Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Faking It : Elmyr de Hory - The Century's Greatest Art Forger

From Riches to Rags

Elmyr Dory-Boutin was born into a prosperous family in Hungary in 1906. According to Irving, his mother came from a family of bankers who managed the finances of the kings of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his father served as the Hungarian ambassador to Turkey and two South American republics. Little Elmyr was given practically everything and anything he wanted except consistent attention from his parents. Instead, he was cared for and emotionally attended to by a succession of wet nurses, nannies and governesses who acted as substitute parents until Elmyr reached his mid-teens.

Elmyrs teenage years were full of tribulation, uncertainty and self-discovery. At the age of sixteen, Elmyrs parents divorced. The traumatic situation proved too much for the boy and he decided to escape the pain by traveling to Budapest to study. While there he enrolled in art school, where he was able to explore his interest in art and mold his burgeoning creative talents. He was also able to explore his sexuality, which was heavily influenced by the citys homosexual community.

In order to hide his sexual preferences from his family, he decided to move even further away to complete his studies. At eighteen, Elmyr traveled to Munich, Germany, and enrolled in the Akademie Heinmann art school where he learned classical drawing and painting. He enjoyed his studies and found that these mediums were ones in which he could express himself.

Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger

Before long, Elmyr felt limited by what the school had to offer. He moved to Paris in 1926 in the hopes of satisfying his artistic interests. He enrolled in the Académie la Grande Chaumière where he studied under Fernand Léger, who he eventually befriended. Elmyr excelled in his studies and his creations began to receive recognition.

Although Elmyr showed much creative talent, his enthusiasm for painting and drawing began to wane. The lure of Parisian high society and the citys contrasting    avant garde cliques of aspiring artists and writers excited him even more. He spent the next few years drifting between the two worlds, satisfying his need for amusement and sexual experimentation.

Although the way of life he chose was initially exciting, he began to feel ill at ease and discontented. He attributed his restlessness to a lack of self-confidence and a weak nature. He felt that he didnt fit in. Eventually, Elmyr decided to leave Paris and return to Hungary where circumstances took a turn for the worse.

Shortly after his arrival in Hungary, Elmyr befriended a British journalist. The details of the relationship remain unclear, although it is believed that the two men became lovers. Unbeknown to Elmyr, the Hungarian government suspected that his journalist friend was an undercover spy. Much to Elmyrs horror, the relationship landed him in a Transylvanian prison for political dissidents in the Carpathian Mountains.

There he languished for months, until a senior camp officer discovered that this unlikely criminal had artistic abilities. According to Ken Talbots book Enigma, the officer commissioned Elmyr to paint a portrait, which helped Elmyr to survive the nightmarish conditions of the camp. Ultimately, Elmyr was released, but his liberation was short-lived.

During Elmyrs incarceration in Transylvania, the Nazi regime had gained control of most of Europe. Jews of every nation were rounded up and thrown into death camps. It was a perilous time for many Jews, including Elmyr. He was eventually arrested and interned in a German concentration camp only one year after his release from the Transylvanian prison.

While in the camp, Elmyr was beaten so severely that one of his legs was broken, after which he was temporarily placed in a Berlin prison hospital. He was desperate to escape. He waited for an opportune moment, which arrived soon after he was admitted.

While looking out of the window, he noticed that the gates to the hospital were ajar. According to Irvings book, he courageously stood up with the aid of crutches and hobbled outside through the the hospitals entryway. He made his way to freedom and to the safety of a friends house. He remained there for several months until he could find safe passage back to Hungary.

It wasnt long before he learned that both of his parents had been killed and that their fortune had been seized. Elmyr had no family, no home and no money, except for some diamonds left over from his familys estate. He went to France, using the brilliant stones to bribe guards of several countries to enable him to cross borders. Once in Paris, Elmyr rented a cramped room and set about creating a new life. He was likely unaware that his new life would consist of a career that would later earn him a reputation as one of the most talented criminals in history.

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