According to a claim made by an art forger, £100m worth masterpiece is a forgery. What is believed to be a genuine Leonardo da Vinci drawing could be a fake.
Experts are adamant that the chalk and ink drawing La Bella Principessa is a priceless 15thcentury da Vinci. They insist its subject is 13-year-old Bianca Sforza, the daughter of Ludovico Sforza, then duke of Milan.
But in a new book Britain’s most prolific art forger, Shaun Greenhalgh, boasts that he drew the picture in the shed at his parents’ council house in Greater Manchester in the 1970s, inspired by a girl he worked with in a supermarket.
Greenhalgh, 54, a self-taught – and brilliant – artist, was jailed in 2007 for producing everything from fake Lowry paintings to Roman antiquities.
In his book A Forger’s Tale Greenhalgh claims that he used a piece of parchment dating back to the 1500s as the canvas for the drawing and a lid from a Victorian school desk from Bolton Tech as the backing.
It’s not the first time La Bella Principessa – owned by a private collector – has caused controversy. When it was sold in 1998 it was described as an early 19th-century German work but certain experts subsequently attributed it to da Vinci.
BUT Greenhalgh is having none of it. “I drew this picture in 1978 when I worked at the Co-op,” he claims in his book. “The ‘sitter’ was based on a girl called Sally who worked on the checkouts. Despite her humble position, she was a bossy little b****r and very self-important.”
He even had a plausible response to those who argue that the picture has all the hallmarks of Leonardo’s left-handed style. Greenhalgh says that he turned the picture 90 degrees clockwise so that his handiwork mimicked the master’s.
When an art-analysis laboratory claimed that its sophisticated tests revealed that the chalk pigment used dated back as far as the 17th century, he at least had an answer to that too.
Greenhalgh claimed that he had manufactured his own pigments using organic material from the relevant period, including iron-rich clay and charcoal from ancient trees.
This may all sound a little farfetched but only a fool would dismiss Greenhalgh’s claims.
After all he and his parents, Olive and George, were the architects of a sensational 17-year forgery scam that duped the art world from London to New York, with a string of sophisticated fakes estimated to be worth £10million.
The Metropolitan Police described Greenhalgh as “the most gifted and diverse art forger we’ve ever dealt with”. So only a brave punter would dismiss his claims that the da Vinci artwork La Bella Principessa is in fact a Shaun Greenhalgh materpiece depicting bossy Sally from the checkout at Bolton Co-op.