Tony Tetro: The World's Greatest Art Forger

Tony Tetro with his reproduction of an Andy Warhol artwork.
Tony Tetro with his reproduction of an Andy Warhol artwork.

When billionaires want to impress their friends, they’ll buy a masterpiece like Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

But what do you do if you don’t have $119 million to spare?

You enlist one of the world’s best art forgers, of course.

The career of Tony Tetro reads like a gripping Hollywood script.

Spanning more than 30 years, Tetro forged works by old and contemporary masters from Rembrandt to Dali to Renoir to Rothko, and art dealers regularly passed off his paintings as originals in galleries and auction houses around the world.

In 1989, he was convicted of art forgery and sentenced to jail before being released in 1994.

Now in his 60s, Tetro is still producing copies for private clients, but the audacity which once drove him to forge hundreds of artworks has dwindled somewhat.

``It’s strange - it’s all work now,’’ he said.

``But to me, there’s nothing worse than looking at a blank canvas.’‘

Business is booming and he’s enlisted four assistants to help him paint giant works by the likes of Caravaggio and Rubens.

Early in his career, a young Tetro would experiment with different techniques used by old masters in order to replicate the intricacies of a centuries-old painting.

``Of the works that I forged, I think I have a better understanding than most people,’’ he said.

``While somebody else might glance over it, I think I will have a better understanding of the way shadow is used or why an object is where it is.’‘

Tetro took his passion for reproductions to a whole new level when he made an exact replica of a 1958 Ferrari Testarossa.

He even travelled to Italy for the leather and spent years collecting parts that were ``rarer than the car itself’‘.

``It was a labour of love,’’ he said.

``It took me six years, but I did it for myself.

``When I started it, Ralph Lauren, the designer, paid $150,000 for one. By the time I finished, one had just sold for $11 million.’‘

However, there are some genres of art that Tetro wouldn’t even dream of creating.

``I wouldn’t attempt a Jackson Pollock - can you imagine?’’ he asked.

``I don’t think I’d do any modern art.’‘

Tetro said his favourite artist to paint is Dali while his favourite artist is Bouguereau.

Despite his wide-ranging talents, Tetro said he ``never had a desire to be painter’’ or to produce original works.

* Tony Tetro was commissioned by the Art Series Hotel Group to produce nine replica Warhols that will hang in the hotels alongside a genuine one until August 3. Guests staying at an Art Series Hotel (The Cullen, The Blackman or The Olsen) will be asked to pick the real from the fake from a line up of 10 and have the chance to win an original Warhol.

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