Left-leaning Keating was disgusted by what he saw as a system in which dealers and critics connived to fill their coffers often at the expense of struggling artists, and he undertook to throw the art world into turmoil through the simple expedient of releasing a whole load of fakes, or “Sextons” onto the market. Blessed with an exceptional eye for detail and a steady hand, he faithfully reproduced Renoirs, Gainsboroughs and Degases aplenty.
On every occasion he would cheekily leave what he called a “time bomb” in his works, writing text with lead white onto the canvas before painting on top of it which could be detected by x-ray, or using materials which had only become available in the twentieth century. In this way fellow art restorers would know what they were dealing with, but the pretentious pseuds of the art world usually would not.
In April 1976 Keating revealed to the world that he had flooded the market with over 2,000 fake paintings during a 25-year career as a forger. He was unrepentant, declaring that his deeds had been a protest against the exploitation of artists, living and dead.
Charges were finally brought against him in 1979, but the case was later dropped due to Keating’s ill health. He sadly passed away in 1984 at the age of 66.
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