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'Mastermind' specialises in masterfaker

PUBLISHED: 05:36 19 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:18 24 February 2010

IT was a case of Mastermind meets master forger when BBC presenter Magnus Magnusson visited the Essex village of Dedham hot on the tail of picture restorer Tom Keating.

IT was a case of Mastermind meets master forger when BBC presenter Magnus Magnusson visited the Essex village of Dedham hot on the tail of picture restorer Tom Keating.

The quizmaster is researching the history of the self-confessed imitator for a new book detailing the crooked lives of great fakers and forgers.

Magnusson passed unnoticed through the small village, stopping off at the church to view the final resting place of the crafty artist who shook the art world by revealing his deception in 1976.

Keating, then aged 59, admitted flooding the market with pastiches over a period of 25 years.

His home was immediately besieged by reporters and television crews who gained entry to his studio in Lower Park country house, then owned by the de Muscotes.

Journalists found scores of canvasses in the style of various artists, including a "Degas-style" painting, resting on an easel near a colour photograph of the orignal.

Keating, who died in 1984, aged 67, had imitated works by Goya, Rembrandt and Constable but he was most prolific in reproducing the brushstrokes of British landscape painter Samuel Palmer.

He claimed he had copied 13 Palmer paintings not for financial gain "but simply as a protest against merchants who make capital out of those I am proud to call my brother artists, living and dead."

The lively, unconventional artist had said of the dealers who were taken it: "If they were proper blokes they would laugh too, even if they've lost a bit of lolly."

He believed Palmer's spirit would guide his hand as he applied paint to the canvas and that "Sam" would allow Keating to use the painter's own name from time to time.

He claimed he had given most of the fakes away but several found their way into London galleries.

It was later alleged his drawings had been "aged" using quills, the brown juice from simmered apples and a spoonful of coffee powder but Keating objected to the "recipe" in a letter to the EADT in June 1977.

He wrote: "We simply cannot mislead future generations of painters with false recipes."

The same letter asserts: "Why shouldn't I give pictures away? I painted the bloody things!"

Keating was later charged with fraud but the case against him was dropped after he was ruled too frail to stand trial. He lived for five more years to see his fakes become collectors' items in their own right, selling for thousands of pounds at a time.

The bearded cockney painter admitted having painted around 2,000 "Sexton Blakes" (fakes), in total.

Magnusson was said to be most interested in a painting Keating gave to the late Canon Johnnie Johnson, of Dedham, entitled "The Angel of Dedham in the style of the artist Samuel Palmer".

The work is signed in Keating's own name.

The broadcaster and question master of BBC's Mastermind quiz, made contact with the vicar of St Mary's Parish Church, Dedham via the Church website, to ask for help with his research.

Magnusson wandered around the village, accompanied by a researcher and took several photographs for his book in which the chapter on Keating is understood to be one of 25.


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