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section heading icon     memoirs

This page considers accounts by forgers.

It covers -

subsection heading icon     introduction

Autobiographical accounts by forgers are problematical affairs, given the temptation for the author to exaggerate his prowess (and claim credit for the work of other people) or to engage in self-exculpation, denying that they have behaved badly or claiming that they simply created works in good faith that were were misrepresented by dealers.

Eric Hebborn's claims are for example criticised in Art of the Forger (New York: Dodd Mead 1985) by Christopher Wright.

The accounts are of interest because some - true or otherwise - are rollicking yarns, told with verve and with insights into the techniques of concocting a fake or persuading a buyer that the work is genuine. (Some memoirs indicate that dealers, including those such as Christies and Sothebys, take little persuasion.)

Their motivation varies. Some authors appear to have wanted to have the last laugh. Others seem to have used meoirs as a way to get money in their old age, having served time for at least some of the offences.

subsection heading icon     art

Works by fine art forgers include The Art Forger's Handbook (New York: Overlook Press 1997) and Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger (New York: Random House 1993) by Eric Hebborn, The Fake's Progress (London: Hutchinson 1977) by Tom Keating & Geraldine Norman, Affairs of a Painter (London: Faber 1936) by Icilio Joni, Flag on Devil's Island: The autobiography of one of the great counterfeiters and art forgers of modern times (Garden City: Doubleday 1961) by Francis Lagrange, Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania (New York: Random 2002) by Andy Behrman, Pour l'amour du faux (Paris: Hachette 1988) by Réal Lessard, Incroyable mais faux: Van Gogh, Picasso, Dufy et les autres, c’est moi! (Paris: éditions Presses de la Cité 1993) by Jacques Harvey, Trois Picasso avant le petit déjeuner (Paris: éditions Robert Laffont 1990) by David Stein and Art Fraud: Memoirs of a Master Forger (New York: Carnot USA 2004) by Alin Marthouret. Anne-Marie Stein's Three Picassos Before Breakfast: Memoirs of an Art Forger's Wife (New York: Hawthorn 1973) is a memoir by the partner of forger David Stein, producer of fake Chagalls, Picassos and Derains.

subsection heading icon     literature

Among memoirs by literary forgers see Lee Israel's Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger (New York: Simon & Schuster 2008), an account by a respected biographer who turned to manufacturing letters from Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker and other wits.

George Psalmanazaar initially used another persona to denounce his own work and then wrote memoirs - Memoirs of ****, Commonly Known by the Name of George Psalmanazar (London: 1764) - published after his death, confessing his improbable fraud. Shakespeare forger William Henry Ireland penned The Confessions of William Henry Ireland, Containing The Particulars of his Fabrication of the Shakespeare Manuscripts (London: Thomas Goddard 1805).

subsection heading icon     official documents

Two works on forgery of official documents are The Forger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin (New York: Da Capo Press 2008) by Cioma Schönhaus and Portrait of a Young Forger (New York: Random 1993) by Marian Pretzel.

subsection heading icon     money

For Operation Bernhard, highlighted here, see The Devil’s Workshop by Adolf Burger and Counterfeiter (Oxford: Osprey 2008) by Moritz Nachtstern.

Autobiographical accounts by earlier counterfeiters include George Bidwell's Forging His Chains: The Autobiography of George Bidwell (Hartford: Scranton & Co 1888).

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version of May 2008
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