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Forgeries? Call ’Em Faux Masterpieces

MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. — For nearly three decades Ken Perenyi made a small fortune forging works by popular 18th- and 19th-century artists like Martin Johnson Heade, Gilbert Stuart and Charles Bird King.

佛罗里达州马德拉海滩——在近三十年时间里,肯·派雷尼(Ken Perenyi)通过伪造像马丁·约翰逊·海德(Martin Johnson Heade)、吉尔伯特·斯图尔特(Gilbert Stuart)和查尔斯·伯德·金(Charles Bird King)等备受欢迎的18、19世纪画家作品发了一笔小财。

Then in 1998, Mr. Perenyi says, two F.B.I. agents showed up on his doorstep, curious about a couple of paintings sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, ostensibly by the maritime artist James E. Buttersworth but actually his own meticulous creations.

派雷尼说,1998年,两名联邦调查局(Federal Bureau of Investigation,简称FBI)特工出现在他家门口。他们对当时佳士得(Christie’s)和苏富比(Sotheby’s)卖出的几幅作品充满好奇。那几幅作品表面上看是海洋画家詹姆斯·E·巴特斯沃思(James E. Buttersworth)的大作,但实际上却是派雷尼精心制作的成果。


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.


Now they are bought by Palm Beach decorators, antiques dealers, professionals, business executives and others who want the look of cultured gentility without the price tag.

如今,他的这些作品被卖给了棕榈滩(Palm Beach)的设计师、古董经销商、专业人士、商务高管以及其他那些想要追求考究和文雅而又不想大出血的买家。

“I realized the life I knew and loved was over,” he said of his career as a con man. Whereas one Perenyi forgery fetched more than $700,000 at auction, now he sells a nearly identical work for as little as $5,000. They are the art-world equivalent of a three-carat cubic zirconia that can be flaunted as a Tiffany diamond.


Are they sold as authentic by the people who buy them?


“During the first few years of trying to market and sell my paintings legitimately, I couldn’t say where they went or what people did with them,” Mr. Perenyi, 63, said in an interview at his home. “Today I have an established clientele, and I only sell to people I know.”


Though many businesses sell fine-art reproductions, few can match Mr. Perenyi’s craftsmanship — or his checkered past.


His forgeries, he says, financed an extravagant lifestyle that included European trips, exclusive restaurants, Versace couture and “total freedom.” He says they brought him into contact with mob enforcers, the lawyer Roy Cohn and Andy Warhol, who, he says, bought one of his forgeries, a John F. Peto.

派雷尼称,他伪造的画作曾为自己奢侈的生活方式提供了资金支持。他游历欧洲、出入高级餐厅并光顾范思哲(Versace)服装店,享受着“完全的自由。”他说,这些赝品让他结识了黑帮杀手,同时也让他结识了明星律师罗伊·科恩(Roy Cohn) 和艺术家安迪·沃霍尔(Andy Warhol)。他宣称,安迪·沃霍尔曾买过一幅他的赝品。那副画的原作出自约翰·F·皮托(John F. Peto)之手。

He gives details of his exploits in a forthcoming memoir, “Caveat Emptor: the Secret Life of an American Art Forger” (Pegasus Books), which has been optioned by RKO Pictures. It is being marketed as a confession, and Mr. Perenyi, who is open in discussing his life as a swindler, is safe in the knowledge that the statute of limitations for his forgeries has passed.

他在即将出版的回忆录《买者小心:一名美国艺术造假者的神秘生活》(飞马书社出版)中详细记述了他的经历。这部回忆录已被雷电华电影公司(RKO Pictures)选中。该回忆录正在被当做一本忏悔录来宣传。对派雷尼来说,公开讨论他的骗子生活很安全,因为他知道对他伪造作品的起诉时效已经过期。

An F.B.I. spokesman said that officials could not comment on the accuracy of his account because the case file, while inactive, had not been closed.


Mr. Perenyi estimates that hundreds of his fakes remain in circulation. Occasionally he glimpses one (“It’s like bumping into an old friend”) in an auction catalog or in a magazine. “I miss the addictive thrill of fooling the experts,” he said. “It was great sport for me.”


