The Artist, the Conman and the $15 Million Fraud
From imitation Gauguins to a piece of the true cross, how two small-town crooks fooled art collectors around the world and built an epic empire of fakes.
Illustrations by Andrew Standeven
On a raw March morning in 2006, a posse of Scotland Yard detectives gathered outside a terraced house near the town of Bolton in one of northern England’s most deprived counties. It is a gloomy property on one end of an arc of fifties-era units; a curve of low-income brick and stucco houses that spill into a sprawling housing estate on the town’s grimy outskirts.
By seven a.m., the five detectives, all part of the Yard’s Art Crime Unit, had sketched out a plan to search the house. Despite a credible tipoff, detectives still wondered if they’d made an embarrassing mistake. It was hard to imagine Number 17 housing a ring of sophisticated art forgers.
But what they discovered shocked even the most seasoned of the squad: Inside was a cottage industry for faking art, where a Svengali-like conman and his vulnerable son churned out forgeries that would rock the London art world.
They were the perfect team, the artist and the conman: a recluse whose unschooled ta…