25 January 2014

Elmyr de Hory - a very good art forger

Jonathon Keats wrote about famous art forgeries with the rather pro­vocative title Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age (published by Oxford UP 2013). He noted that the Fauvism of Derain and Matisse, which portrayed the world in feverishly unrealistic colours, captured the disquieting intensity of everyday experience. Questioning, provoking, agitating. These are the most productive attributes of modern art.

Art forgery also provokes anxiety, wrote Keats. Modern forgeries reveal modern failings. And when the important galleries’ systems of authentication fail, the process calls into question the integrity of traditional lines of authority. Who can we trust? Indeed. Some forgers have used ruses that upset commonplace assumptions about culture and authenticity, belief and identity.

In an ironic way, Keats believed that good art forgeries achieved what legitimate art accomplished when legitimate art was most effect­ive. It provoked us to ask agitating questions about us and our world. Even when the forgers’ artistic merit was not aesthetic.

I want to specifically examine the fakes of Elemer Hoffmann, the man known as Elmyr de Hory (1905-76). His paintings were aesthetically very pleas­ing and apart from fooling the collectors, galleries and insurance companies about the true financial value of the works, it is diffic­ult not to admire his talent. Especially for me because I love the very 20th century masters he copied – Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, Derain and de Vlaminck. Readers may remember my earlier post called German Expressionist art – fakes.

Henri Matisse
Small Odalisque in Purple Robe, 1937
Private Collection

Elmyr de Hory was born in Budapest to a middle class family who valued their children's education. At 18, he joined the Akademie Heinmann art school in Munich to study classical painting. In 1926 he moved to Paris, and enrolled in the high quality Académie la Grande Chaumière, where he studied with the wonderful artist and teacher, Fernand Léger.

The details of his WW2 experiences are unclear but he may well have been locked up in a Berlin prison hospital, from where he escaped back into Hungary. It was there he learned that his parents had been killed and their estate confiscated. Lucky to be alive, de Hory bribed his way back into France, where he tried to earn his living in art.

Elmyr de Hory’s first known forgery appeared in 1946, when he sold a Picasso-like drawing for a lot of money to a patron of Le Dóme café in Paris. Here is another tug to my heart strings; I loved the way Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and every other cultural giant dined in Le Dóme. I also loved the idea that de Hory soon moved to Montparnasse, a popular outer suburb of Paris for artists, and stayed there for 12 years. It was probably at Gertrude Stein's salon that he met Dutch painter Kees Van Dongan, Man Ray, Salvador Dalí and every other young hopeful.

De Hory soon sold three more Picasso-like drawings for good money. Now de Hory had enough money to travel, and his next stop was Copenhagen. artfakes showed how walked into a gallery and offered them four Picasso-like drawings, which he claimed came from a aristocratic Hungarian family. An expert from Nationalmuseum Stockholm came to his hotel, validated the drawings and paid handsomely for the pictures. Elmyr de Hory had made his first international big deal. From Stockholm to Rio de Janeiro to New York, where he exhibited and sold works at Lilienfeld Galleries.

apparently by Matisse,  
actually painted by Elmyr de Hory

I only became interested in de Hory’s forgeries when he expanded his oeuvre to include Matisse, Modigliani and Vlaminck. de Hory was feel­ing very comfortable within the USA, and was selling his forgeries to museums, galleries and wealthy art patrons. Among the buyers was the Museum of Modern Art and also Knoedler, a famous art company which had long competed with Joseph Duveen to be the supplier to the great­est art collectors in history.

In Tokyo de Hory sold a Derain-like oil painting, a Dufy-like work and a Modigliani-like drawing to The National Museum of Western Art. He said the art was not to copy their exact paintings, but to create something that the painters might have painted. This sentence seemed self serving for the forger, but it did state his ideology very well.

de Hory's ideology can be seen in his admiration for Kees van Dongen, a Dutch artist who had moved to Paris to work. van Dongen had participated in the hugely successful 1905 Salon d'Automne exhibition along with other artists who became known as the colourful Fauves. Both of the two paintings below appear to be painted by Kees van Dongen. The Lady in Red (on the left) was actually painted by de Hory; The Lady with a Large Hat (on the right) was painted by van Dongen in 1912 and is in a private collection.

