The story of The Faun is a welcome diversion after wading into a Post-Impressionist quagmire of new art movements and schools associated with van Gogh and Gauguin on my last post.

The sculpture was passed off as a Paul Gauguin by British forger Shaun Greenhalgh, whose mother consigned it to Sotheby’s. It was bought by art dealers in 1994. Three years later, the Art Institute of Chicago purchased it and there it sat for museum-goers to marvel at among a collection of Gauguin paintings for the next 10 years.

The Art Institute’s sculpture curator recorded The Faun as one of the museum’s most important acquisitions of the past 20 years. The work was dated to winter 1886, which made it Gauguin’s “first ceramic”. 

The Faun, British forger Shaun Greenhalgh, 1994.

The Faun, British forger Shaun Greenhalgh, 1994.

Meanwhile, Shaun Greenhalgh and his mother and father developed a sophisticated forgery network. The Greenhalghs tried to sell an Assyrian relief to the British Museum. Their curators became suspicious of its authenticity and notified Scotland Yard.

The family was finally caught and were convicted in October 2007 for the forgery of Bolton Museum’s Egyptian Amarna Princess sculpture, which had been authenticated by the British Museum [1].  

The Amarna Princess artefact, bought by Bolton council for £440,000 in 2003, British forger Shaun Greenhalgh

The Amarna Princess artefact, bought by Bolton council for £440,000 in 2003, British forger Shaun Greenhalgh

It came out during the trial that The Faun was Greenhalgh’s handiwork. Scotland Yard told The Art Newspaper (link to full story) that its “current whereabouts are unknown”.  The newspaper tracked it down to Chicago. Scotland Yard notified the Art Institute that it had been duped. Embarrassment ensued. 

“Maybe once every decade you have something like this,” said Melanie Clore, a deputy chairwoman of Sotheby’s in London. “It’s very unusual to have such a sophisticated forger.” 

Sotheby’s was expected to reimburse the Art Institute of Chicago and I’m fairly certain they have done so by now.

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[1] The [Bolton Council] authority bought the 20-inch Princess Amarna in 2003 after it was authenticated as 3,300 years old by the Egyptology department at Christie’s and the British Museum. The Telegraph, Dec. 29, 2009

FACTOID: Over nearly 20 years, Scotland Yard estimates, the Greenhalghs presented some 120 fakes valued at $20 million to museums and auction houses.  Work Believed to be a Gauguin Turns Out to Be a Forgery  New York Times, Dec. 13, 2007

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