An allegedly crooked art dealer passed off paintings by no-name artists as the works of Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, reaping $2 million from a Los Angeles collector who is keeping his or her identity a secret, federal prosecutors said. The dealer, Matthew Taylor, was arrested Thursday in Vero Beach, Florida. Prosecutors said in addition to selling more than 100 paintings over about five years to the unnamed collector, he also allegedly stole paintings from L.A.-area galleries, one of which he's accused of selling to another local gallery for $85,000.
In a surprisingly high-volume, low-tech piece of art fraud, Taylor allegedly swindled the collector out of $2 million in total using a head-slappingly simple scam: According to an indictment handed down in a Los Angeles federal court last week, Taylor simply painted over the signatures of lesser-known artists on paintings he bought cheaply, then signed the famous artists' names himself. He worked for the same collector from 2002 to 2007, the indictment says. That person, identified only by the initials F.L., "tasked Taylor with going out to find art because he’s very knowledgeable about art," U.S. Attorney James A. Bowman said via telephone. But instead of buying actual precious artworks, Taylor allegedly bought works by lesser-known artists, then just painted over and changed the signature. He also allegedly affixed museum labels to the backs that said the works had been displayed at the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery, in Washington D.C., and other museums in Europe. But it seems the collector would have been able to know whether he or she was buying a Monet. Aren't those things catalogued?