Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Sky High and Rock Bottom

The early 1950s were eventful and often prosperous years for Elmyr. He was making a name for himself as an art dealer, selling his phony masterpieces for hefty prices. He had also earned the chance to restore museum paintings. His own career was also going well. Because Elymrs work impressed the mayor of New Orleans, he was named an honorary citizen and given a key to the city in 1951.He also began a new relationship with a man named Jimmy and acquired a new waterfront apartment in Miami. Overall, it seemed as if everything was going right for Elmyr.

Choosing to communicate by mail, Elymr simply wrote letters to galleries and museums stating that he had particular artworks that he wished to sell and included photographs of the pictures. Soon afterward, he would receive word from the interested buyers. Elmyr would haggle over the price then send the alleged masterpieces via the Railway Express. Once authenticity was determined, which was almost always, Elmyr would be paid handsomely. It was an unusual way to do business at the time, but it worked. Moreover, it allowed Elmyr more time to do the things he enjoyed most, sunbathing, traveling and spending time with Jimmy.

Elmyr also had more time to research new artists. He gathered art books from every source he could and learned the different styles and methods used by the greats. He then moved on to forgeries of such painters as Degas, Braque, Bonnard and Laurencin. He was as successful in imitating these artists as he was with the Picasso, Matisse and Renoir.

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse

According to Talbot, one of the highlights of Elmyrs criminal career was in 1955 when one of his Matisse forgeries was sold to the prestigious Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. It is likely that the painting had been given a rigorous examination before the museum bought it. It was yet another example that showed that Elmyrs reproductions were of superior quality.

Eventually though, the university revealed that the alleged Matisse they purchased was a fake. The discovery launched an investigation that would last almost a decade and involve art dealers and museums around the world. Elmyr remained unaware of the investigation for a while, although he suspected the authorities were on his trail.

It wasnt long before Elmyr sold other counterfeit works. In 1955 and 1956, Elmyr sold several drawings and paintings to a Chicago art dealer named Joseph W. Faulkner. Interestingly, Elmyr did not paint some of the pictures himself but instead sold to Faulkner a couple of already existing reproductions that he stumbled upon earlier during a visit to a museum in Budapest. Irving stated that the large sale was the first known instance of Elmyrs ever having sold a fake that was not of his own creation.

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