Shaun Greenhalgh was a shy unemployed 47 year old.
He lived with his 84 year old parents in a council house in Bolton.
Even though he didn’t need to.
Over 17 years, Shaun faked enough art to be worth an estimated £10 million.
And he sold most of it to internationally renowned art experts.
Christies, Bonhams, Sothebys, The Tate Modern, The Victoria and Albert, The British Museum, The Henry Moore Trust.
Police have traced around 130 forgeries in various museums and private collections around the world.
But there are reckoned to be twice that number still unidentified in museums, with all the experts still accepting them as the genuine article.
Even though Shaun made them in his shed in the back garden with tools bought from B&Q.
Even though the police say they are rather crude fakes.
The police say the fakes are made from the wrong sort of materials using the wrong sort of tools.
But they still fooled the experts.
Why was that?
Shaun faked every sort of art from every period.
From classical Greek and Egyptian reliefs to L.S.Lowry pastels.
From silver antiques to Barbara Hepworth sculptures.
But the police say it wasn’t the quality of the artworks that fooled all the experts.
It was the quality of the provenances.
Let’s repeat that.
The quality of the artwork wasn’t really that good.
But it didn’t matter because the experts didn’t delve too deeply into the artwork.
They put that aside while they spent all their time checking the documentation.
The quality of the forged documents was what counted.
So, without really looking at the artwork, it was validated as genuine because the documentation was convincing.
Shaun Greenhalgh really understood the way the human mind works.
Credibility is more important than reality.
Belief is more important than fact.
So address the belief and ignore the fact.
What Shaun Greenhalgh did was travel far and wide to find old catalogues of art exhibitions.
Some of these would be over 100 years old.
In the catalogue might be listed something that had subsequently gone missing.
This would give Shaun Greenhalgh several opportunities.
It would prove the artist actually made the piece in question.
Because it was subsequently missing, it hadn’t been stolen from a museum.
And because the catalogue was old, there wouldn’t be a photograph just a description.
So this was a very creative way to begin.
The same way the insight on a brief defines an opportunity.
Spot the opportunity and create the answer to fit.
Which is why the documentation was more important than the art itself.
Catalogues of exhibitions, letters of authentification by the artist, bills of ownership and sale, guarantees by gallery owners and exhibitors.
Shaun would put much more care into this part of the forgery process than into the actual artwork itself.
And for 17 years it worked perfectly.
But in 2005, Shaun tried to sell three forgeries of Assyrian reliefs, dating from 800 BC.
For once an expert looked at the artwork as carefully as the authentification.
And he noticed something wrong.
He noticed a mistake in the cuneiform script.
And he questioned the authenticity of the piece and reported it to the police.
And they searched Shaun’s parents’ house and shed.
And found copies of artworks everywhere, stuffed under beds and into closets.
Artworks Shaun could knock up in a matter of weeks.
But which he couldn’t sell until he faked the documentation.
And that took much longer.
Because it was more important.
Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winning father of Behavioural Economics, explains it like this.
“People don’t believe facts. People believe experts.”