Tom Keating was an art restorer and one of the most prolific art forgers of his time. During the course of his career, he forged over 2000 paintings in the style of about 150 different artists.
The son of a poor house painter and craftsman, Tom Keating was born in Cockney London in 1917. His interest in painting blossomed at an early age when he joined his father and elder brother in the building trade. Once of age, he studied at the Croydon School of Art and at Camberwell. During World War II, Keating served in Naval Intelligence. Afterwards, he returned to his studies at Goldsmith’s college, going on to lecture in art at St Andrews College in London, which is when he began his forgeries.
Keating considered the art industry as corrupt and dominated by American avant garde aficionados. He believed it to be ruled by connivers becoming rich at the expense of naive collectors and impoverished artists. As a form of retribution, Keating created forgeries to fool the rich collectors and attempt to destabilize the system. Keating did not, however, intend for these forgeries to go unnoticed forever. He would leave clues in each of his forgeries. For example, he would write "fake" with lead white on the canvas before painting. The text could later be revealed by x-rays. He would also include slight flaws in his copies and create anachronisms by using materials strange for the period of the mimiced artist.
As a restorer, Keating was thoroughly knowledgeable of the chemistry behind paints. He used this to his advantage by making paintings that would not endure time and maintenance. By layering glycerine under the paint, when the forgery was to be cleaned, the painting would be destroyed by the dissolving glycerine and revealed to be fake. Another faulty technique he took advantage of was using pigments that would fade prematurely.
Keating created many watercolors in the style of Samuel Palmer and oil paintings by various European masters including Rembrandt, François Boucher, Edgar Degas, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Thomas Gainsborough, Amedeo Modigliani, Jean Renoir, and Kees van Dongen.
Keatings own painting style was largely influenced by Tiziano Vecelli, adapted by Dutch techniques. His style was very time-consuming, but presents great depth of color and texture that would be unattainable otherwise. His favorite artist was Rembrandt van Rijn.
Suspicion arose in 1970 when thirteen watercolor paintings by Samuel Palmer went on auction, all depicting the town of Shoreham. Keating confessed they were forgeries in 1976, while stating his intentions of protest. He estimated that around 2000 of his paintings were in circulation at the time. He refused to document his copied works. In 1977, Keating was arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud. The charges were later dropped, partially due to his poor health. He was severely weakened by years of smoking and using cleaning agents (including ammonia, turpentine. and methylated alcohol).
Near the end of his life, Keating co-wrote the book The Fake's Progress (Hutchinson, London, 1977). In 1983-4, he presented two television programs on painting techniques for Channel 4. A year before his death, Keating publically stated that, in his opinion, he was not a particularly good painter. There are many who disagree. Tom Keating died on Febuary 12, 1984. After his death, his paintings have become valuable collectibles. His forgeries are cataloged as being "after" the copied artist.