Magazine article The Spectator

'A Forger's Tale', by Shaun Greenhalgh - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'A Forger's Tale', by Shaun Greenhalgh - Review

Article excerpt

In 2006, after five decades, Shaun Greenhalgh lost his enthusiasm for the British Museum. From a very early age, he had been inspired by its contents to a profitable and diverse career in art forgery from his Bolton garden shed. A teenage talent for faking Victoriana had led him on to make an array of millennia-traversing art works, in all media, which he sold with the help of his ageing parents and which came to rest in eminent quarters both private and public.

His work was taken by one American president to be that of the distinguished neoclassical sculptor Horatio Greenough. Others took him for Leonardo, Lowry, Gauguin, Moran or Hepworth. Among the few to acquire a genuine Greenhalgh was none other than Barbara Hepworth herself. She hurried away without paying for the booty under her arm: a 'shark with a toothy grin, hanging tail up, its head resting on a lobster pot and some nets.'

For years, Greenhalgh had flown high over the heads of experts and dealers, but he came too close to the sun with the British Museum. Hitherto a happy customer, it backed away just in time from paying at least £300,000 for a supposed Assyrian relief of a priest dating from the seventh century BC.

When Scotland Yard arrived at his front door, one of the arresting officers remarked that the crammed house was 'the northern annexe of the British Museum'; you could also see it as an off-shoot of Ealing Studios. But despite all the chicanery (redolent of Kyril Bonfiglioli's art-dealer Mortdecai) here is riveting and affecting Northern realism: Greenhalgh's knowledge is as daunting as it is inspiring.

Born somewhere between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP, he had little time for the era's music. 'My own favourite sound is the wind in full-leaf trees, something unmatched by any composer. Nature, at full stretch, always surpasses art.' His modest family circumstances were no obstacle to his talent. When he was two or three, his father guided the pencil in his hand so that 'a creature would appear magically before me'. He was off.

He learned on the hoof, inspired by Bolton Museum's Egyptology department, even sneaking away from a Doctor Who movie to study the mummies ('I got a good slapping for my trouble. …

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