Both have co-operated with the bestselling author Peter James on his new book Death Comes Knocking, a history of Brighton crime to be published in July.
I had a house right in the centre of Brighton and I looked out my window one afternoon and I saw all these policemen running up the road
As it was, the police were soon on his case. “I had a house right in the centre of Brighton and I looked out my window one afternoon and I saw all these policemen running up the road,” recalls Henty.
“I thought, Oh God. Anyway I ran out the back but there was no way out of the house and I think there were about 40 policemen. They stopped the traffic and everything and I was on News At Ten. It was a really big thing.
“I went to the art class,” he says.
“I’ve always been good at drawing and the first time I picked up a brush I did a Walter Sickert painting I’d seen in a newspaper. By my tenth painting I was doing Rosettis, Renoirs, everyone.
“My art teacher said you’re not supposed to do it like that. But I said it works for me and I’ve been doing it to this day.”
It would be uplifting to report that Henty went straight as a jobbing artist on his release but, when he found that the world wasn’t ready for the Henty school of portraiture, he resorted to forgery.
Offered for £1,260 under the heading “Duncan Grant Ballet Dancers 1934”, its description read: “Beautiful spontaneous painting of the ballet, I bought this from a collector of the Bloomsbury artists, there are no gallery receipts with the painting, I think it has been in private hands for years, I am very reluctantly offering the painting as after Duncan Grant”. Sometimes Henty came close to giving himself away. As he was packing one possible original, he spotted just in time a giveaway sign.
“I noticed a globule of paint in the corner was still soft,” he said.
“I had to bake it quickly. I used a hair dryer on it for half an hour. Henty’s paintings sold so well that he became one of eBay’s select band of “power sellers” but it was too good to last. When a newspaper rumbled him in 2014, he initially denied painting the pictures before coming clean and offering the journalist a tour of his fakes factory.
An underground storage room was a trove of ageing canvases, which he would paint over, and frames bought in junk shops to give his pictures added authenticity. Henty was handed a lifetime ban by eBay and, while he was able to get round this by various bits of IT sleight of hand, a year ago he decided to go respectable.
He now describes himself as one of Britain’s best “copyist artists”.
“His eye for detail is unsurpassed as is his commitment for making sure the finished article is as close to the original as can be. Each masterpiece comes in its own bespoke, handmade frame and is signed on the reverse by David.”
Henty has spent the past eight months producing 40 canvases for his forthcoming exhibition from the £500,000 home overlooking the Channel in the Brighton suburb of Saltdean that he shares with his long-term girlfriend Natania.
“I’m up really early in the morning and painting,” he says.
“I love it. When it’s warm I paint on the balcony. When it’s raining I paint behind the big bay window overlooking the sea.
One of his most ambitious works for the exhibition was a copy of Picasso’s Women Of Algiers, a Cubist masterpiece that was sold at auction in New York a year ago for £124million. But following an appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, an eager buyer snapped up Henty’s version for £5,500.
Another work missing from his show will be a copy of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman – that too has already gone for £4,900. “The original’s in the Tate,” says Henty.
“You could never buy it now. It’s priceless.” He reckons he will make £70- £80,000 from his exhibition but is quick to point out that the cost of canvases, paint and frames will take up a significant chunk of this.
Meanwhile, new work is already flooding in. Another customer has commissioned a copy of LS Lowry’s The Match. But Henty won’t be able to make a start on that until the weekend because he is doing some filming for a new TV show.
The concept appears to revolve around one of Henty’s fakes being hung among genuine masterpieces in a gallery. Contestants are then asked to spot the forgery. “I’m not allowed to mention it,” he says guiltily.
“I’ve been told off for mentioning it. It’s being kept under wraps until the big launch.”
Sounds like this isn’t the last we’ll hear of the charming ducker and diver from Brighton, who drives around town in a convertible with the number plate V9OGH, a homage to his skills as a counterfeiter of the works of Van Gogh.
Art forger goes straight selling £5,000 fakesThese masterpieces should be worth in the region of a half a billion pounds. Except they are fakes produced by David Henty, a convicted forger who produced them in the living room of his house by the seaside Brighton.