Which is the real van Dongen?

de Hory lived the good life for many years in Spain, It was only in Dec 1977 that the Spanish police decided to extradite de Hory to France, the country that most wanted to put the forg­er on trial. But Elmyr de Hory overdosed on tablets and died before the trial could begin. Whatever knowledge he had in his head about which works he faked and in which collections the fakes sit… died with him.


“Fakes and Forgeries” was an exhibition put on by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, from July-September 1973. It was one of many exhibitions held since WW2, examining the problem of authentication in art.

The Hillstrom Museum of Art presented “Elmyr de Hory: artist and faker,” an exhibition of the life and work of de Hory. The exhibition, at Gustavus Adolphus College, in St Peter Minnesota, ran from February-April 2010.

The gallery Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid put on an exhibition of fake masterpieces by de Hory in February-May 2013. The idea behind this exhibition went farther than the simple presentation of fakes. Instead it asked what does art really look for: beauty or the signature of a certain painter?

I have questions too:
1. If de Hory was a talented enough artist to create credible Matisse-, Modigliani- and Vlaminck-style paintings, why did he not create the exact same paintings with his own name on the canvas?
2. May we admire de Hory’s paintings, regardless of his attempts to fool wealthy patrons?
3. What have we learned about early 20th century expressionism, given that the gorgeous colours and strange shapes were so easily adapted by later artists?
4. Would it be appropriate to collect de Hory paintings in their own right?


Anonymous said...

Not being an artist nor a collector, I would say that collcting de Hory's works as his own would be a laudable venture, if only to get them off the market! And from what you've shown us, Hels, he wasn't bad in his own right!

James Morgan
Olympia, WA

Hels said...


I fully agree..as long as the de Hory painting are signed/labelled properly and there is no deception involved.

But the de Hory works would have to be released to the auction houses for sale. I wonder which galleries and private collectors are going to admit they were conned and that they paid far too much money for their masterpieces.

Ann ODyne said...

Yes to your question about collecting De Horys in their own right. If I needed to pay for art I would collect Courtroom Artist's crayon renderings of witnesses like Nigella Lawson or white-collar defendants like her Gorilla sisters, Jeffrey Archer, Leona Helmsley and Alan Bond.

Hels said...


That is funny :)

But I agree. If you were more interested in social awareness, business honesty or right wing politicians, you would not be buying expensive and somewhat decadent art in any case. The idea of spending $78 billion dollars on a single, rare Picasso, even an authentic one, would be unacceptable.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I guess that the 'talented' fakers do not want to undergo the waiting period, building up their reputation until their works are valued--it is easier and more remunerative to be parasitic on another artist's cachet.

The production of attractive fakes does not prove the existence of any parallel creative spark in the faker--usually the most highly valued artists are those who have something new to say.

Student of History said...

Beltracchi did Kees Van Dongen as nicely as the real artist did. Now I find de Hory did Van Dongen beautifully as well. What was it about that artist that appealed so much to later forgers?

Hels said...


True true. Every artist took a very very long time to establish himself reputation wise and income wise, and many never made it. If they didn't have wealthy parents to support them during the interim period of struggle, they had to work at other jobs in between painting e.g teaching, working for a newspaper, running a bar.

My guess is that de Hory couldn't see an end to the era of financial struggle and wanted decent money for his art straight away.

Hels said...


you are quite right. van Dongen's colours and shapes must have been fascinating to forgers and easy to achieve, as we saw in http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/german-expressionist-art-fakes.html

So I have added a real van Dongen and a de Hory version of van Dongen into this post. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I know an example that might prove the point.
"When the dealer who sold Cat.219 discovered that one of his sources, Elmyr de Hory, was a master forger, he hastened to alert all those to whom he had sold works acquired from de Hory of the situation and properly offered them their money back. Most accepted but the owners in this case (Mr. and Mrs. Patrick E. O'Rourke from Minneapolis) declined stating they bought the drawing because they loved it and not because it was a 'Modigliani'. They still love it regardless of the author." Fakes and Forgeries catalogue, Minneapolis Inst. of Art (July 11- Sept 29, 1973) p.220
(I did my Honours thesis on philosophical problems with art forgery.) Enjoyed the post.

