Great art hoax Nat Tate's work to be put up for sale by Sotheby's

Sotheby's has announced the sale of the first work by abstract expressionist post-war artist Nat Tate ever to appear at auction as part of the forthcoming Modern & Post-War British Art Sale, on Wednesday 16th November 2011.

The drawing, estimated at £3,000-5,000, is one of only 18 works by the artist remaining in existence. The drawing will be publicly exhibited for the first time prior to the auction, and proceeds from the sale will benefit the Artist’s Benevolent Institution.

Memorably, in 1998 it was revealed that the art of a good hoax might very well be the hoax of good art, and that Nat Tate was in fact a fictitious figure created by bestselling British author William Boyd in his biography Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960.

Grounded in vintage photographs of the unknown (picked up at various junk shops and car boot sales), fake New York galleries with real addresses and a group of well-executed drawings and paintings, the great literary ruse of Nat Tate had tricked even the most sophisticated in the art world.

Nat Tate art work Bridges
Nat Tate's art work Bridges

Today, however, the artist continues to have a meta-life more real than some of his contemporaries and still the lines of fact and fiction continue to be blurred.

William Boyd comments on the sale, 'I am delighted that Nat Tate’s fame and popularity as an artist continue to fascinate and entertain, and that his artworks have been met with sufficient appreciation by the discerning art world to now appear at auction to raise funds for an extremely worthy cause.'

In 1998 David Bowie hosted a party at Jeff Koons’s Manhattan studio to promote his new art publishing house (21 Publishing) and its first publication, the biography Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960 by William Boyd.

The party was one that was meant to be a celebration by New York art aficionados of the mysterious man 'behind the bridges', some of whom had reportedly visited the galleries that had held Nat Tate’s exhibitions and others even recalled crossing paths with this somewhat mysterious artist.

According to the biography, the illustrious artist Nathwell Tate (1928-1960) -lover of Peggy Guggenheim and protégée of the New York School, who stepped onto the Manhattan scene alongside such contemporaries as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, William de Kooning, Picasso and Braque - had destroyed ninety-nine per cent of his entire output of Abstract Expressionist art the weekend before the tragic death.

Tate had gathered together his works from his various patrons by persuading them to part with them temporarily under the ruse that he had been inspired to re-work them following an inspirational meeting with Picasso and a visit to the studio of Georges Braque.

David Bowie recounted the turn of events prior to the artist's death: 'January 8th, it seems, is not only my birthday but also the fateful day when the painter Nat Tate contrived to round up and burn almost his entire output. Four days later he jumped to his death from the Staten Island Ferry, thereby completing the ragged circle of his life's events.'

Little attention was paid to Boyd's teasing question early in his biography, 'what makes something real as opposed to invented', but just days after the launch the Telegraph's Arts Editor at the time, David Lister, broke the staggering story that in fact Nat Tate was a complete fiction, brilliantly and intricately conceived down to the smallest detail by William Boyd.

Indeed, the artist's name was thought to have been created by combining the names of the National and the Tate galleries, London, and Boyd's coconspirators were the very celebrities who had endorsed the fabled artist's creative output - Gore Vidal, David Bowie and John Richardson, Picasso's biographer.

In addition to Bowie’s conspiratorial quote (above), Gore Vidal too had provided the convincing line that Nat Tate was 'an essentially dignified drunk with nothing to say. Unlike most American painters, he was unverbal'.

Nat Tate’s legend lives on and, having featured in William Boyd’s novel Any Human Heart (published in 2002), he was superbly brought to life in the award-winning Channel 4 adaptation of the bestselling novel last autumn.

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