Evidence of a Flawed Market

BBC News has an overview of the sentencing of a Family of 3 Art forgers from Bolton, UK. Pictured here is the “Amarna Princess” a fake Egyptian statue which the Bolton Council purchased for more than £440,000. A gallery of a number of the forgeries is here.

Shaun Greenhalgh, 47, has been jailed for four years while his 83-year-old mother, Olive, has been given a 12-month suspended sentence for her part in the con. His father, George, 84, is to be sentenced at a later date.

For successful forgers, the trio had an unremarkable lifestyle. Despite having £500,000 in the bank they lived “in abject poverty”, said police. Olive had never even left Bolton.

Much of the reporting of this arrest and sentencing focuses on the criminals themselves. Shaun Greenhalgh, 47, and his 83-year-old Mother and 84-year-old Father. I however agree with David Gill who asked back in October
[W]hat checks were made? Who made them? And who double-checked in the [National Arts Collection Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund]?” From what I can gather, the checks were made, but the letters and other fake provenance was fabricated cleverly to appear genuine. In a market where few checks are made, these probably were far more comprehensive than what usually passes for provenance. Of course there is an eagerness to acquire valuable objects which can sometimes cloud judgment. This story echoes the Getty’s purchase of an unprovenanced Greek kouros, which was purchased in 1983. As far as I know it is displayed today as “Greek, 530 B.C. or modern forgery”.

Of course provenance research could alleviate some these problems, but the current state of the antiquities trade relies on limiting information rather than providing a full picture. If a man living with his parents in Council Housing can fool authenticators at the British Museum and auction houses, isn’t it time for more thorough research when objects are bought and sold? I think so. The sad reality is that these fakes came with far better provenance information than many antiquities which are bought and sold today.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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