No Crime Committed

For thirty years, Mark Landis (b. 1955) approached dozens of museums and university galleries claiming to be a wealthy philanthropist with a collection he wished to donate in honor of his deceased parents. Landis did not use sophisticated techniques to fool experts. He relied on plain canvas and paper purchased at his local craft store and “aged” his works simply by staining them with coffee or distressing them with light-brown pigments. He often used poor-quality art supplies and purchased cheap frames at discount stores, smearing them with gesso and distressing them with a file to make them appear older. Landis usually mimicked the work of lesser-known artists with whom museum staff would have had little familiarity and made his works more believable by forging auction receipts and labels, which he affixed to the back of his work.


A staff member at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, one of the institutions where Landis donated works, noticed a pattern of odd donations and suspected they were being made by the same person under a series of aliases. Placed under a microscope, Landis’s painting revealed the presence of pixels, a telltale sign of someone painting over a digital image. Landis later admitted his technique was to download a digital image of a painting, glue it to a board, distress it with sandpaper, and paint over it.

Technically, Landis did not commit fraud because the institutions where he donated the fakes were not financially injured. Landis never received payment and did not claim a tax deduction for his gifts.

Mark Landis Today

Diagnosed a schizophrenic at age seventeen, Landis was apparently compelled by mental illness and fueled by a pathological need for attention and validation. As a result of his story garnering media attention, he stopped donating to museums in 2014. His increasing age and declining health also limited his mobility. The international distribution of the Emmy-nominated documentary Art and Craft, of which he was the subject, has made Landis a household name and presented him with opportunities to promote mental health awareness and distribute his original artworks.



Before Landis visited the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in 2007, he sent the museum this watercolor, purportedly by French artist Louis Valtat (1869−1952), and a photocopy of an auction catalogue as evidence of the work’s provenance. In the accompanying letter, he explained that he wanted to give the work in memory of his late father, Lt. Commander Arthur Landis Jr., USN. The watercolor was put on display in the museum’s European gallery. It was only after Landis arrived at the museum months later under the guise of making another donation that staff became suspicious and removed the painting.

Untitled watercolor painting in the style of Louis Valtat
Mark Landis
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Landis arrived at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in 2008 with a briefcase full of art, including this watercolor he wished to donate in memory of his deceased father. It was later discovered that Landis gave identical copies to four other museums. The composition is an exact replica of a work by Paul Signac (1863−1935) that is housed in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Untitled watercolor in the style of Paul Signac
Mark Landis
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art

This drawing was also brought by Landis to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. On this occasion, he claimed that he wished to donate pieces from his collection before undergoing heart surgery. Museum staff soon noticed that the supposed 18th-century drawing was on new paper that looked as if it had been aged with a brown wash that smelled like stale coffee. Landis gave a copy of the same drawing to at least one other museum.

Nude in the style of an 18th-century academic drawing
Mark Landis
Charcoal on paper
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Stanislas Lépine (1835−1892) was a French artist most noted for his landscape paintings. This oil panel, which Landis said dated from the 19th century, seemed convincing at first glance. An inspection under ultraviolet light, however, revealed whitening agents in the paper attached to the panel backing that glowed brightly—a telltale sign the paper was modern.

Untitled painting, in the style of Stanislas Lépine
Mark Landis
Oil on board
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art



Mark Landis mailed this letter to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art together with a watercolor he wished to donate in memory of his father. In the letter, Landis boldly claimed that he purchased this work at Christie’s auction house and that his father was from Oklahoma. Both statements are untrue.

Signed letter from Mark Landis to Oklahoma City Museum of Art
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art


Mark Landis’s story has been featured in the documentary film Art and Craft, which is available on iTunes, Amazon, and many other platforms.