Elmyr de Hory
Elmyr de Hory (1905 – December 11, 1976) was a Hungarian
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

-born painter and art forger who claimed to have sold over a thousand forgeries to reputable art galleries all over the world. His forgeries garnered much celebrity from a Clifford Irving
Clifford Irving
Clifford Michael Irving is an American author of novels and works of nonfiction, but best known for using forged handwritten letters to convince his publisher into accepting a fake "autobiography" of reclusive businessman Howard Hughes in the early 1970s...

 book, Fake!, and from F for Fake
F for Fake
F for Fake is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering...

(1974), a documentary essay film by Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...


Early life

Most of the information regarding de Hory's early life comes from what he told American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 writer Clifford Irving
Clifford Irving
Clifford Michael Irving is an American author of novels and works of nonfiction, but best known for using forged handwritten letters to convince his publisher into accepting a fake "autobiography" of reclusive businessman Howard Hughes in the early 1970s...

, himself a fraudster, who wrote the first biography
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

 about him. Since Elmyr's success was reliant upon his skills of deception and invention, it would be difficult to take the facts that he told about his own life at face value, as Clifford Irving himself admitted. Elmyr claimed that he was born into an aristocratic family, that his father was an Austro-Hungarian ambassador and that his mother came from a family of bankers. However, subsequent investigation has suggested that Elmyr's childhood was, more likely, of an ordinary, middle class variety. His parents left him to the care of various governesses and were divorced when Elmyr was sixteen.

Elmyr moved to Budapest, Hungary to study. At 18, he joined the Akademie Heinmann art school in Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 to study classical painting. In 1926 he moved to Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, and enrolled in the Académie la Grande Chaumière, where he studied under Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
Joseph Fernand Henri Léger was a French painter, sculptor, and filmmaker. In his early works he created a personal form of Cubism which he gradually modified into a more figurative, populist style...

 and became accustomed to fine living.

Shortly after his return to Hungary, he became involved with a British journalist and suspected spy. This friendship landed him in a Transylvania
Transylvania is a historical region in the central part of Romania. Bounded on the east and south by the Carpathian mountain range, historical Transylvania extended in the west to the Apuseni Mountains; however, the term sometimes encompasses not only Transylvania proper, but also the historical...

n prison for political dissident
A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution. When dissidents unite for a common cause they often effect a dissident movement....

s in the Carpathian Mountains
Carpathian Mountains
The Carpathian Mountains or Carpathians are a range of mountains forming an arc roughly long across Central and Eastern Europe, making them the second-longest mountain range in Europe...

. During this time, de Hory befriended the prison camp officer by painting his portrait
thumb|250px|right|Portrait of [[Thomas Jefferson]] by [[Rembrandt Peale]], 1805. [[New-York Historical Society]].A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness,...

. Later, during the Second World War, de Hory was released.

Within a year, de Hory was back in jail, this time imprisoned in a German concentration camp for being both a Jew and a homosexual (while his homosexuality was proven over time, investigation into his past has shown the likelihood that Elmyr was not Jewish, but instead was christened as a Calvinist). He was severely beaten and was transferred to a Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 prison hospital, where he escaped and later slipped back into Hungary. It was there he learned that his parents had been killed and their estate confiscated.
With his remaining money de Hory bribed his way back into France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, where he tried to earn his living by painting.

Life as a forger

On arriving in Paris de Hory attempted to make an honest living as an artist, but soon discovered that he had an uncanny ability to copy the works of noted painters. So good were his copies that many of his friends believed them to be genuine; in 1946 de Hory sold a reproduction of a Picasso to a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 friend who took it for an original. He began to sell his Picasso reproductions to art galleries, claiming that they were what remained of his family's estate. Galleries took the paintings and paid de Hory the equivalent of (USD) $100 to $400 (circa 1947) per painting. Elmyr was always unique among art forgers in that, rather than attempting to copy existing works by celebrated artists, he only painted original works in their style, which made the forgeries much harder to detect.

That same year de Hory formed a partnership with Jacques Chamberlin, who would later become his art dealer. They toured Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 selling the forgeries until de Hory discovered that, although they were supposed to share the profits equally, Chamberlin had kept most of the money. He ended the relationship and resumed the tour alone. In 1947 de Hory visited the United States on a three-month visa
Visa (document)
A visa is a document showing that a person is authorized to enter the territory for which it was issued, subject to permission of an immigration official at the time of actual entry. The authorization may be a document, but more commonly it is a stamp endorsed in the applicant's passport...

 and decided to stay there, moving between New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 and Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...


Occasionally, throughout his career, de Hory attempted to stop making forgeries and create original artwork, but could never find a market for his work, always returning to the lucrative clandestine activity. De Hory eventually expanded his forgeries to include works by Matisse, Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. Primarily a figurative artist, he became known for paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form...

 and Renoir. Because some of the galleries de Hory had sold his forgeries to were becoming suspicious, he began to use pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

s, and to sell his work by mail order
Mail order
Mail order is a term which describes the buying of goods or services by mail delivery. The buyer places an order for the desired products with the merchant through some remote method such as through a telephone call or web site. Then, the products are delivered to the customer...

