Session 3

Read the story of a family who fooled the art market - and made a fortune. Learn some phrasal verbs and do some exercises to check how well you understood the story.

Sessions in this unit

Session 3 score

0 / 13

  • 0 / 7
    Activity 1
  • 0 / 6
    Activity 2

Activity 1

Getting forgery down to a fine art

Introduction

Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, Shaun Greenhalgh... Shaun who? Shaun Greenhalgh became famous in the art world, even if the art world would rather forget him. With the help of his elderly parents, this forger from Bolton, northwest England, made and sold fake artefacts worth millions of pounds. He did it for 17 years before the police caught up with the family. How did they manage to pull this off for so long? We will paint a picture of their career for you.  

To do

Read this article quite quickly and then answer this question: 

Question

What might have been the Bolton forger's real motivation for selling fake artefacts? The answer is at the bottom of the article.

Read the text and complete the activity

Getting forgery down to a fine art

Part 1
Shaun Greenhalgh left school with no qualifications, but he tried his hand at a wide range of crafts – from water colour painting to sculpture. His own pieces were not admired, so he started to copy from others, says detective Ian Lawson from Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit. Shaun worked in the family's garden shed and ended up creating a cottage industry. The plan was to approach art galleries and museums and make them think the items were family heirlooms.

Part 2
If the son had a talent for art, the father – George Greenhalgh – had the gift of the gab and approached potential buyers with detailed stories about how he had found artworks which were lost for generations. In 2003, he sold a 50cm statue called Amarna Princess to Bolton Museum, saying that his own grandfather had bought it at an auction in 1892 at an aristocrat’s home. The old original auction catalogue that the forgers had bought earlier backed the claim up. It mentioned "Egyptian figures". This could be one of these, couldn't it?

Part 3
After talking to art experts, the museum paid more than £400,000 for the statue, which was supposed to represent one of the daughters of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. The successful con made the forgers grow bolder. They approached one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world: the British Museum. The pieces on offer were supposed to be three Assyrian reliefs of soldiers and horses with some inscriptions from 600 BC. One expert spotted a mistake in the writing and examined the items more carefully. The expert was suspicious and the museum tipped off the police. Shaun Greenhalgh might have been a good forger, but cuneiform spelling was not his forte.

Part 4
After 18 months of investigations in which more fakes were uncovered, the Old Bill knocked at the family's door. They were surprised by the Greenhalgh's humble home. Where were the riches of successful criminals? The police concluded that Shaun was motivated by resentment of the lack of appreciation of his own artistic talent, rather than by money. In 2007, the elderly couple were given a 12-month suspended sentence and their son was jailed for four and a half years - and they were ordered to pay back the money to the art institutions they had fooled.

Part 5
And what is Shaun Greenhalgh doing today, you might ask? Has he learnt his lesson: that copying other people's work is not a good idea? No, he hasn't. The difference is that this time he admits his forgeries are made by himself. And his old pieces have even made it into the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – the 2010 exhibition they appeared in was called The Art of Crime.

Part 6
How did he manage to fool so many experts? Irvin Finkel from the British Museum has an explanation: "The clever thing about these people is they produced things that in a way we were looking for already. So when we saw it we wanted to embrace this long-lost treasure. They were very clever and they nearly fooled us." Shaun's case also helped the museums to wise up. A museum security group to share information and concerns was set up to avoid successful scams.

Answer to the first question:

The police concluded that money might not have been Shaun Greenhalgh's main motivation to make and sell forgeries. He might have done it because he resented the art market - they didn't appreciate his talent.

To do

This article contains a number of phrasal verbs, including:

  • catch up with
  • pull off
  • end up
  • back up
  • tip off
  • wise up to
  • set up

Working out the meaning of new words from their context is a very important skill.  Find the phrasal verbs in this list in the article, read around them carefully and then answer the questions. Good luck!

Quiz about phrasal verbs

7 Questions

Choose the best explanation of the meaning of each phrasal verb

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
Excellent! Great job! Bad luck! You scored:
x / y

End of Activity 1

Did you get most of them right? Well done! Now go to Activity 2 to check how much of the story you understood.

Session Vocabulary

  • artefacts
    man-made objects which are of historical interest

    motivation
    reason for doing something

    tried his hand at
    attempted to do (something) for the first time

    cottage industry
    manufacturing business that someone runs from their own home

    family heirlooms
    valuable objects which are passed down through generations of the same family

    gift of the gab
    ability to speak with confidence

    auction
    sale of items to whoever offers to pay the most

    pharaoh
    ancient Egyptian king

    con
    trick or cheat (someone)

    reliefs
    raised sculptures on flat surfaces

    cuneiform
    writing that is used in some ancient Asian countries

    forte
    strong ability

    the Old Bill
    the police (British slang)

    riches
    wealth

    resentment
    anger because you have to accept something you don’t like

    suspended sentence
    a punishment for a crime, which is delayed on condition that the person who is being punished does not commit any more crimes