Elmyr de Hory cheated the world’s
most famous auction houses

This is not an original Modigliani, it's an original fake from 1963 painted by Elmyr de Hory
(The illustration is taken from the book "Fake", 1969, by Clifford Irving)

Maybe the word quality isn’t the right one speaking about art forgeries but some names have created tremendous respect around them, because of their great skills and impressing ability to cheat even the world’s most famous experts.


The career of Elmyr de Hory began one particular afternoon in April 1946, when he sold a "Picasso"-drawing to lady Malcolm Campbell for less than $100, an amount that in those days was more than enough to settle down in Paris for a while, the city of cities including aperitifs at the famous “café de l’art”. Le Dóme among other celebrities Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, James Joyce passed some of their spare time. De Hory’s next victim was one of the gallery owners in Paris, who bought three "Picasso"-drawings for $400. Now de Hory had enough money to travel, and his next stop was Copenhagen from where he headed towards Stockholm and checked in at Grand Hotel. He walked into a gallery and offered them four "Picasso" drawings, which he claimed came from a aristocratic Hungarian family. Two gallery-people and an expert from Nationalmuseum Stockholm came to his hotel, and after some “small-talk” they approved the genuineness and paid $6.000 for the pictures. Elmyr de Hory had made his first international big deal.


From Stockholm he now via Rio de Janeiro headed toward New York, where he exhibited works of his own at Lilienfeld Galleries (with nice reviewing) and probably (here we have some contradiction in statements) sold two Dufy-forgeries to the actor Zsa Zsa Gabor. One Saturday morning in the autumn 1947 de Hory visited Paris Galleries. The owners name was Klaus Perls. He “swallowed” two “Picasso-pictures”, a gouache for $750 and a drawing for $250. The latter should later on be the very person who made de Hory a hunted man.


In New York the bills grew faster for de Hory than the income, and because of this he travelled again, this time to California. With his great charm and world manners he was quickly introduced to the proper circles and he sold his falsifications to known galleries. His work tools consisted largely from old paper, a little bit of Chinese ink and a feather pen and with Picasso motives in his suitcase. But now he felt that the time had come for expansion of his assortment and deepened his activities to Matisse-, Modigliani- and Renoir forgeries. One of the main suppliers was the gallery owner Earl Stendahl in Los Angeles, who made a fortune working together with de Hory.


But some times later on, it all went wrong for Elmyr de Hory. After a flying visit to Dallas he returned to Los Angeles and bumped some particular day into a Beverly Hills gallery, where Frank Perls, Klaus Perls' brother was sitting behind the disk. In de Hory’s luggage he braught two “early Renoir”, two “Picasso”, some “Matisse” and finally a “Modigliani” portrait of the painter Soutine. Pearl showed some interest but suddenly he discovered some similarities, showing that it was all falsifications done by the very same hand. He became furious through the “art-pieces right into de Hory’s head and gave him 24 hours to get out of town.


The years thereafter de Hory travelled from place to place in The United States, and he had no big trouble getting rid of his stuff to museums, galleries and businessmen with their pockets loaded with cold cash. Among the buyers was the Museum of Modern Art and also Knoedler, the latter an older well-reputed (and even to day) an active art company, which had some years before competed with the legendary and fully corrupted Joseph Duween (who was told to be the worlds largest art dealer in an ironic way of speaking) competed to be the supplier to the greatest art collectors in history. Names like Rockefeller, Frick, Huntington, Melion, Bache, Kress and others. De Hory’s  goods assortment now became enlarged with "Braque", "Derain", "Bonnard", "Degas", "Vlaminck" and "Laurencin". And many of them were sold by mail. At a certain time de Hory settled down in a flat in Murray Hill in New York, where one could see Marylyn Monroe among the housewarming guests. Another visitor, who was accompanied with an invited medical practitioner, (this young man smelled like garbage from Bovery), a young man whose name was Fernand Legros. He was going to be de Hory’s art dealer for the next 20 years, an alliance which ended up being fatal for both.


In U.S.A. the earth began to burn under de Hory’s feets, more forgeries were discovered and exposed and with the F.B.I. close upon his heels he escaped in 1959 to Europe, to Paris and 1962 he settled down on Ibiza. Here he lived in a smaller house and later he bought the luxurious house La Falaise, quite a new building high up in the mountains, where he held fashionables cocktail-parties for the Natives as well as for the islands holiday playboys and playgirls, amongst them the singer Nina, “the better part” of Frederik van Pallandt. In the meantime his two art dealers, Legros and a the Canadian Real Lessard travelled around the world selling his “art”. In Tokyo they sold, among other pictures, an oil painting of "Derain", a "Dufy"-gouache and a "Modigliani" drawing to The National Museum of Western Art for $ 250.000.


The year 1964 marked the ending of the de Hory adventure. Fernand Legros met in Texas the money roller the chief of the general American oil company Algur Hurtie Meadows’ art collection to whom he in a very short time sold for Millions of dollars.


But one day in the year 1967 Klaus Pearls, the very person who was tricked by de Hory with two of his false Picasso paintings, stood facing Meadows art collection, and his spontaneously spoken word were: “Forgeries, all together forgeries.” Legros and de Hory now became almost outlaws but succeeded once more for another ten years or so to escape and to do their business. In 1983 Klaus Perls was fooled once again, when he bought a false "Modgliani" from a source who had also pulled the legs on the famous museum Tate Gallery in London and forced Sotheby’s to cancel an auction with an estimated value about a million dollars. Art swindlers are evidently getting easily around doing their dirty business.


In December 1977 the local authorities at Ibiza decided to hand over de Hory to France, which for at least 10 years wanted to put him to trial accused in more cases for dealing with false art. But Elmyr de Hory cheated one last time the whole world of art by taking a bunch of sleeping pills the very day before the handover should have taken place. Fernand Legros was a couple of years later sent to prison for two years, and he died 1983 as a poor man.

Elmyr de Hory became one of the greatest and the most famous art swindlers the world has ever known. Nobody knows the exact figure, but some has indicated that de Hory in his whole carrier sold falsefications for more than $100 Millions. And many of them will probably for many years to come circle around the world taken for genuine art.

The main part of the information in the above mentioned is due to Clifford Irving's book Fake from 1969, which deal with the life of de Hory, one that the latter insisted to be thru lies. Irving was later accused for being a croock himself and was condemned to prison for a false biography about the American eccentric person Mr. Howard R. Hughes, Jr. one of the “top twenty” money-makers, and portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar rewarded film from the end of 2004, the film called “The Aviator” with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Hughes.

Orson Welles played in 1975 the film F for Fake, which is a story about de Hory’s life. You can still buy it in a videostore.

© Preben Juul Madsen  www.artfakes.dk