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Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life Of An American Art Forger Hardcover – Aug 7 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books (Aug. 7 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605983608
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605983608
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 0.3 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #265,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“Reads like a who's who of the art world. If you have any interest in how the art business works,  is a must-read.”

“Ken Perenyi lived an extravagant lifestyle off his faked works of the finest masters. Then two F.B.I. agents showed up on his doorstep, curious about a couple of paintings sold at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, but actually his own meticulous creations.”

“Perenyi's astonishing memoir, , is by turns horrifying and hilarious. Anybody with the slightest interest in painting or deception will find  an engrossing read.”

About the Author

Born in 1949 in Hoboken, New Jersey, Ken Perenyi is a self-taught artist who painted his first pictures during the Summer of Love in 1967, having discovered an uncanny ability to intuitively grasp the aesthetic and technical aspects of the Old Masters. A series of fateful events resulted in what was to become a thirty-year career as a professional art forger. Today he operates his own studio in Madeira Beach, Florida.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Desiree Kendrick on June 25 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book will entertain and reveal alot about how a talented artist slipped into the underworld dealings of art forgery. With an interesting cast of true life characters the book keeps the reader engaged and waiting for the dramatic reveal, or in this case the moment of truth. Thoroughly enjoyed the journey and the author captures the reader much like his forged paintings drew the viewer in. A good read for those who appreciate museums and the stories behind the gilded frames.
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By Aaron G on Jan. 9 2014
Format: Hardcover
Several months ago, I saw Mr. Perenyi's interview about this book on CBS' Sunday Morning program and, being interested in the art world, it seemed like a good read. Now, I'm about 170 pages into it and extremely disappointed. Rather than a backstage look at the underground art world, it seems to be a collection of stories about the famous people Mr. Perenyi met and/or hung out with (Roy Cohn was his lawyer? Really?), 1960s and 70s counterculture, drug use, the parade of women he slept with and how many people he robbed, with only the occasional discussion of the art.

While it may be a good look at the seedier side of New York in the 60s and 70s, I find that it doesn't exactly deliver what was promised.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 205 reviews
67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
An amiable forger spills the secrets of the trade - but little of his soul Aug. 28 2012
By Alan A. Elsner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Ken Perenyi grew up in New Jersey, failed at school and seemed destined for obscurity when as a teenager he fell in with some of the drug-soaked denizens of the swinging sixties who turned him on first to acid and then to art.

In this readable but somehow elusive memoir, we learn of Perenyi's astonishing career as a forger and many of the secrets of his trade -- but we learn little to nothing of Perenyi himself. It's interesting the way he manages to reveal so much and so little at the same time.

Unlike Han van Meegeren, possibly the world's most famous art swindler who created fake Vermeers and sold them for vast sums, Perenyi was usually content to create new works by second-rank British and American artists of the 18th and 19th centuries and sell them for a few thousand dollars.

He managed to educate himself on the exact techniques of producing cracks in the paint on different surfaces, on the correct varnish, the right canvas, the antique picture frames of which he became a connoisseur, even the tiny fly droppings that accumulate on the surface of old works of art. All this knowledge he generously shares with us.

Perenyi began by specializing in nautical scenes, still lifes, American portraits and then branched out into English sporting scenes of jockeys and hounds. His biggest score was a painting auctioned for more than $700,000 by an American artists called Martin Johnson Heade of passionflowers.

All this detail is quite interesting -- but Perenyi remains an enigma. He tells us he develops a love of good food, fine wine, expensive clothes and becomes a kind of quasi English gentleman with an establishment in Bath and another in London. He is a hard worker and a hard spender. No sooner has he built up a nest egg than the money has all disappeared and he's in search of the next big score.

But his personal life remains opaque. We're not sure about his sexuality, his loves and hatred and what he ultimately believes. And the large cast of characters we meet in the book also for the most part remain two-dimensional. The women all seem to be slim and lovely; the men are various shapes and sizes but without much personality. People close to him occasionally die -- but not much regret is expressed. The most colorful character is Perenyi's some-time room-mate Tony Masaccio, a likeable scoundrel and thief without a moral or responsible bone in his body.

Perenyi also seems to have been extraordinarily loose-lipped. It seems as many of the dealers he sells his work to know he was a faker -- and don't care. As for Perenyi, he at one point bemoans the fact that he wasn't born in the 18th century when he could have been a grand success as a painter of English hunting scenes. "I felt misunderstood, victimized by fate, and stuck in a century where I didn't belong," he writes.

Referring to Heade, Perenyi sees himself almost as channeling the artist's talent rather than diluting it with fakes. "I was convinced that Heade would thank me, if he could, for carrying on the development of his work," he writes.

From the very first chapter, the book promises a climax as the FBI investigates Perenyi's vast record of forgery and begins to close in -- but the climax is never delivered. The investigation and the book both peter out and we're told that the author continues to produce forgeries until this very day.