. Some of de Hory's many pseudonyms included Louis Cassou, Joseph Dory, Joseph Dory-Boutin, Elmyr Herzog, Elmyr Hoffman and E. Raynal.

During the 1950s, de Hory settled in Miami, continuing to sell his forgeries through the mail and studying the styles and techniques of other master painters in order to imitate their works. In 1955 one of his Matisse forgeries was sold to the Fogg Art Museum
Fogg Art Museum
The Fogg Museum, opened to the public in 1896, is the oldest of Harvard University's art museums. The Fogg joins the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum as part of the Harvard Art Museums....

 at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

; soon thereafter, authorities discovered it was a fake and launched an investigation.

Making a business of forgery

In 1955 de Hory sold several forgeries to Chicago art dealer Joseph W. Faulkner, who later discovered they were fakes. Faulkner pressed charges against de Hory and initiated a federal lawsuit against him, alleging mail and telephone fraud. De Hory later moved to Mexico City, where he was briefly detained and questioned by the police, not for his artistic endeavors, but regarding his connection to a suspect in the murder of a British man, whom de Hory claimed he had never met. When the Mexican police attempted to extort money from him, de Hory hired a lawyer who also attempted to extort money from him, by charging exorbitant legal fees. de Hory paid the lawyer with one of his forgeries and returned to the USA.

On his return, de Hory discovered that his paintings were fetching fantastically high prices at several art galleries, and was incensed that the galleries had only paid him a fraction of what they thought the paintings were worth. Further compounding de Hory's plight was that the manner of his forgeries had become recognizable, forcing him to sell his fake lithographs door-to-door to make a living. While on a trip to Washington DC, de Hory began to suffer from depression and attempted suicide by overdose of sleeping pills. His stomach was pumped, and after a stay in the hospital, de Hory convalesced in New York City, helped by an enterprising young man, Fernand Legros
Fernand Legros
Fernand Legros was an art dealer who, together with his lover Real Lessard, sold the art forgeries of Elmyr de Hory.-Biography:Legros first wished to be a ballet dancer. After World War II he moved from Cairo to Paris...

, who eventually became de Hory's primary dealer. Their stormy association lasted until 1967.

Legros accompanied de Hory back to Miami where he continued to regain his health. Imprudently taking Legros into his confidence, the other man quickly recognized an opportunity and importuned the artist to let him sell his work in exchange for a 40% cut of the profits, with Legros assuming all the risks inherent in the sale of forgeries. With Legros, de Hory again toured the United States. In time, Legros demanded his cut be increased to 50%, when, in reality, Legros was already keeping much of the profit. On one of these trips Legros met Real Lessard, a French-Canadian, who would later become his lover. The two had a volatile relationship, and in 1959 de Hory decided to leave the two and return to Europe.

In Paris, de Hory unexpectedly ran into Legros. De Hory revealed to him that some of his forgeries were still back in New York. Legros devised a plan to steal the paintings and sell them, making a name for himself and his art gallery in the process. Later that year, de Hory decided to resume his partnership with Legros. Legros and Lessard would continue to sell de Hory's work, and agreed to pay him a flat fee of $400 a month.

In 1962, de Hory moved to the Spanish
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 island of Ibiza
Ibiza or Eivissa is a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea 79 km off the coast of the city of Valencia in Spain. It is the third largest of the Balearic Islands, an autonomous community of Spain. With Formentera, it is one of the two Pine Islands or Pityuses. Its largest cities are Ibiza...

, while Legros and Lessard kept up the business of selling his paintings for large amounts of money from Paris. Many times they would forget to send de Hory his small monthly allowance. After several instances of this, Legros built de Hory a home in Ibiza to placate him.

Elmyr always denied that he had ever signed any of his forgeries with the name of the artist whom he was imitating. This is an important legal matter, since painting in the style of an artist is not a crime - only signing a painting with another artist's name makes it a forgery. This may be true, as Legros may have signed the paintings with the false names.

Unmasking the forger

In 1964, now 58-years old, de Hory began to tire of the forgery business, and soon his work began to suffer. Consequently, many art experts began noticing that the paintings they were receiving were forgeries. Some of the galleries examining de Hory's work alerted Interpol
Interpol, whose full name is the International Criminal Police Organization – INTERPOL, is an organization facilitating international police cooperation...

, and the police were soon on the trail of Legros and Lessard. Legros sent de Hory to Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 for a year, to keep him out of the eye of the investigation.

By 1966, more of de Hory's paintings were being revealed as forgeries; one man in particular, Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

An oil is any substance that is liquid at ambient temperatures and does not mix with water but may mix with other oils and organic solvents. This general definition includes vegetable oils, volatile essential oils, petrochemical oils, and synthetic oils....

Magnate, from the Late Latin magnas, a great man, itself from Latin magnus 'great', designates a noble or other man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities...

 Algur H. Meadows
Algur H. Meadows
Algur Hurtle Meadows, was an oilman, art collector, and benefactor of Southern Methodist University and other institutions.-Life:...

