Tony Tetro

Last updated

Anthony Gene Tetro (born 1950), known as Tony Tetro, is an art forger known for his perfectionism in copies of artwork produced in the 1970s and 1980s. Tetro never received formal art lessons, but learned from books, by painting and experimentation. Over three decades, Tetro forged works by Rembrandt, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí and Norman Rockwell and others. Tetro's paintings and lithographs, known for their perfectionism, were sold by art dealers and auction houses as legitimate works and hang in museums, galleries around the world. He was caught after Hiro Yamagata found a forgery of his own work for sale in a gallery. In 1991, Tetro was called by Gary Helton, an investigator for a California district attorney, as being "one of the two major [art] forgers in the United States." [1]


Early years

Tetro was born in Fulton, Oswego County, New York, one of four children to Beatrice and James Tetro, [2] a house painter. [1] As a young girl, Tetro's mother once watched Amelia Earhart land her plane in their family's pasture. [2] His father developed a special process for coating water towers. [1]

Tetro was an altar boy. [3] His first trouble from his art came while at parochial school in Fulton, where he drew a picture of one of the nuns as a Vargas girl, but with a "pruney face" and wearing a habit. [1] The nun hit him and took him to the priest. [1]

Tetro married his high school girlfriend at age 16; she was pregnant and he became a father at age 17. [1] In 1969, he moved to southern California [3] and gained a job as a furniture salesman. [1] The couple divorced a few years later. [1]

Art forgery

By 1973, Tetro was studying art by reading books and visiting museums. [3] He never underwent formal art training [3] or a desire to develop his own style, but he liked to paint and he liked copying from the masters. [1] He found the exercise taught him more about the art, enabled him to understand why an artist had done a particular thing, which merely looking at a painting did not reveal. [1] [note 1] He learned about paper and canvas and experimented to find ways of producing craquelure, a characteristic of old paintings. [1] Still a hobby, he began selling his copies at art fairs. [1] He then began copying photographs and painting portraits. His hobby became a business and he became known within wealthy circles. [1] The art market expanded in the 1980s and according to one Los Angeles art dealer, some people were more concerned about matching their carpet than they were about the authenticity of a painting. [1] Reproductions were in demand [1] and Tetro had a reputation for making flawless copies, even going so far as to travel to Europe to buy wooden stretchers and canvas particular to where a certain artist had worked. [3] He has said that he never marketed his paintings and lithographs as originals and his business card read, "Tony Tetro. Art reproductions." [1] Dealers told him his work would be sold to people who couldn't afford originals. [1]

Tetro forged works by both contemporary painters and old masters including Rembrandt, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí and Norman Rockwell. [1] In addition to copying paintings, Tetro made an exact replica of a 1958 Ferrari TR, investing several hundred thousand dollars over six years. [4] One gallery owner in Venice, California called Tetro "a brilliant mind" and a "genius". [1]

Tetro became successful and wealthy, owning a tri-level condominium, [3] a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, two Ferraris (in addition to his replica) and a Lamborghini Countach. [1] He gambled in Monte Carlo and frequently traveled to Paris and Rome. [1] With no visible source of income, local police and residents assumed he was a drug dealer and his car was frequently searched. [1] Tetro denied being a drug dealer, but the more he defended himself, the less he was believed. Not until his arrest was this rumor disproved, a kind of relief for Tetro, who was proud he would finally be acknowledged as an artist. [1]

Arrest and aftermath

His forgeries were discovered in late 1988 after Hiro Yamagata found a fake work of his for sale in a Beverly Hills gallery. [3] [5] [6] Police found 250 forgeries during a search of Tetro's home in April 1989 and he was accused of conspiring with art dealer Mark Henry Sawicki to defraud four other art dealers by selling them forgeries. [7] Gary Helton, an investigator for the district attorney's office, called Tetro "one of the two major [art] forgers in the United States." [1]

Tetro was arrested and tried in Los Angeles in 1989. [3] He was charged with 44 counts of felony forgery and one count of conspiracy. [5] The costs of his defense forced him to liquidate his assets and ruined him financially. His lawyer was paid in cash [1] until Tetro, out of funds, applied for and was granted a public defender. [8]

Tetro sought to portray himself not as an art forger, but as an "emulator" who copied works, but did not intend to sell them as originals. [1] He blamed art dealers for the fraud and said they commissioned him to create copies of paintings. [3] His first trial ended in mistrial when jurors were deadlocked after 17 hours of deliberating, giving up after the third ballot. [9] In order to convict, jurors had to be convinced of Tetro's intent to commit fraud. [9] The district attorney decided to retry the case. With no more cash or assets to pay for a defense, in February 1993, Tetro pleaded nolo contendere to six counts of forgery, one count of conspiracy and one count of attempted theft. [10] Part of his sentence included 200 hours of community service in which he was ordered to paint a mural on a public building. [10] He was also sentenced to six months in a work release program, where he painted prototypes for traffic safety murals, and to five years' probation. [4] He was released from jail in 1994.


