Kristine L Ming

America’s most generous con artist

For decades, Mark Landis donated art to museums and galleries across the US. He was feted as a wealthy collector but the pictures were fakes that he had created himself. He was never prosecuted though – he didn’t take payment so hadn’t broken any law.

“It obviously isn’t a crime to give a picture to a museum, and they treated me like royalty. One thing led to another, and I kept doing it for 30 years,” says Mark Landis, one of the most prolific art forgers in US history.

“Have you ever been treated like royalty? Let me tell you, it’s pretty good.”

Landis’s career as an art forger began in the mid-1980s, when he gave some pictures to a California museum, saying they were by the American 20th Century artist Maynard Dixon.

“It was an impulse to impress my mother. I always admired the rich collectors on TV giving away pictures to museums.

“I put Maynard Dixon’s name on them because that’s what the museums wanted,” he says. “He was a cowboy artist, so I went to the library and checked out some books of photographs of American Indians, and copied a bunch of them.

“I knew the museums wanted cowboy pictures, so that’s what I did.”


A Mark Landis copy of a watercolour by Paul Signac…


…and Signac’s original work

As a teenager Landis had suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of his father, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Art therapy revealed his talent for copying, and he was able to turn out fakes at astonishing speed.

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