Billy the forger spills the beans at a rare appearance at the Electric palace in Bridport

Billy the forger spills the beans at a rare appearance at the Electric palace in Bridport

billy the forger

He put millions of pounds’ worth of paintings through some of the world’s biggest and best-known auction houses, exposing their frailties and leaving the art world shaken to its core.
Ten years ago his luck ran out and at the age of 63 Billy Mumford, aka Billy the Brush, was handed a two-year prison stretch after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud. During a five-year scam he passed off hundreds of fake paintings by artists as diverse as Maqbool Fida Husain ‘the Picasso of India’, surrealist John Tunnard and noted Welsh landscape painter Kyffin Williams.
Born into a poor Jewish family in London’s East End, he began painting as a young teenager and was largely self-taught by copying the works of grand masters. As his repertoire as a copyist grew he developed his own style, but found it impossible to break into the notoriously closed art world.
In his own words: “For 40 years, I had painted the same picture, then I put a different name on it and they queued up.”
And so began his career as a counterfeiter, making paintings in the style of highly collectible artists and passing them off as originals. It meant he had to master any number of widely diverse painting styles and techniques, not to mention the gallery stamps, inks and vintage paper needed to create the false provenance for his work.
“I know it sounds a bit stupid,” he explains, “but maybe it was my revenge on the art world. But I would have rather remained a failed artist than a successful forger.”
Although some of his fakes continue to circulate, Billy’s days as an outlaw are now long behind him. Now completely legit he enjoys an ever-growing reputation for producing astonishingly authentic tributes to the great artists, some of which sell for thousands of pounds.
The art houses he humiliated so royally a decade ago might not agree, but to his fans Billy is a folk hero, a true original who exposed the art world’s greed and lack of integrity in not exercising due diligence on artworks being sold quickly for sizable sums of money.
“He’s too humble and unassuming to admit it, but Billy can paint as well as any of the greats, yet none of them could paint like the others,” says James Hartey, the Bridport-based businessman and art dealer who now promotes Billy’s work and has just published a second volume of Billy exploits entitled Billy Mumford, Painter of Hallways, Doorways and… Monets.
“He has not only mastered each of their individual techniques, but also their materials and their finishes, but today they come with a certificate of authenticity as a genuine fake. As soon as he got out of prison, he went straight back to painting as that’s all he can do – he just has to paint – only these days he doesn’t copy actual paintings, he produces versions of modern masters from Picasso, Van Gogh and Lowry to Basquiat, Banksy and ‘Shadowman’ artist Richard Hambleton.”
Collectors of Billy’s works include TV and sports celebrities and media interest has resulted in four book projects, three documentaries for Vice TV, an appearance on Now TV’s Portrait Artist of the Year, the offer of a six-part series on the dark side of the art world, and a film script.
Now, Billy is stepping out of the studio shadows and into the spotlight of the stage to present his first ever talk about his ‘David and Goliath’ story in An Evening with Billy Mumford at the Electric Palace, Bridport on Thursday 14 July, from 7pm. And, in an affectionate nod to the bad old days, the proceeds from an auction of Billy’s work on the night will be donated to the Dorset Police Welfare Fund.
Tickets available at

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