By: Richard Brooks, Arts Editor

Sunday Times

16 October 2005

vgJeffrey Archer is to stage his writing comeback with a thriller inspired by his passion for collecting art.

The latest work by the Tory peer, released from jail in 2003 after serving a sentence for perjury, is based on Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.

False Impression, which is being unveiled this week at the Frankfurt book fair and is to be published next March, marks the latest stage in Archer’s rehabilitation. Last week he was invited back into the heart of the Establishment when he attended Baroness Thatcher’s 80th birthday party in the presence of the Queen.

Van Gogh is one of Archer’s favourite artists, although the novelist owns none of his works. However, he has a substantial art collection on the walls of his homes in Cambridge and London. It includes works by some of the greatest artists of the late 19th and 20th centuries, including Picasso, Pissarro, Sisley, Hockney and Bonnard as well as seven paintings by Vuillard and 20 by Lowry.

“I’ve loved art for more than 30 years,” said Archer. “This was my chance to bring it into fiction.”

In the new novel, the Van Gogh is stolen from the English country home of an aristocratic old lady the night before the September 11 attacks on New York. In reality, the painting hangs in London’s Courtauld gallery.

Archer, whose novels, short stories and prison diaries have helped him earn an estimated £65m, goes on to tell how the heroine, Anna Petrescu, a Van Gogh expert, helps solve the mystery of the theft The novel includes an episode where an ear is sent to an American banker, in an allusion to Van Gogh’s mutilation of his own ear.

The collection amassed by Archer and his wife, Mary — with whom he is a regular visitor to galleries — is worth many millions. “I’m a collector because I love to have art to look at on my walls. I’m not a dealer. In fact I hardly sell at all,” he said. His only notable disposals have been about 100 Andy Warhol prints, which he sold in 1999.

Archer said he did not buy through auctions but privately through three dealers he has used over the years.

He is also building up a collection of political cartoons with his friend Chris Beetles, who owns a small London gallery. “We’re going to put them on public display some time, do a book about them and then I plan to leave them to the nation,” said Archer.