Hels said...


what an amazing topic to write your Honours thesis on.... I bet finding a supervisor was not easy. I wrote mine on the influence of Huguenot art, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Also not easy to find a supervisor.

Mr and Mrs Patrick O'Rourke from Minneapolis were very smart and spot on, as long as they were 100% clear that Modigliani did not paint their painting. I have seen many de Hory paintings and they are beautiful in their own right.

I will look for the Fakes and Forgeries catalogue, Minneapolis Institute of Art .. many thanks

Hels said...

I have added the locations and dates of three exhibitions dedicated to analysing de Hory (and other peoples') fake masterpieces. There may have been more.

Marshall Stacks said...

Bless the O'Rourkes.
The BBC Fake or Fortune? with Fiona Bruce and art expert Phillip Mould was shown on AUS free-to-air TV recently and I am glad I endured all of it because when they found a painter who showed the camera how to whip up Girl With A Pearl Earring it was rivetting, and also informative about the intense scientific processes used for verifications (links to those via my link above).

If I was going to fake something I would start with a Rothko - bwah ha ha.

Hels said...


I must have been walking around half asleep for 24 years. I used to think the main reason to worry about fakes was so that the insurance companies didn't withdraw their coverage, if and when a fake was revealed.

Thank you for the Fake or Fortune reference? It is a very clever programme.

Marshall Stacks said...

De Hory could not have been untouched by his hideous WW2 experience and maybe, as with Polanski, an attitude is formed, so that his oeuvre was not the painting itself but the Sticking It Up The Man forging satisfaction.
When de Hory moved to Spain he met Clifford Irving who had faked a biography of recluse Howard Hughes. De Hory asked Irving to write his biography and it became Fake! (1969). Irving and de Hory are both featured in Orson Welles's documentary F for Fake (1974).
I think NGV just had a little 'fake' stoush - was it Rembrandt?
How embarrassing.

Hels said...


I know that the NGV's painting called Head of a Man is not by Van Gogh after all. The gallery says the painting is not a forgery, specifically created with the intention of tricking gallery curators. Instead it was painted by an unknown contemporary of the artist.

Of course the value of the painting will now be _greatly_ reduced.

Student of History said...

The gallery in Madrid said "He travelled to many countries and when problems arose, he just left for the next one. He met Fernand Legros and Real Lessard who became his art dealers. They sold many of his fake paintings. Elmyr de Hory was also deceived by them as they sold his paintings for much more than they had paid him."

The deceiver was deceived, apparently.

Hels said...


I had never heard of Legros and Lessard. But their deceptive record is easy to follow :(

Apparently they bought old art books and replaced real art with those of de Hory's forgeries. And they travelled across the USA and knowingly sold De Hory's fake paintings to galleries.

Needless to say, Legros was eventually tried and gaoled. But de Hory certainly knew who he was dealing with!!

Joseph said...

Great timing. Tonight I saw a film about John Drewe (art dealer)and John Myatt (artist), in what was once again called the biggest art fraud of the 20th century.

Myatt faked up Marc Chagalls and Ben Nicholsons, and Drewe sold them to dealers and auction houses as the real thing. They both ended up in prison because Drewe added fake documents to the archives of art galleries to prove Myatt's paintings' authenticity.

Hels said...

The Guardian said: Myatt didn't set out to by a faker. As a young art student he had high hopes of establishing his own artistic style. But whenever he turned his hand to landscapes or portraiture, he says the result was invariably academic. Instead he taught evening classes and began selling the odd fake to friends and colleagues. In 1983, he placed an ad in Private Eye that read: "Genuine fakes, 19th- and 20th-century paintings from £150." The ad ran four times before he received the fatal call from Drewe.

Does this sound familiar? A good artist not doing very well financially in his chosen profession. Starts off doing fakes for a lark, then moves over to the dark side when a very shady dealer comes along.

