Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Speaking to ATG, owner of the Leicester Galleries in Mayfair Peter Nahum said: “Forgers should be aware that we will run them down. It may take time, but eventually they will get caught.” Mr Nahum also told of the pressures dealers are put under when offered work and the efforts they make to avoid becoming the victims of scams such as this.

Last week the three men involved in the most-publicised forgery scam of recent years were sentenced at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court. Forger Robert Thwaites of Staffordshire received a two-year prison sentence. He was given one year for selling a fake Fitzgerald in April 1999 for £20,000 to London dealer Rupert Maas and a further year for selling another one for £88,000 through Taunton auctioneers Greenslade Taylor Hunt in August 2000, which was bought by London dealer Chris Beetles.

Thwaites was arrested in 2004 after attempting to sell a third Fitzgerald painting, purporting to be Poppy with Imps and Fairies and Foliage, by working with his brother Brian Thwaites, a former soldier confined to wheelchair with spinal injury, who approached dealers claiming the work had been in his family for many years.

He first took the picture to Rupert Maas, who turned it down. Thwaites then took it to Peter Nahum. But with his suspicions raised, Mr Nahum had the picture examined by conservator and restorer Hamish Dewar, who confirmed it was a fake.

“Forgers can be very convincing until you work out they are not genuine,” said Mr Nahum. “They try to set you up against other dealers, saying other people have already made an offer and want this work. They come up with a good story about where the picture comes from and put huge pressure on you to believe the story.

“Dealers work very hard to defend themselves and their buyers from misattributions and forgeries. Only in retrospect does a scam like this seem obvious. But when faced with a vacuum it’s not easy. It is a hard job and everyone makes mistakes.”

Mr Nahum added that the UK courts had now made a series of clear judgments on art forgeries that make it easier to convict forgers when good evidence is available.

By Alex Capon