Elmyr de Hory

Here is a gentleman you might like to invite to dinner. Ah, the stories he might relate. Alas … far too late. Elmyr de Hory passed on in 1976. Just recently I noticed an article in the NY Times about Mark Forgy, who, to quote the Times, ”owns the largest collection of work by Elmyr de Hory, one of the most notorious art forgers of the 20th century. In the 1950s and ’60s, de Hory is believed to have forged over a thousand works by major artists. Many have been removed from museums. Others, some experts say, have not.” (I noted, as you might have, that the name “Forgy” is disturbingly close to “forgery” – but whatever.)

That is Mr. Forgy in a photo that appeared in the NY Times; the photo
capturing two paintings by de Hory; a self portrait on the left, and a portrait of Mr. Forgy on the right.

Elmyr de Hory was born Elemer Hoffman in Budapest, Hungary. His father was a wholesaler, and not an ambassador, as Elmyr would have people believe. His mother was not a socialite, nor did his family have horses, carriages, servants, or any of the symbols of wealth. Elmer was not an aristocrat. None of this was true, and starting with rather dubious descriptions of his family and its roots, Elmyr continued through life leaving a trail of contradictions. To quote one observer of the arts, “Everything about Elmyr de Hory was a grand gesture of artifice.”

Despite attending art schools in Hungary, Germany and France, de Hory could never seem to cut it as a painter in his own style. However, he was not immune to adopting the styles of the masters.

According to Wikipedia, de Hory’s forgeries were sold for more than $50 million (in today’s dollars). In 1955 de Hory sold several forgeries to a Chicago art dealer. The dealer discovered the fakery and pressed charges, but not before de Hory took off for Mexico. He soon returned to the U.S., and feeling the pressure of the authorities, resumed creating his own artwork, where again, according to Wikipedia, “he had limited success, mostly selling paintings of pink poodles to interior decorators.”

He quickly reverted to fakery, and came under the influence of a young Fernand Legros, a con man in his own right, who convinced de Hory to let him sell his forgeries. Legros duped de Hory into thinking there was a fair share of the profits. Not so. De Hory split from Legros and moved to Europe. But it was not so long after that de Hory resumed his relationship with Legros, with Legros setting de Hory up on the island of Ibiza, where the artist could comfortably resume his work as a forger. The photo following is of Legros in later years. In my opinion a man in whom you might not place your trust.

De Hory maintained that he only copied in the style of the masters, and that he did not forge their signatures on his paintings (although it is possible that Legros signed the forged paintings). The photos following capture on the right, the Italian master Modigliani’s “Portrait of a Polish Woman,” and on the left, de Hory’s forgery in the style of Modigliani. According to the NY Times, the forgery hung in a Miami museum for decades.

   

 

By 1966, more and more of de Hory’s paintings were revealed to be forgeries, and de Hory left Ibiza to evade the Spanish authorities. Tired of living in exile, he returned to Ibiza, spent two months in jail, not for his forgeries, but for a conviction for homosexuality. Upon his release, he was exiled from Ibiza for a year. It is almost fateful that de Hory, returning to Ibiza, would meet Clifford Irving. Irving wrote de Hory’s biography, “Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory, The Greatest Art Forger of our Time.”

There is much irony here. Irving went on to write an alleged autobiography of Howard Hughes. It was a hoax. Hughes sued Irving and his publisher, and Irving went to jail for 17 months. So there you have it: The author of a fake “autobiography” writing the biography of a fake. De Hory, it seems, was always in bad company. Below, Clifford Irving going to court circa 1972. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 87.

Some final words about Elmyr. Facing the possibility of extradition to France from Ibiza, de Hory committed suicide in December, 1976. True to form, Irving at the time claimed that de Hory may have faked his suicide to avoid extradition. It seems that in this brief history, only the truth was avoided.

And, by the way, a Modigliani painting of a nude woman reclining, sold at auction in 2015 for $170 million. Here she is …