Ann ODyne said...

tidying newspapers out to the recycle last night and I noticed Sunday Age 1st Dec reported on a Melbourne barrister in dispute with Christies over Albert Tucker's "Faun And Parrot' she bought in 2000 for $86,000 after they passed it in at $50,000, and despite it having no traceable provenance. A barrister!
It is a great story and there will be episode 2 no doubt.

Hels said...


Well spotted.

prices fluctuate wildly because:
a] tastes change (over the decades and centuries, not within 12 years)
b] the auction house missed the right market [Albert Tucker doesn't appeal to everyone] or
c] there was a problem with the painting.

In her Supreme Court action, the barrister alleges that Christie's knew the work was a fake or was negligent in not properly researching its provenance. She is also alleging misleading and deceptive conduct. One art expert is being accused of taking secret commissions!!

"Wow" is right! After reading about fakers for the last few months, everything is possible in the art world. But why did Christie's remained fooled in 2000 yet understood the real situation by 2013?

Hels said...


When the court dust has settled and the journal articles written, I will definitely come back to Albert Tucker's Faun And Parrot for this blog. Thanks :)

Ann ODyne said...

Here is an amusing/tragic post on Rothko In Regional Australia by my blogger friend That's So Pants. I hope you enjoy.

Hels said...


Had you heard of Melbourne Theatre Company's production of "Red"? I had not. But I must say that once a person's mind is focused on a subject, they are much more likely to see that subject all over the place.

Rothko will now pop up on tv, radio, the Weekend Age, books and academic journals. The students will develop an interest in modern American art and the NGV will plan a Rothko blockbuster for next winter.

Don't you love blogging? :)

Ann ODyne said...

Yes Hels I have such a good time. Online is a compendium of every great, glossy and esoteric magazine.
and don't get me started on Pinterest, which is used by authors as a pinboard for their characters, locations, clothes, interiors etc.
It is much better than doing an image search anywhere else. Going back there now x x

Marshall Stacks said...

At the link, another local art fake story I found last night after seeing Charles Blackman's family on ABCTV.

Hels said...


thanks for the reference which I will have a close look at. In general, can we say that artists and dealers were more deceptive than we like to think? Or that we the buyers and lovers of art should have been a lot more cautious?

I have only been caught out once that I am aware of. I adored Georgian silver art and a dealer made a mistake (accidental?) in describing an expensive object.

John Scherber said...

The Virgin of Guadalupe is the most important religious icon in the Americas. It’s theft or disappearance would cause chaos in Latin America. But if an exquisite copy is substituted for the original, who would know? The Theft of the Virgin is part of the Murder in Mexico series of mysteries, featuring painter-turned-detective, Paul Zacher.
See my website for a complimentary sample.


Hels said...


So true...if an exquisite copy was substituted for the original, who would know? That is, presumably, why people who commission fakes go to the very best fakers that money can buy - to fool auction houses, galleries and collectors.

I will check out your reference, many thanks.

Sir Marshall Stacks said...

The Australian, 8 hours ago, by
Dan Box 22nd July 2014.
ALMOST a third of the artworks traded in Australia may be forgeries, allegedly including some of those sold by one of the biggest auction houses operating worldwide, a court has heard

Hels said...


Thanks for the reference. I cannot get The Australian's articles on-line, so I will go and buy a copy.

In the meantime, does Dan Box give any evidence for the belief that almost a third of the artworks traded in Australia may be forgeries?

Sir Marshall Stacks said...

do not give Gina another $2!
It came up via Google News -
Sydney barrister Louise McBride is suing Christie’s auctioneers, claiming it sold her a painting by Australian artist ­Albert Tucker for $85,000, despite “real concerns” it was a fake.

While the painting, Faun and Parrot and signed “Tucker”, leant against a wall in the Supreme Court in Sydney yesterday, none of the defendants in the case now insists it is genuine.

Lawyers for Christie’s, as well as those acting for the gallery that previously owned the painting and the independent expert Ms McBride relied on during the sale, told the court instead that they “simply don’t know”.

“Forgeries in the art market generally are a concern,” Ms McBride’s barrister, Francis Douglas QC, told the court.

“Statistics have been quoted ... that 20-30 per cent of the works on the market are forgeries.”

Christie’s “made no attempt” to establish whether the painting was genuine before its 2000 sale, Mr Douglas said.