, to whom Legros had sold 56 forged paintings, was so outraged to learn that most of his collection was forgeries, that he demanded the arrest and prosecution of Legros. Angered, Legros decided to hide from the police at de Hory's house on Ibiza, where he asserted ownership, and threatened to evict de Hory. Coupled with this and with Legros' increasingly violent mood swings, de Hory decided to leave Ibiza. Legros and Lessard were apprehended soon thereafter, imprisoned on charges of check fraud.

Elmyr continued to elude the police for some time, but, tired of life in exile, decided to move back to Ibiza to accept his fate. In August 1968, a Spanish court convicted him of the crimes of homosexuality and of consorting with criminals, sentencing him to 2 months in prison. He was never directly charged with forgery, because the court could not prove that he had ever created any forgeries on Spanish soil. He was released in October 1968 and expelled from Spain.

Death and legacy

One year following his release, de Hory returned to Ibiza, by then a celebrity. He told his story to Clifford Irving
Clifford Irving
Clifford Michael Irving is an American author of novels and works of nonfiction, but best known for using forged handwritten letters to convince his publisher into accepting a fake "autobiography" of reclusive businessman Howard Hughes in the early 1970s...

 who wrote the biography: Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time. Soon thereafter, Irving created his own forgery: a fake auto-biography of Howard Hughes. Elmyr appeared in several television interviews, and was featured with Irving in Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

' free-form documentary, F for Fake
F for Fake
F for Fake is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering...

(1974). In Welles' film, Elmyr questioned what it was that made his forgeries inferior to the actual paintings created by the artists he imitated, particularly since they had fooled so many experts, and were always appreciated when it was believed that they were genuine.

During the early 1970s, de Hory again decided to try his hand at painting, hoping to exploit his new-found fame: this time, he would sell his own, original work. While he had gained some recognition in the art world he made little profit, and he soon learned that French authorities were attempting to extradite him to stand trial
A trial is, in the most general sense, a test, usually a test to see whether something does or does not meet a given standard.It may refer to:*Trial , the presentation of information in a formal setting, usually a court...

 on fraud
In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and also a civil law violation...

 charges. This took quite some time, however, as Spain and France had no extradition treaty at that time.

On December 11, 1976, Elmyr de Hory's live-in bodyguard (part of Elmyr's self-created legend was his belief that he had enemies who wished to murder him) and companion, Mark Forgy, informed him that the Spanish government had, after lengthy negotiation, agreed to turn Elmyr over to the French authorities. Shortly thereafter, Forgy found Elmyr near death in their home. He had taken an overdose of sleeping pills, and within minutes of being discovered, died in Forgy's arms. Clifford Irving has expressed doubts about Elmyr's death, claiming that he may have faked his own suicide in order to escape extradition, but Forgy has dismissed this theory.

Following his death, de Hory's paintings became valuable collectibles. In fact, his paintings had become so popular that forged de Horys began to appear on the market.

In popular culture

  • His life is portrayed in the Canadian
    Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

     play Portrait of an Unidentified Man by Pierre Brault.
  • Orson Welles
    Orson Welles
    George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

    ' documentary F for Fake
    F for Fake
    F for Fake is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering...

    concerns Elmyr de Hory
  • A restaurant in Atlanta's Little Five Points
    Little Five Points
    Little Five Points is a district of Atlanta, Georgia, United States, 2½ miles east of downtown. It was established in the early 1900s as the commercial district for the adjacent Inman Park and Candler Park neighborhoods to the west and east...

     is named Elmyr for him and its walls are covered in fakes of famous paintings.
  • The song No More Heroes
    No More Heroes (The Stranglers song)
    No More Heroes is a single by The Stranglers from the same-named album No More Heroes. It is one of the Stranglers' most successful singles , peaking at #8 in the Official UK Top 40 charts...

    , by British punk rock
    Punk rock
    Punk rock is a rock music genre that developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in garage rock and other forms of what is now known as protopunk music, punk rock bands eschewed perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock...

     band The Stranglers
    The Stranglers
    The Stranglers are an English punk/rock music group.Scoring some 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums to date in a career spanning five decades, the Stranglers are the longest-surviving and most "continuously successful" band to have originated in the UK punk scene of the mid to late 1970s...

    , mentions de Hory in the line, "whatever happened to the Great Elmyr(a)". The lyricist appears to confirm the form "Elmyra" in an interviewhttp://greetingthe500.typepad.com/greeting_the_500/meetingsgreetings_achieved/index.html, but it is unclear if this is an error, an intentional feminization, or "Elmyr" with a separate exclamation after.
  • A character based on Hory appears in the incomplete final Tintin story "Tintin and Alph-Art
    Tintin and Alph-Art
    Tintin and Alph-Art was the intended twenty-fourth and final book in the Tintin series, created by Belgian comics artist Hergé. It is a striking departure from the earlier books in tone and subject, as well as in some parts of the style; rather than being set in a usual exotic and action-packed...


External links

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