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The Other Side of an $80 Million Art Fraud: A Master Forger Speaks

Pei-Shen Qian

Pei-Shen Qian

Photograph by Bloomberg Businessweek

In the 1980s, Pei-Shen Qian, the painter at the center of an $80 million art forgery case, used to set up his easel near Manhattan’s West Fourth Street and hustle.

Qian, a Chinese national living in the U.S. on a student visa, competed with other artists to convince people walking by that they needed their portraits painted. His rate started at $15 and on a good day he’d go home with $200, though he might have to work past midnight to get it. One day, a man offered him $200 to do an imitation of a modern art masterpiece—he can’t recall which master. It was impossible to say no.