A spokesman for Sotheby’s declined to comment. A spokesman for Christie’s said that the names of consigners are confidential but noted that a work Mr. Perenyi refers to as his own, a rendering attributed to Heade of two hummingbirds that was sold in 1993, is in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, the definitive compendium of his work. The author of the Heade catalogue, Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. , a curator of American art at the Harvard Art Museums, said that if Mr. Perenyi’s account is persuasive, he would need to re-examine the work.

苏富比的发言人拒绝置评。佳士得的一名发言人则表示委托人的姓名是保密的。但他同时提到,1993年曾有一幅被认为是出自海德之手的作品被卖出,是一副两只蜂鸟的透视图。现在,派雷尼指出那幅画出自他之手。这幅画作被列入了海德作品目录。这个目录相当具有权威性。该目录的作者、哈佛大学美术馆(Harvard Art Museums)美国艺术馆馆长小西奥多·E·斯特宾斯(Theodore E. Stebbins Jr.)表示,如果派雷尼所言具有有说服力,他需要重新鉴定那件作品。

The difference between Mr. Perenyi’s legal business and his criminal one is that now he makes clear his paintings are reproductions, even though they have the artist’s signature. Fraud applies only when someone actively misrepresents a copy as an original.


“I have some of his paintings mixed in with real art,” said Nancy Telese, a Palm Beach socialite and a longtime friend of Mr. Perenyi’s. She owns his versions of Heade, Picasso, Modigliani, Miró and others.

“我把他的部分作品和真品混在一起,”棕榈滩的社会名流南希·泰莱塞(Nancy Telese)说道。她是派雷尼的老朋友。在她的收藏中,有派雷尼仿制的海德、毕加索(Picasso)、莫迪利亚尼(Modigliani)、米罗(Miró)以及其他大师的作品。

“Of course they’re much less expensive than a real painting,” Ms. Telese said. “But I thought his work was their equal. They were just so beautiful, with such detail."


Mr. Perenyi said other clients did not want to speak with a reporter because they present his works as the real thing.


At Trinity Gallery in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Mr. Perenyi’s work is sold, the owner, Allan Abrams, said his buyers are usually “a professional older couple who all their lives wanted to own a painting by a certain artist, and this is the closest they’ll ever get.” 

派雷尼的作品在佛罗里达州圣彼得斯堡(St. Petersburg, Fla.)的三一美术馆(Trinity Gallery)出售。美术馆老板艾伦·艾布拉姆斯(Allan Abrams)说,美术馆所售作品的买主通常都是“上了年纪的夫妇,他们是专业人士,一生都想拥有一幅叫得上名号的画家的作品,而这里的作品是最接近他们理想的东西。”

Mr. Perenyi’s own home, a replica of a Nantucket saltbox cottage, is filled with some of his favorite creations, including William A. Walker’s cabin scenes, a Stuart portrait of George Washington and John F. Herring Sr.’s horses.

派雷尼的家是一座仿楠塔基特盐盒小屋建筑,里面堆满了他最喜欢的作品,包括威廉·A·沃克(William A. Walker)的小屋风景画、一副斯图尔特的乔治·华盛顿(George Washington)画像还有老约翰·F·赫林(John F. Herring Sr.)的马。

Spreading half a dozen of his Guardi replicas across the living room floor, Mr. Perenyi said he developed his artistic technique on his own and learned the forensics by working for a restorer and a frame maker when he was in his 20s. Through extensive research and trial and error, he figured out how to simulate the telltale signs of age: the distinctive spider-web cracking in the paint, the tiny dots of fly droppings, and the slimy green look of old varnish when viewed under ultraviolent light. One of his best, he says, was a Heade-style passion flower that Sothebys sold as a new discovery in 1994 for $717,500. A copy now hangs over his fireplace.


Today Mr. Perenyi sees himself as a spiritual heir to the artists he copies. “These men were businessmen,” he said; they made multiple variations of a painting and employed other artists in their studio to replicate their work.


“I’m convinced that if these artists were alive today, they would thank me,” he said. “I’m somebody that understands and appreciates their work.”

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