Forger who never suffered (legally) for his art to start new school for painters
A MASTER forger whose paintings duped auction houses for years, and even fooled experts on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, is opening a painting school to pass on his artistic skills to a new generation.
Painter Martin Bengtsson, 77, is starting to lose his eye-sight but doesn't want the expertise he has learned over the past 30 years to vanish.
Martin, who lives in rural north Cork, said: "My eye-sight is going but it's not going to go that quick so I would like to teach people how to paint.
"A lot of people ask me to teach them to paint and I can teach them to paint in the style of their favourite artist. I'm going to call it 'The School of Forgery'," he joked.
The former movie stuntman claims his paintings have duped international auction houses Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams.
But he claims he never did anything illegal during his long career as a forger and has never been prosecuted for his art.
"I would get commissions from people to paint in the style of their favourite artist. I was clever enough to stick a label on the back saying 'painted in the style of so-and-so by Martin Bengtsson'.
"Now, they could take it off if they want to . . . that's up to them to do with it what they like. As long as they paid me the money for the painting, I didn't care."
He reckons he could teach someone with basic skills to be able to copy the masters in just a couple of weeks.
"I'd soon have them working exactly right, it's a matter of them having to know which way the artist used his strokes etc, if they were left or right-handed, that kind of thing.
"Someone with no skills or experience, I reckon it would take me a month. I think I could teach anyone to paint."
Then he joked: "My place is very remote, which is handy as it's well away from the prying eyes of the gardai!"
Martin Bengtsson's own favourites for copying are Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne. English painter Richard Henry Nibbs and Irish painter Roderic O'Conor.
"I favour the impressionists because I like them anyway and would paint them for pleasure and want to do them," he said.
"I've been at it for 30 years, on and off. I was a sailor and started painting on boats while sailing around the Mediterranean.
"I would paint and then when we tied up, in places like Puerto Banus, I'd hang the paintings over the side of the boat and sell them.
"About the same time, I started forging. I've never made a fortune out of it because I've sold the paintings direct to people who asked me to do them. But I know some of them did end up at auction at Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams because an Irishman I used to sell a lot to told me."
One major advantage he has when fooling the experts is the paint he uses -- valuers can often spot a forgery because of the modern-day paints used.
His father Wiktor was an acclaimed portrait painter and left Martin a collection of old paints.
"He didn't teach me anything about painting but he left me a chest full of paint from 1890-ish so I had all the paints from the right period," he said.
One proof of Martin's skills was when he was asked to show how easy it was to fool the BBC's Antiques Roadshow.
"I brought in the paintings and their chief valuer said 'Ah, a Richard Henry Nibbs, this looks like fun'.
"And then he looked at the other one and he said 'This looks from Antonio Jacobsen, 1890-96, New York'.
"I nearly burst out laughing and had to hold my tongue not to blurt out 'You idiot, it was last week in Somerset'. It took me four hours to do them, now I call it the 'Antique Rogues Show'."
Martin has set up a large mobile home on his land near Ballyporeen for the school and will take on two or three students at a time.
"The idea is that it would be nice income and a bit of fun, it's the fun angle that interests me most. You see, art today has become an industry, it's not clever at all.
"These people who put together unmade beds and they end up in modern art galleries, an empty room with a light going on and off and win the Turner Prize.
"Turner would be spinning in his grave because of this sort of rubbish. It's obviously crap, why don't they give up and get a proper job?"