Mr Henty was exposed by The Telegraph a little over a year ago for selling his copies on eBay, duping hundreds, if not thousands, of the internet auction site’s customers in the process.
But proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Mr Henty has turned the notoriety to his advantage.
At the end of the month, an art gallery will stage an exhibition of his copies of masterpieces by the likes of van Gogh, Picasso and Modigliani.
With paintings priced at up to £5,000 a time, Mr Henty is expecting to do decent business.
“As a result, I decided to go straight and business is brilliant. I can’t thank The Telegraph enough.”
At the age of 58, and after a career in crime, the admission from Mr Henty is a bold one.
He was jailed for five years in the mid 1990s for forging thousands of fake British passports which he planned to sell to anxious Hong Kong citizens ahead of the handover to China.
The scam would have earned him a £1 million and might have worked, not least if he hadn’t mis-spelt the words 'Britanic’ and 'Magesty’. He went to jail a second time in Spain for selling stolen cars.
In fact, Mr Henty knew the artwork couldn’t be genuine because he was churning the paintings out in his living room, as he later confessed when confronted by The Telegraph.
It was hard for him to conceal he was the artist behind the fakes, not least because he drives around in a car with the personalised number plate “V9OGH” in self-recognition of his skills as a counterfeiter of van Gogh’s work.
“I think eBay has had its day for fake art,” he said, “For the last few months I have been concentrating on these masterpiece copies. I have done a lot of research. I have been to the galleries and studied them in the flesh. The paintings are all the exact size of the originals.
The exhibition at the No Walls Gallery in Brighton will be his first as a legitimate copier. The opening night will be attended by Peter James, the best-selling author of crime fiction who has just completed a book about real life criminals in Brighton written in conjunction with Graham Bartlett, the city’s former chief superintendent, who arrested Mr Henty for the passport scam.
The endorsement of Mr Henty’s art by Mr James, who has sold 17 million books worldwide, will further boost his chances of artistic success.
A satellite television channel is also planning to make a programme around Mr Henty in which one of his fakes will hang with genuine masterpieces in a gallery.
Contestants have to spot the forgery. Whether they succeed or not will be testament to Mr Henty’s skills as a master forger.
Copycat artist is definitely a master of his trade...
AN ART catalogue lies on David Henty’s kitchen table splayed open on a portrait by the celebrated late Italian painter Amadeo Modigliano.
Mr Henty has been studying the painting – the distinctive elongated face, the black, pupil-less eyes – and working out how the paint is laid on, which colours to use.
Once he has done all that, he will head for his balcony overlooking the Channel, and paint a replica.
He might even add the artist’s inky black signature in the corner.
His final step is to stick it for sale online. Quite possibly before the light fades over his Saltdean view, he will have made several hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds.
“It’s a great life,” says the self-described forger, who has been making a living for at least the past five years selling his knock-offs of works by Monet, Vettriano, L S Lowry and other masters via the internet.
“One day I knocked out three little Lowrys by eleven o’clock.”
This is not the living the 56-year-old would ever have imagined for himself. Raised in Brighton, his first job was dealing antiques and cars with his father. Then he was sent briefly to prison in the Eighties, for forging passports, which is where he started learning to paint.
“I had two art teachers there who were really nice,” he recalled. “If I saw a picture, I would just paint it straight on. They would say, ‘you cannot do it like that, it is not the way to do it’.”
Outside of prison, he carried on. For his mother, he painted a copy of the world-famous Proserpine, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He also did his own work, often portraits, but sales never really took off.
“I did not know how to use the internet and there was not really a great market,” said Mr Henty, who often spends his mornings kick-boxing before returning home to his easel, oils and pet dogs.
“I did a few and I sold a few, I had an exhibition down on the Marina, but there was not really any money. But then my sister’s husband asked me to do a Monet. So I knocked him up a Monet, and I got more money for it.
“And you sort of think, a light comes on and you think, ‘someone else wants it’. Then I did a lot of Van Goghs. People were queuing up; I could not paint them fast enough.”
He got more formal training with a local art teacher, and became very good at what he does. He continued trading locally or giving copies to friends. Then eBay, the online trading site, became a major force.
