Report on February Speaker: – Justin McGrail, “Art Lies: Copies, Fakes, Forgeries, and Mistakes”.

Justin McGrail – Expressing amazement at artful cons

Our February speaker was Justin McGrail, an art-history professor at Vancouver Island University. And what a fascinating, spell-binding journey, he took us on!

Justin, who has a Ph.D. in art-history, obviously loves his job. He doesn’t just inform, he beguiles. Over the space of an hour, we learned the difference between copies, fakes, forgeries, and just plain mistakes in the art world.  Succinctly, a copy is just that, a replica of a painting; a fake claims to be the original painting, but without the artist’s signature; a forgery purports to be the original and (importantly) includes a forged-signature; and, a mistake occurs when art experts make an error in their assessment of a work’s provenance.




A teaching moment:
Would you know if this old painting, which experts believed to be a Leonardo DeVinci, is a fake?

Our president, Sue Kelly studiously taking notes to make sure she won’t be duped











After Justin’s talk, we are now fated to always question the authenticity of any famous work of art. Justin warns us to be very careful about paying exorbitant sums for works of art with unknown provenance. Thus, when you go to “Art in the Attic” at TOSH this month, beware. That old painting with a smudged signature could well be a crafty forgery. 

Having tantalized us with many enticing stories of the nefarious side of the art world, Justin also provided us with information about the following books, documentaries and films to further our exploration of the dark-side of art:

Feature Movies

  • “How to Steal a Million” (1966) – Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole
  • “The Thomas Crowne Affair” (1999) – Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo
  • “The Last Vermeer” (2019) – Guy Pearce, Claes Bang


  • “Made You Look: A True Story about Fake Art” (2020)
  • “There Are No Fakes” (2019)
  • “Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery” (2014)
  • Orson Welles “F For Fake” (1973) – really a docudrama as aspects of it are fake (which is freely admitted by Welles – it’s basically a film about a con that is also partially a con)


  • Anthony Amore, “The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World” (2015)  
  • Noah Charney, “The Art of Forgery” (2015)
  • Jon S. Dellandrea, “The Great Canadian Art Fraud Case: The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson Forgeries” (2022)
  • Edward Dolnick, “The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century” (2008)
  • Jonathan Keats, “Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age” (2013)
  • Joshua Knelman, “Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art” (2011)
  • Darian Leader, “Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us from Seeing” (2002)


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