What was not disclosed, the court heard, was that Faun and Parrot was previously sold by an art dealer, Peter Gant.

A year before Ms McBride brought the painting, Mr Gant was described on ABC’s Four Corners as having “handled a few fakes in his time”, the court was told.

“In 2010, the Victorian Supreme Court found that (Mr Gant) was responsible, in breach of the Fair Trading Act, for the sale of a fake painting … and for providing valuations for other forged paintings,” Mr Douglas said.

Shortly after Ms McBride agreed to buy the Tucker painting, an expert on the artist spoke to a Christie’s executive, expressing “real concerns” about Faun and Parrot as well as another Tucker painting listed for auction later that year.

Christie’s did not disclose these concerns and continued with the second sale, the court was told, before ultimately being forced to ­reimburse the $69,000 sale price after concerns were raised.

Vivienne Sharpe, the art expert relied upon by Ms McBride, also received a “secret commission” worth tens of thousands of dollars for advising her on the sale of ­another artwork to a separate auction house

Sir Marshall Stacks said...

this is SMH report worth the clickthrough to see how glamorous the daughters of Sydney lawyers can be.

Hels said...


What an amazing story, thank you.

Francis Douglas, QC, said said works of dead artists were particularly susceptible to forgery and some people believed between 20% to 30% of the works on the secondary market were fake.

As proof, Mr Douglas said "Mr Gant was identified as having sold a fake Drysdale for $250,000; as having supplied and sold fake Nolans and as being involved in a dispute with Charles Blackman about some paintings that Mr Blackman said to not be his work".

I wonder where the 20-30% figure came from. Was it based on solid research of all paintings sold on the secondary market in a particular year? In a particular Australian city?

Ann ODyne said...

My favourite art lover Mr Waldemar Januzczek writes the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the sweetest gallery in south London, has come up with the excellent wheeze of deliberately swapping one of its Old Masters for a fake, putting that ringer in the real picture’s frame, and inviting us along to spot the difference.
'wheeze' - such an English word and this gallery stunt is the perfect definition of 'an excellent wheeze'.

Hels said...


that is a very clever didactic tool, and a bit subversive as well :) But is the stunt revealed before the viewer moves on to the next lot of images? Is the real Old Master placed alongside the fake, so the viewer can make a proper comparison?

Sir Marshall Stacks said...

apparently The Big Reveal shall be an April event when the two are adjacent for viewing.
I love the part where they had the fake done at one of those Chinese factories which do repros.

Hels said...

Sir Marshall

Since you mentioned the BBC programme called Fake or Fortune? 14 months ago, I have been happily watching Fiona Bruce, Phillip Mould and Bendor Grosvenor.

One of my take-home impressions, surprisingly, was that there is a growing market for master forgers _in their own right_. Of course this is a bit different, since noone is being conned out of their money.

Sir Marshall Stacks said...

Fiona is more known of course for Antiques Roadshow, which often rewards one's endurance of the dross with a gem moment.
Major public galleries tolerate amateurs at their easel before great works, but my view is "whatever are they thinking"?!
My sister ann odyne whined to me that when she paid a bomb to see Monet at the NGV last year some dotty old nonce had set up right before the 3 loveliest circular works all in a darn corner. all involved were oblivious to his affecting paid experience of others. sigh.

The Spectator said...

The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney was published by Phaidon in 2015.

The questionable pleasure to be had from Charney’s energetic trawl through scores of cases is that of seeing the clayfooted guardians of the kunsthaus being bettered by the little guy, the self-proclaimed reject. Hebborn, van Meegeren, Elmyr de Hory and Shaun Greenhalgh are only a few of those who bore attritional grudges against the admittedly vacuous and laughably pretentious art establishment and sought an arcane revenge in deception for deception’s sake. Pride rather than pecuniary gain seems to be the most common motive. An exception was the novelist Clifford Irving, who, having written Fake!, a biography of Elmyr de Hory, became so enthused by the money that might be gained from forgery that he wrote the autobiography of Howard Hughes, whom he had never met.

Jonathan Meades
The Spectator 15/5/2015

Hels said...

Thank you. That is a great reference.