Mr Henty set up an account to sell his paintings, and orders from all over the world starting pouring in. He has shipped paintings to Australia and Japan. Rooms at home are crammed with canvasses to paint or works ready to go out.
His first sale on eBay, he said, was a Lowry. “I sold it for £3,500,” he recalled.
“And I thought, ‘This is great, what a fantastic way of making a living’.
“I was getting fantastic feedback. I was an eBay power seller.”
The painter does not believe he is doing anything wrong.
He says he does not say the paintings are originals, nor do people realistically think they are, even though he often adds the artist’s ‘signature’. eBay disagrees, however, and recently banned him from selling, saying he was breaching their policies.
“I took advice from a solicitor when I started,” Mr Henty says, “and he said, ‘as long as you put you are selling it as ‘after’ or ‘in the style of’ the artist you can sign it, you can do what you like, but it is not criminal’.
“People are not going to buy a Lowry for a few hundred pounds and think it is worth £400,000. It is just mad.
“The problems come if you try to sell it as real. But if you try to sell it as a copy, that is fine.
“I have seen lots of my paintings in meetings [auctions] as real but that is nothing to do with me. What they do [with them] after they get out of my hands is up to them.”
His prolific output includes copies of work by Winston Churchill and Gillian Ayres.
He is currently learning about Edward Sega. He is happy to admit he has “nothing to say” as an artist himself, but enjoys understanding others’ work.
“I like the technical side of it ,” he said, “Seeing the painting, then de-constructing it. That’s why I like forging because I like working out how the artist has done it. You have to really look at it, look at the colours, work the palette out, then look how they put the paint on. Then what happens is you click into it, into that person’s footsteps, basically.
“If I saw a new artist I would go and find his work somewhere, I would have to see his work before I can copy it.
“I also try and read everything about him I can, soak myself in everything I can find out about the artist. It’s like being obsessed for a little while.”
One master has so far escaped his paintbrush: Lucian Freud. “Most I can get efficiently and can paint,” said Mr Henty, thumbing through a catalogue of the artist’s works.
“But Lucian so far has evaded me. I have not quite mastered it yet, his work. When he paints he is really slow and builds up bits and pieces and it probably took him about a year or 18 months.
“One of his paintings went for £16 million. And here, the woman looks like a man and I thought, if I painted that... It’s a funny picture and I thought, ‘I could not get away with it’.”
Mr Henty, who has a copy of ‘Buy the $12 million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art’, by Don Thompson, on the kitchen table, does not lose sleep over artists missing out because he is capitalising on their work.
“I don’t do many people who are alive, I try and wait until they have gone,” he said.
“Most ordinary people are not going to be able to put a quarter of a million pound painting on their wall. But for a few hundred quid you can own one that looks like it. I am just bringing art to the masses, affordable art.”
If anything, the zany world of art prices bolsters his sense that it is all fair game.
“You can have a really crap painting that you would not want to give to your family, but if they have got ‘that’ name it will go for millions,” he said.
“I went to a couple of Charles Saatchi shows and I came out and thought they were absolutely crap.
“But he is such a powerful character that if he says, ‘I like that,’ then you have got about 20 dealers behind him saying, ‘I will buy that’.”
Despite eBay’s ban, Mr Henty is still very much in business, selling elsewhere online, and with a big grin on his face.
“I just really like my life,” he said. “I get up in the morning, paint. It’s down to practice – some people have got a lot of talent but have not got perseverance.”
Art Hostage Comments:
David Henty has undoubted artistic talent, as does his sibling Steven Henty.
In fact, Steven Henty's talent extends far beyond the paintbrush, creating stain glass and woodwork, including restorations of period architecture. The paintings of Steven Henty evoke memories of youthful summer days spent on the beach in a simliar vain to those of Sir William Orpen, Robert Gemmell Hutchison and Dorothea Sharp.
After a generation on the wrong side of the tracks, the Henty clan can evolve into a family of artistic talent in the vain of the 19th century Earp family, to compliment the culturally rich tapestry of Brighton & Hove.
A true measure of the talent is to be able to reproduce photo realistic paintings such as those by Norman Rockwell.
A previous critic of David Henty, Art Hostage applauds his Road to Damascus moment and wishes him well in lawful endeavours.