Detail from "Bridge No 114" by Nat Tate
Nat Tate was an American artist who created art in the 1940s and 1950s. He was an illegitimate child who was orphaned at eight, and then adopted by a wealthy couple. But tragedy followed him, and at 38 years old, he burned almost all of his work and then committed suicide by leaping from the Staten Island Ferry.
The Nat Tate book and its author, William Boyd
The painting Detail from Bridge No 114 was featured in a book published by musician David Bowie’s publishing house. The book, Nat Tate: An American Artist: 1928–1960 was written by British novelist William Boyd in 1998 to spotlight Mr. Tate’s forgotten achievements.
In 2011, the painting, one of only 18 of his artworks to survive, was sold by Sotheby’s for over £7,000 (approx. $11,000).
This happened despite the fact that both the auction house and the buyer knew it was fake.
That’s because Nat Tate never existed.
He was created, along with his surviving artworks, by William Boyd:
Nat Tate was created out of a desire to experiment–to see if something entirely fictitious could experience a life in the world as something wholly credible, real, and true. I wanted to launch the book out into the public arena and see what would happen, to see who bought the story wholesale and who was suspicious. I wondered how long it would take for us to be rumbled.
Mr. Boyd used his collection of anonymous people in photographs along with real photographs of famous people like Picasso to make things seem plausible.
He also enlisted many co-conspirators, such as novelist Gore Vidal and Picasso biographer John Richardson, to recall anecdotes about Mr. Tate. Mr. Bowie was in on the joke, as well.
After the sale, Mr. Boyd said:
"I am utterly delighted and overwhelmed with the result of today’s sale at Sotheby’s."
An artist’s charity received the proceeds from the sale.
It just goes to show that everybody loves a hoax, even one as relatively short term and confined as the Nat Tate hoax. Something about people being hoodwinked–being tricked and bamboozled–is endlessly alluring, I suppose. Something deep in our nature responds to these kinds of stories. It’s the only way I can really explain Tate’s extraordinary longevity and renown.
– Nat Tate Art Hoax – William Boyd Reveals Nat Tate Art Hoax – Harper’s Bazaar>
– Nat Tate: my part in his art. William Boyd explains the origins of his fictional artist, Nat Tate, and why one of ‘his’ paintings is going on sale, The Guardian>>
– William Boyd: How I fooled the art world, The Telegraph>>
– Painting by mythical artist Nat Tate sells for very real £7,250 at Sotheby’s. Author and screenwriter William Boyd brought tormented, gifted artist to life in 1998, fooling many, The Guardian>>