Even as a child, Arthur Brand was fascinated by art and antiquities. His grandfather went to school with Han van Meegeren, a Dutch painter who forged a picture by Johannes Vermeer and sold it to Hermann Göring. His father had a passion for history and named his son after King Arthur, the mythical British ruler. In boyhood Mr Brand delighted in stories of knights and Vikings, of mummies and hidden troves of gold, silver and jewels. “The only book I read was ‘Treasure Island’,” he says.
As a young adult, the object of Mr Brand’s obsession was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. While studying in Spain he learned that the Spaghetti Western was shot in a nearby village. When he visited the place, people were digging for coins (much as they do in the film, the plot of which revolves around a cache of Confederate gold). He soon became an amateur collector, beginning with ancient currencies before moving on to artworks. He shelled out for a piece he thought was by Paul Madeline, a French post-Impressionist painter, but technical analysis revealed it was a fake, produced decades after the artist’s death. “These motherfuckers,” he recalls thinking. “They are stealing from this poor student.”