When 80-year-old George Greenhalgh approached the Bolton Museum in 2003 with the Egyptian statue he’d found under his stairs, the curators could hardly believe their luck. The 3,350-year-old “Amarna Princess” was one of a kind, and Greenhalgh, who had planned to use it as a garden ornament, sold it for £439,000 (US$670,000) – less than half the statue’s expert valuation. Luckier still, he discovered three valuable Assyrian reliefs in his garage two years later. The British Museum had already noted one as “a superb example of Assyrian art” when experts spotted spelling mistakes in its cuneiform inscription. Police searched Greenhalgh’s small house near Bolton, UK, where they found two more Amarna Princesses among shoes at the bottom of a cupboard.
They had uncovered a 17-year forgery operation unprecedented in its range: encompassing sculpture, paint and metalwork from antiquity to Henry Moore, Paul Gauguin and Otto Dix. Police still believe that only one-third of the fakes have come to light. Most incredibly, the works were all made by one self-taught artist, George Greenhalgh’s 47-year-old son, Shaun, who had trawled art books to find works lost to history, then recreated them, along with the crucial documents that explained their provenance. The Amarna Princess, for example, was validated by a real 1892 auction catalogue, even if the sculpture itself had taken just three weeks to make from calcite and been “aged” with mud and tea.
From the pages of COLORS #87 - Looking at Art.