Friday, 22 January 2010

Forgeries and Farces

Having studied history, I recognize that forgery does some damage to our knowledge of the past, and that it is something to be wary of. However, to make art forgery a crime, and to impose relatively severe prison sentences on art forgers seems to me to be disproportionate. Art forgers do less damage to knowledge than the forgers of documents and charters. (In order to be convincing, a faked artwork generally has to accord with what is already known about the genre being forged). I have long admired how Shaun Greenhalgh and his aged parents contrived to fool many so-called experts with the artifacts and artworks produced by Shaun in his Bolton garden shed; including most famously a sculpted Amarna Princess, valued at £500,000. This evocative treasure was supposedly crafted in Alabaster in the Egypt of Akhenaten, in the 1300s BC. In fact it was made of Calcite, rather more recently, and rather more locally than the museum curators imagined.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of forgery, to lock someone away with rapists and murderers, for four years and eight month, just for making art, seems to be absurd and shameful. Shameful too is how those who sung the praises of Greenhalgh's works when they believed them to have been crafted in antiquity soon changed their tune when they were revealed to be fakes. These experts, indeed, were at the same time exposed for what they are!

Art forgery, to my mind, should be no-more criminal than, say writing a dodgy book in the pseudo-historical genre. The Da Vinci Code, and some of the supposedly factual books that informed it (notably the work of Baigent, Lincoln and the late Leigh, and the still-with-us Picknett and Prince) have done much more to spread false impressions of history, for example, but none of the aforementioned have been dragged before a court. (Except when Leigh and Baigent tried to sue Dan Brown for plagiarising Holy Blood Holy Grail). There is something wrong, here. False claims about real artworks and historical events are just as spurious as fake artworks, after all, and to write one of these books requires less skill and effort than successfully forging a Leonardo or an Amarna Princess! Personally, I would not stoop to art forgery, even if I reached a point where I thought I could get away with it. Similarly I have resisted suggestions from the publishers of two of my books on the Templars, that I should 'sex up' (horrible phrase, which I can't avoid) my latest historical work, a study the cult of St Mary Magdalene in the medieval period, to make it more commercial. No doubt as a result of the Da Vinci Code fad, there is an expectation of conspiracy theories, and a presumption that the Templars were great devotees of this saint, and custodians of secret knowledge concerning her, and her special position in the Apostolic church. Thanks to the likes of Baigent, Lincoln, Leigh, Brown, Gardner, Picknett and Starbird this misconception is fairly widespread, and unsuspecting people have been misled and parted from their money. If an art forger like Greenhalgh should be in prison then so, really, should these disreputable authors! (More so because most of them have also libelled the Catholic Church, a far-from-innocent institution which nevertheless never did the things that these history-manglers allege). These authors propagate a modern myth which was predicated on forged documents (concerning the supposed 'Priory of Sion') and carried this charade on for pecuniary reasons long after the hoax had been thoroughly exposed. To be sure it was a fairly obvious hoax. I wrote in 2003 in 'The Rise and Fall of the Knights Templar' that the sources on the Priory and its famous Grand Masters 'seemed mere jokes'. This suspicion has been more than vindicated since then, and still Dan Brown made his mint.

But I digress... It was most unfortunate that harmless craftsman Shaun Greenhalgh ended up in prison. I hope the recognition which he was denied beforehand, and which he is no doubt due, will make up for it when he is released will compensate for losing the past few years behind bars. I've submitted a petition on the 10 Downing Street website, which will hopefully be approved to appear on there, calling for his early release. It would seem suitable now that his forged creations are being exhibited- see. (The story of the forging family is fascinating and incredible, as is the diversity of the artworks and antiquities of different cultures which Shaun fabricated). There is a facebook group similarly calling for Shaun's release, which you might like to join if you feel as I do...

Speaking of Amarna Princesses, an Amarna princess genuinely produced by me is among the paintings I presently have up for auction on ebay. The auction can be seen here

The princess painting is also shown above right. 20% of any sales goes to the Disasters Fund for Haiti.


  1. I think you've stumbled upon an excellent logical argument. If authors faced a little down time in the hoosegow for perpetrating fanciful frauds that feed the fevered fears of conspiracists or the unwary imaginations of the credulously naive, the world might again be safe for the legitimate historian to walk the earth. Or at least to safely appear on documentaries without being paired up in the edit room with the cranks.

  2. Chris, thanks for the comment. Well said!