The world’s greatest forger


Do you know the name Wolfgang Beltracchi? Even if you don’t, you may have seen his paintings. And that fact is at the root of one of the craziest ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ stories you’ll ever hear. Wolfgang is a very talented painter, but he chose to use those talents to paint forgeries. Not just any forgeries though. He didn’t copy known paintings. Instead, he created whole new works that famous painters might have painted. Then, with the help of his wife, created the provenance necessary to authenticate them. They were very successful.

Wolfgang’s paintings ended up on the covers of auction magazines, hanging in museums, and were selling for millions of dollars. He was eventually caught because of an ill-conceived tube of white paint. The pigments in that tube didn’t exist when the painting they were used on was supposed to have been created. That discovery opened up a can of worms that is still being sorted out.  At his trial, prosecutors identified 36 paintings that had sold for $46 million. But nobody knows exactly how many of them are still to be discovered.

Fun fact. The Beltracchi painting you see at the top of this post was purchased by Steve Martin. The entire story is fascinating and sounds like the treatment for a Hollywood film. You can read all the details at the CBS News post.

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