Daily Express

CopyCat artist who’s Coining it in

Convicted forger David Henty used to sell fake Lowrys and Monets on eBay to unsuspecti­ng customers but now he’s gone straight business couldn’t be better

- By Dominic Midgley

wHEN the notorious art forger David Henty hosts the opening night party of his debut exhibition at a Brighton gallery later this month there will be an unlikely guest in attendance.

As the city’s former chief superinten­dent, Graham Bartlett was the man who arrested Henty for a £1million passport scam 25 years ago but over the past few months the detective and the villain have struck up an improbable friendship.

Both have co-operated with the bestsellin­g author Peter James on his new book Death Comes Knocking, a history of Brighton crime to be published in July.

The chapter dealing with Henty revolves around his plan to produce thousands of fake passports to be sold to Hong Kong citizens desperate to find a new homeland ahead of the handover to communist China in 1997.

The scam might have worked if the term “Her Britannic Majesty” on the inside cover had not been mis-spelt as “Her Britanic Magesty”. As it was, the police were soon on his case.

“I had a house right in the centre of Brighton and I looked out my window one afternoon and I saw all these policemen running up the road,” recalls Henty. “I thought, Oh God. Anyway I ran out the back but there was no way out of the house and I think there were about 40 policemen. They stopped the traffic and everything and I was on News At Ten. It was a really big thing.

“They only found a few passports. They knew there were 3,000 but they didn’t know where they were. My dad burnt them when I was on remand. He found them and made a big bonfire out of them – much to my chagrin because I thought I could sell them!”

hENTY was sent down for five years and in many ways it was the best thing that could have happened to him. “I went to the art class,” he says. “I’ve always been good at drawing and the first time I picked up a brush I did a Walter Sickert painting I’d seen in a newspaper. By my tenth painting I was doing Rosettis, Renoirs, everyone.

“My art teacher said you’re not supposed to do it like that. But I said it works for me and I’ve been doing it to this day.”

It would be uplifting to report that Henty went straight as a jobbing artist on his release but, when he found that the world wasn’t ready for the Henty school of portraitur­e, he resorted to forgery.

For years he sold paintings on eBay taking care not to claim that they were definitely originals by using the legal construct “after” followed by the name of the artist. His marketing of a signed oil painting in the style of the artist Duncan Grant in early 2015 was typical of his disingenuo­us approach.

Offered for £1,260 under the heading “Duncan Grant Ballet Dancers 1934”, its descriptio­n read: “Beautiful spontaneou­s painting of the ballet, I bought this from a collector of the Bloomsbury artists, there are no gallery receipts with the painting, I think it has been in private hands for years, I am very reluctantl­y offering the painting as after Duncan Grant”.

Sometimes Henty came close to giving himself away. As he was packing one possible original, he spotted just in time a giveaway sign. “I noticed a globule of paint in the corner was still soft,” he said. “I had to bake it quickly. I used a hair dryer on it for half an hour.

Henty’s paintings sold so well that he became one of eBay’s select band of “power sellers” but it was too good to last. When a newspaper rumbled him in 2014, he initially denied painting the pictures before coming clean and offering the journalist a tour of his fakes factory.

An undergroun­d storage room was a trove of ageing canvases, which he would paint over, and frames bought in junk shops to give his pictures added authentici­ty.

Henty was handed a lifetime ban by eBay and, while he was able to get round this by various bits of IT sleight of hand, a year ago he decided to go respectabl­e. He now describes himself as one of Britain’s best “copyist artists”.

The website blurb continues: “He researches each artist thoroughly and spends days and sometimes weeks studying his subject to make sure each brushstrok­e is correct, each canvas is perfectly honed to how the original would have been and visiting as many works by the particular artist as he can.

“His eye for detail is unsurpasse­d as is his commitment for making sure the finished article is as close to the original as can be. Each masterpiec­e comes in its own bespoke, handmade frame and is signed on the reverse by David.”

Henty has spent the past eight Daily Express Wednesday May 11 2016 months producing 40 canvases for his forthcomin­g exhibition from the £500,000 home overlookin­g the Channel in the Brighton suburb of Saltdean that he shares with his long-term girlfriend Natania.

“I’m up really early in the morning and painting,” he says. “I love it. When it’s warm I paint on the balcony. When it’s raining I paint behind the big bay window overlookin­g the sea.

“My attention span is not that great so I do two to three-hour spurts and then I go for a wander, walk the dogs [father and son Jack Russells Rocky and Rambo], maybe have some breakfast. We’ve all got different ways of working.”

One of his most ambitious works for the exhibition was a copy of Picasso’s Women Of Algiers, a Cubist masterpiec­e that was sold at auction in New York a year ago for £124million.

But following an appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, an eager buyer snapped up Henty’s version for £5,500.

Another work missing from his show will be a copy of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman – that too has already gone for £4,900. “The original’s in the Tate,” says Henty. “You could never buy it now. It’s priceless.” He reckons he will make £70£80,000 from his exhibition but is quick to point out that the cost of canvases, paint and frames will take up a significan­t chunk of this.

MEANWHILE, new work is already flooding in. Another customer has commission­ed a copy of LS Lowry’s The Match. But Henty won’t be able to make a start on that until the weekend because he is doing some filming for a new TV show.

The concept appears to revolve around one of Henty’s fakes being hung among genuine masterpiec­es in a gallery. Contestant­s are then asked to spot the forgery.

“I’m not allowed to mention it,” he says guiltily. “I’ve been told off for mentioning it. It’s being kept under wraps until the big launch.”

Sounds like this isn’t the last we’ll hear of the charming ducker and diver from Brighton, who drives around town in a convertibl­e with the number plate V9OGH, a homage to his skills as a counterfei­ter of the works of Van Gogh.

The Art Of Copying, an exhibition by David Henty, will be at Brighton’s No Walls Gallery, 24-29 May. davidhenty­art.com

 ??  ?? DIFFERENT STROKES: David Henty with some of his copied paintings
DIFFERENT STROKES: David Henty with some of his copied paintings
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