'The Faun' is a fake

December 12, 2007 3:11:10 PM PST
The Art Institute of Chicago was scammed. A sculpture thought to be carved by 19th century artist Paul Gauguin called "The Faun" is a fake. The fake Faun believed to be just one of hundreds of forgeries made by a family that has been under investigation for almost two years.

The dealer bought the fake Faun at auction from Sotheby's in 1994, but it originated in the garden shed of Shaun Greenhalgh -- who, along with his parents -- had been duping the art world for at least 17 years.

"The people who are often in that mode are often interested in both getting money and showing how good they are, how smart they are, and how little the others know," said David Sokol, UIC art historian.

Reports peg The Faun's worth at $175,000.

Scotland Yard estimates the Greenhalgh' passed off hundreds of fakes over the years that were sculpted by Shaun, 47, and sold by his father, George, 84. Shaun's mother, who is 83, allegedly used fake documents and fanciful tales of inheritance from a grandfather, who supposedly obtained The Faun and other works at estate sales more than a century ago.

Last month the three were convicted after a fake of King Tut's mother was unmasked following its sale to the local town council for 440 thousand pounds.

Forgery is as old as the art world. There are dozens of experts here whose job it is to authenticate the value of the items. For them, The Faun is a once in a lifetime mistake.

Shortly after the Greenhalgh conviction in November, AIC president James Cuno was horrified to learn from Scotland Yard and Sotheby's that something in his galleries wasn't as valuable as the sculptures of Gauguin's contemporaries-- like Dulau and Rodin, nor the Gauguin's paintings.

"There's nothing about its appearance, nothing about its manufacture that raised any doubts about the work. It looked like Gauguin, it looked like things he made," said James Cuno, Art Institute of Chicago.

The Faun had not been seen since 1917 and typically buyers can get some of their money back through negotiations with insurers.

Prosecutors said the total value of the forgery was at least $4 million. Shaun Greenhalgh, the sculptor, got nearly five years in jail. His 83-year old mother got a suspended sentence. George Greenhalgh, 84, who acted as the salesman, will be sentenced later.