A master forger posing as a Jesuit priest hoodwinked US museums into accepting free gifts of masterpieces by Picasso, Signac and Daumier over a fraudulent career spanning 20 years.
Institutions in Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Ohio are frantically examining their collections after a photo of the mystery suspect was circulated, along with details of his bizarre methods. His fakes, described as "masterful", came to light after signs of bleach were found in the canvases, dating them to the present day.
Using the name Father Arthur Scott, the suspect visited more than 30 museums, seeking to make a donation in memory of his late mother, who "came from nearby", or of his late father, "a high-ranking military officer". Due to his religious convictions, he said he could not keep the work himself.
His motives do not appear to be financial. Staff speculate that he enjoys the thrill of the hoax, or is a frustrated artist, embittered by lack of recognition.
Father Scott's most recent appearance was in September, when he offered the Hilliard Art Museum in Louisiana a work by the American impressionist Charles Courtney Curran. Dating techniques later revealed it was a fake. Mark Tullos, the museum's director, told The Art Newspaper: "He got out of a red Cadillac dressed like a priest, with collar and pin."
Institutions were "embarrassed to disclose that this happened", said Tullos, but warned: "There have got to be more out there."
Matthew Leininger, of Cincinnati Art Museum, said he encountered the forger in 1987 while working at Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Father Scott gave the museum a Paul Signac watercolour that was later exposed as a fake. The suspect has been reported to police.