Elmyr de Holy – 1946

By | November 12, 2016

He was imprisoned in a German concentration camp for being both a Jew and a homosexual.


Elmyr de Hory with his forged Matisse


As with many frauds, what is true and what fable is often difficult to ascertain. Elmyr de Hory was born in 1906, probably as Elmyr Dory Boutin, and claimed that his father was an Austro-Hungarian ambassador and his mother the scion of a banking family.

In reality, it seems that de Hory had a comfortable middle-class upbringing but his parents divorced when he was 16 and he moved to Budapest where he lived a bohemian, gay life. At the age of 18, he enrolled in the Akademie Heinmann art school at Munich, Germany to study classical painting. On his return to Hungary he began an affair with a British journalist who turned out to be a spy. De Hory was jailed in the Carpathian Mountains and soon realized that he could improve his lot in prison by painting.

He was released during the Second World War but re-imprisoned in a German concentration camp for being both a Jew and a homosexual. He was badly beaten up and one of his legs broken. Despite the disability, he managed to escape from a Berlin prison hospital. He returned to Hungary where he discovered that his parents were dead and their estate confiscated by the Nazis.

He made his way to France where he began to earn a living by forging art. His first forgery was a “Picasso”, which he sold to a British friend who believed it was an original. De Hory did not copy paintings, but created “originals” in the style of the artist and then lied about their provenance. He met Jacques Chamberlin who became his dealer, selling de Hory’s “Matisses”, “Modiglianis” and “Renoirs” to galleries worldwide. The two men fell out when de Hory learned that Chamberlin was ripping him off by selling the paintings for more than he told de Hory.

In 1947 de Hory visited the United States on a three-month visa and decided to stay. In 1955 one of his Matisse forgeries was sold to the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University and an expert there identified it as a fake. De Hory fled to Mexico where the police accused him of murdering a gay tourist. He returned to America where he attempted suicide. Recovered, he began a relationship with Ferdinand Legros who became his dealer but, like Chamberlin before him, he too double-crossed de Hory.






In 1962 de Hory moved to Ibiza and made up with Legros who continued to sell his paintings, paying him a flat fee of $400 a month. In August 1968 a Spanish court convicted de Hory of being gay and mixing with criminals and sent him to prison for two months. He was released in October 1968 and expelled from Spain. He returned to Spain a year later a broken man. He committed suicide on 11 December 1976.


De Hory was the subject of a documentary by Orson welles, F For Fake, and a biography, Fake! The Story Of Elmyr de Hory The Greatest Art Forger Of Our lime, by Clifford Irving who was himself a forger (search the article).

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