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Ken Perenyi’s copies are so accurate that people have mistaken his fakes for the real thing.
(Tampa Bay Times / St. Petersburg Times /

Forgery or Flattery?

An artist paints and sells copies of original masterpieces. Should this copycat be in business?

By Laura Modigliani | 2010-2011

What would the Impressionists think of Ken Perenyi’s artworks? The artist paints reproductions of masterpieces like Monet’s haystacks (above right).

For decades, Perenyi fooled the art world with his look-alikes. When he first sold a painting as an original, he became addicted to the thrill—and the lifestyle. He made a fortune. One of his forgeries sold for more than $700,000 at auction.

But then the FBI began to investigate. Perenyi was never charged with a crime, but he changed the way he did business. Now, he openly sells his paintings as reproductions—for a fraction of the price. He says all buyers are required to sign a form confirming they understand the work is a reproduction.

People who can’t afford an original are happy to buy Perenyi’s reproductions. But some critics say greedy dealers will still try to sell the copies as originals. They say Perenyi shouldn’t be allowed to sell the copies at all.

Perenyi defends his work, saying that the great painters were businessmen too. They made multiple copies of their work, often hiring assistants for the job.

“I’m convinced that if these artists were alive today, they would thank me,” Perenyi said in his recently published memoir. “I understand and appreciate their work.”

What do you think? Should Perenyi be in business?

Perenyi should be able to sell his works. Here’s why:

  • Most people can’t afford an original. The reproductions are skillfully produced and affordable.
  • He came clean and is selling his works honestly. People still want to buy them even though they’re reproductions.
Perenyi should be out of business. Here’s why:
  • He was never charged, but it was a crime to sell fakes as originals. It doesn’t matter that he changed his ways.
  • Just because he isn’t selling them as originals doesn’t mean that buyers won’t resell them as real.

This article originally appeared in the December 2012/January 2013 issue of Art. For more from Art, click here.

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