William “Billy” Mumford, master counterfeiter extraordinaire, has been found guilty of forging up to 1,000 paintings and was sentenced to two years in jail at Southwark Crown Court for conspiracy to defraud.
Mumford will likely go down as one of Britain’s most prolific forgers. Working from a small bedroom in a rented house, Mumford created an average of four paintings a week for a period of five years. His most notable knock-offs included post-independence period painters Sayed Haider Raza and Maqbool Fida Husain (“India’s Picasso”), as well as Welsh landscape painter Kyffin Williams and surrealist John Tunnard. His forgeries fooled hundreds of experts and buyers alike, selling on Ebay and reputable auction houses throughout the world for large sums of money. For example, two of his paintings were first authenticated at Bonham’s in London and subsequently sold in Dubai for $40,000 USD.
Mumford employed a group of conspirators–including his wife Daphne and other associates Martin and Karen Petrovsky and Anthony Resse–who also received prison sentences for receiving 20% of the proceeds.
The scam was first identified in April, 2009, when Scotland Yard was contacted by an auction house, which found the number of works offered by M.F. Husain unusually high. During a raid in Mumford’s home in West Sussex, police discovered hundreds of paintings, as well as stamps, ink pads, and authentic Victorian paper used to create phony provenance documents.
Perhaps the most poignant twist in this story is that Mumford is, himself, just a frustrated artist. He set out be a painter, but ended up as a chef in a local pub. He told the Independent, “For 40 years, I had painted the same picture, then I put a different name on it and they queued up… I know it sounds a bit stupid but maybe it was my revenge on the art world. But I would have rather remained a failed artist than a successful forger.”
Be that as it may, Mumford certainly gained his moment in the art world spotlight. His masterful execution of the paintings, together with his expert counterfeiting skills have earned him widespread notoriety and created a trail of forgeries that will take years to uncover. Police have located 40 fake paintings so far but have yet to track down hundreds more circulating in throughout the international art market.