While awaiting trial in 1989, Tetro was featured in a BBC documentary. [1] The BBC science and technology magazine, Focus website has an article about how to forge a masterpiece based on Tetro's techniques. [11] On December 17, 1991, he was featured in an episode of Nova , called "The Fine Art of Faking It". [12]


Tetro currently produces copies and pastiches for private clients. He continues to use the techniques he used in producing forgeries, but is required by a court order to sign all of his works. [3] Tetro has a daughter and several grandchildren. In a painting called Mona Sabrina, Tetro painted a portrait of his granddaughter as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa . [3]

In May 2011, the Australian Art Series Hotel Group announced a competition in which people who stay a night at one of its hotels can try to pick an original Warhol from a line up of fakes created by the “world’s greatest living art forger”, Tony Tetro. People who pick the original could win an original Warhol (claimed to be valued at $20,000. Those who choose incorrectly might nevertheless get a “Warhol by Tony Tetro”. [13]

The publicity stunt caused controversy. Although Art Series Hotel chief executive Will Deague claimed the Warhol Foundation had endorsed the competition as long as there was no use of any images on advertising material, the Foundation has been quoted as "being appalled to learn that a hotel would think it wise to commission forgeries in an attempt to market its services." Associate Professor Robyn Sloggett, director of the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne and an art authentication expert, withdrew from a panel to promote the competition, which included Tetro, art dealer John Buckley and writer Linda Jaivin, when she learnt about the commissioned fakes. [14]


  1. Copying, sketching or making studies from old masters is a common way for art students and artists to learn how to draw and paint. A tour description at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston says, "Artists in subsequent generations looked back to the work of Titian and others by visiting museums and making sketches of their work to learn the art of painting. This tour of Old Master paintings in the MFAH collection from the Renaissance through the 18th century explores how future artists would learn the skills of drawing, coloration, and composition from the artists who came before them." (See "Members Tour: Learning from the Old Masters".)

Related Research Articles

Han van Meegeren Dutch painter and art forger

Henricus Antonius "Han" van Meegeren was a Dutch painter and portraitist, considered to be one of the most ingenious art forgers of the 20th century. Despite his life of crime, van Meegeren became a national hero after World War II when it was revealed that he had sold a forged painting to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Forgery process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive

Forgery is a white-collar crime that generally refers to the false making or material alteration of a legal instrument with the specific intent to defraud anyone. Tampering with a certain legal instrument may be forbidden by law in some jurisdictions but such an offense is not related to forgery unless the tampered legal instrument was actually used in the course of the crime to defraud another person or entity. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations.

Eric Hebborn was an English painter and art forger and later an author.

ThomasPatrick Keating born in Forest Hill was an English art restorer and famous art forger who claimed to have faked more than 2,000 paintings by over 100 different artists. The total estimated of the profits of his forgeries amount to more than 10 million dollars in today's value.

Art forgery Creation and trade of falsely credited art

Art forgery is the creating and selling of works of art which are falsely credited to other, usually more famous artists. Art forgery can be extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques have made the identification of forged artwork much simpler.

John Myatt,, is a British artist and was convicted of Art forgery who, with John Drewe, perpetrated what has been described as "the biggest art fraud of the 20th century".

Ely Sakhai is a United States art dealer and civil engineer who owned Lower Manhattan art galleries The Art Collection and Exclusive Art. He was later charged and convicted for selling forged art and was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for fraud. After his release he continued to operate The Art Collection in Great Neck, New York.

David Stein was an artist who, until 1966, had been frequently sentenced for theft by the French courts before becoming an art forger and art dealer with 15 aliases.

Elmyr de Hory Hungarian painter and art forger

Elmyr de Hory was a Hungarian-born painter and art forger, who is said to have sold over a thousand forgeries to reputable art galleries all over the world. His forgeries garnered celebrity from a Clifford Irving book, Fake (1969); a documentary essay film by Orson Welles, F for Fake (1974); and a biography by Mark Forgy, The Forger's Apprentice: Life with the World's Most Notorious Artist (2012).

William Blundell is an Australian painter and art copyist. He painted copies, which he called innuendos, for Sydney art dealer Germaine Marie François Toussaint Curvers.

Geert Jan Jansen is a Dutch painter and art forger, who was arrested in 1994.

<i>F for Fake</i> 1974 film by Orson Welles

F for Fake is a 1973 docudrama film co-written, directed by, and starring Orson Welles who worked on the film alongside François Reichenbach, Oja Kodar, and Gary Graver. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering investigation of the natures of authorship and authenticity, as well as the basis of the value of art. Loosely a documentary, the film operates in several different genres and has been described as a film essay.