This book is certainly interesting -- but the author does not give us enough of himself to make it truly compelling.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Buyer Beware Oct. 10 2012
By Taylor McNeil - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Well into his career as an art forger, Ken Perenyi meets a reclusive, eccentric art collector living in Piermont, New York, in the Hudson Valley. Perenyi quotes Jimmy, the collector, as saying that art dealers "are a bunch of prostitutes. And their primary appreciation of a picture is its price tag." That serves as a leitmotif for Caveat Emptor, and indeed, the buyer should beware. Perenyi found his calling as an artist making fake paintings, first in the style of 17th century Dutch portraits, then moving into 19th century American and British art. In this entertaining book, he details his methods--and tells how he fell into the trade, mostly thanks to the greed of dealers--and buyers.

Caveat Emptor reads like a novel, starring a cast of characters that Donald E. Westlake would have loved: wise guy New Yorkers, crooked auction house dealers, leather clad enforcers, and even the legendary--or notorious, depending on your point of view--Roy Cohn. A longtime pal makes a habit of boosting not fancy cars but station wagons: they make hauling late-night loot easier. And then there's the artsy-fartsy Soho crowd: Perenyi glides smoothly between them all. There is as much life in the fast lane as art forgery here, but that's part of the charm, at least once the rather tiresome sixties are over with.

But it's the art forgery that were really here for, and Perenyi is happy to divulge his secrets: the statute of limitations has run out, and the FBI never got the goods on him. He started producing fakes just to see if he could, and then it became his living. He spills all the details: finding old canvases or boards to repaint, and appropriately aged wood panels (drawer bottoms from antique furniture are a good source), intently studying the styles of the original painters.

He is inadvertently helped along the way by many experts, such as an old world framer maker who clues him in on the past masters' preferred way to make gesso, the primer for a canvas, using rabbit skin glue. The hot Florida sun bakes his paintings dry, rubber balls bounced on the canvas create the right pattern of cracks; he even mimics the pattern of microscopic fly droppings that accumulate over the decades on old paintings.

The art galleries and auction houses are only too glad to sell his paintings, pretty much no questions asked. Perenyi repeatedly portrays their greed, and in one amusing scene, after unwittingly getting stiffed by Sotheby's in London, gets his revenge by engineering a situation where some Sotheby's workers could lose their jobs. "Let them go out an earn a honest living for once!" he says, seemingly unaware of the irony of his statement.

Perenyi never had formal art training of any sort, but obviously is a master of the craft. Now his fakes are collected as such--perhaps someone will come along and fake his fakes! In the end, despite plenty of money stashed away and a life of leisure in the offing, Perenyi keeps at it. "Painting pictures had totally consumed my life," he writes. "The more pictures I turned out, the better they became, and that just inspired me to paint more. I lived in a perpetual pursuit of another subject." After reading Caveat Emptor, we're glad he did.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Buyer Beware? When it comes to the book I beg to differ... Nov. 26 2012
By T. R. Dott - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Caveat Emptor (or "Buyer Beware") is an amazing story I can only hope someone turns into a movie. Years ago I had come across art forger Ken Perenyi's name and the magazine article intrigued me. It wasn't until this past summer that I saw him interviewed on the Today Show and I realized had "come out of hiding" and penned his incredible story. I was slightly apprehensive about buying the book only because I was afraid that a story based in and around classical artwork might fall a little flat (I love art, but I draw the line at art history as I find it can be a tad tedious for my taste).
Caveat Emptor was a page turner from beginning to end. Perenyi is far from the pretentious art aficionado I had originally pegged him for, in fact his wit, sometimes faltering self esteem (especially growing of age in the 60's and trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life) and at times self-deprecating personality gives Perenyi a very human side. The goings on in Perenyi's apartment building in NYC, then called the "The Ferguson Club", was not only hilarious, some of the characters could have all been straight out of the classic Pulitzer awarded "Confederacy of Dunces". I was so taken by the building and it's tenants I had to go and stand in front of the actual building the last time I found myself in Manhattan!
There's a part of the story when one of the forgeries is going to be cleaned by Sotheby's auction house--which puts you in the room with Perenyi and leaves you with sweaty, clammy palms. Although I didn't want the story to end, I was glad that moved so beautifully and so quickly. I would much rather be left wanting more, than to have to read too much. Well done!!!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An insight into a unique aspect of American art history Feb. 10 2013
By GL - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
A pretty amazing story; a real tell all on how he did it.

Okay, he probably doesn't tell the whole story, but he gives enough details to give you a great read. He takes you on his guiltless journey through how he became a forger, including his studies of old masterpieces, and his take on the auction house sales world. and ultimately how he fooled so many buyers.

If you like a good book on art crime, this is one to add to your stack.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Entertaining but not very well-written April 2 2013
By Joyax - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ken Perenyi reminisces about his early days starting out as an art forger, until recent years when the FBI investigated him. His escapades are thrilling and give an insider's view of the art industry. Not knowing much about the art world, I found it fascinating to learn how the author managed to convincingly reproduce the effects of age on paintings, and how he duped experts and auction houses.

As a story it is entertaining but as a memoir I found it lacking in writing style and substance. I would have appreciated more research into the artists he forged, or about the art industry. For instance, there is no scale with which to compare the amount he received for his forgeries. It would have been easy enough to say the average value of the original paintings at the time so that the reader can better appreciate Perenyi's skills as a forger. Also, there is no "character development" in the sense that the author does not reveal his motivations or inner thoughts beyond financial needs and the thrill of duping experts.