Literary forgery is writing, such as a manuscript or a literary work, which is either deliberately misattributed to a historical or invented author, or is a purported memoir or other presumably nonfictional writing deceptively presented as true when, in fact, it presents untrue or imaginary information.

Spanish Forger French illuminator and art forger

The Spanish Forger is the name given to an unidentified individual who, in the late 19th to early 20th century, created a large number of forgeries of medieval miniatures.

William James Toye was an art forger in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He painted in styles copied from Paul Gauguin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley; Toye also copied the style of Claude Monet. Toye, his wife, and Robert E. Lucky, a New Orleans art dealer, were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in 2010. On June 6, 2011, Toye pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sell counterfeit Clementine Hunter paintings, to misrepresenting the authenticity and origin of the paintings, and to painting the counterfeited Hunter artwork. William and Beryl Toye plead guilty to mail fraud charges in 2011 and were sentenced to two-years probation and ordered to pay $426,393 in restitution to the victims of the fraud. Robert Lucky was also convicted of mail fraud in January 2012 and was sentenced to 25 months in prison.

Mark Landis painter and forger famous for donating forgeries to museums

Mark Augustus Landis is an American painter who lives in Laurel, Mississippi. He is best known for "donating" large numbers of forged paintings and drawings to American art museums.

Knoedler art dealer in New York, New York

M. Knoedler & Co. was an art dealership in New York City founded in 1846. When it closed in 2011, amid lawsuits for fraud, it was one of the oldest commercial art galleries in the US, having been in operation for 165 years.

Wolfgang Beltracchi is a German art forger and artist who has admitted to forging hundreds of paintings in an international art scam netting millions of euros. Beltracchi, together with his wife Helene, sold forgeries of alleged works by famous artists, including Max Ernst, Heinrich Campendonk, Fernand Léger and Kees van Dongen. Though he was found guilty for forging 14 works of art that sold for a combined $45m (£28.6m), he claims to have faked "about 50" artists. The total estimated profits Beltracchi made from his forgeries surpasses $100m.

Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery is a 2014 film by Arne Birkenstock based on the life of German art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi.

Eric Ian Spoutz

Eric Ian Spoutz is an American art dealer, art historian and museum curator. In 2003, he founded the Eric I. Spoutz Gallery in the Fisher Building in Detroit, Michigan, subsequently opening Gallery 928 at the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village in Cape Coral, Florida in addition to galleries in Palm Beach, Florida and Los Angeles, California.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Paul Dean, "An Artist of Talent and, Some Say, Genius, Tony Tetro Is Charged With Forging the Works of Chagall, Miro, Dali. But He Claims Only to Be . . . : The Repro Man" Los Angeles Times (January 20, 1991). Retrieved June 19, 2011
  2. 1 2 Beatrice Tetro obituary Sun Sentinel (April 14, 2009). Retrieved June 19, 2011
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Scott Hays, "Being Salvador Dali" Orange Coast Magazine (July 2000). Retrieved June 19, 2011
  4. 1 2 Philip P. Pan, "Forging Ahead : Art: Anthony Gene Tetro has made a name for himself by copying the works of others. Now he's busy on public safety projects as restitution--a novel if not original use of his talents" Los Angeles Times (August 12, 1993). Retrieved June 21, 2011
  5. 1 2 Terry Pristin, "A Chance Stroll Led to Suspect in Art Forgeries" Los Angeles Times (August 10, 1989). Retrieved June 20, 2011
  6. "Authentication in Art List of Unmasked Forgers".
  7. Terry Pristin, "Claremont Man Charged With Forging Artwork" Los Angeles Times (August 5, 1989). Retrieved June 21, 2011
  8. "Man Pleads Not Guilty to Forging Artists' Works" Los Angeles Times (June 22, 1990). Retrieved June 21, 2011
  9. 1 2 Terry Pristin, "Mistrial Is Declared in Art Forgery Case : Courts: Jury deadlocks on charges against a man who copied paintings by prominent artists. He denies conspiring to pass off the fakes as authentic." Los Angeles Times (June 11, 1991). Retrieved June 20, 2011
  10. 1 2 "Convicted Art Forger Ordered to Paint Mural" Los Angeles Times (April 21, 1993). Retrieved June 20, 2011
  11. "How to forge a masterpiece" BBC Focus Magazine. Retrieved June 19, 2011
  12. John Leonard, "Television: The Fighting Irish" New York magazine (December 16, 1991), p. 62. Retrieved June 20, 2011
  13. "Want to win a Warhol?". Art Series Hotels. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  14. Gina McColl (24 May 2012). "Warhol stunt turns into 15 minutes of infamy". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2012-06-03.