Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on

This Saturday (April 8, 2023) marks the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death.  While many consider it an opportunity to feign appreciation for his shitty artwork, I see it as a chance to write about history’s greatest art forger: Elmyr de Hory.

Elmyr de Hory, circa. 1970

During the course of his 23-year forgery career, de Hory sold more than 1,000 fake works of art (many of them Picasso’s) to museums around the globe. 

After preliminary training in Munich, de Hory attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris where he completed his education as a classical artist in 1928.  For the next 18 years he struggled to earn a living through his artwork. 

His fortunes changed, however, when a wealthy friend, Lady Malcolm Campbell, visited de Hory’s Paris studio in April 1946.  Among de Hory’s works, Lady Campbell saw an abstract piece which she mistook for an original Picasso.  She offered de Hory a large sum for the painting and he gladly sold it to her.

From that day forth, de Hory began forging artworks and selling them to credulous museum officials throughout Europe and North and South America.

His initial forgeries were all of Picasso’s art.  Later he successfully imitated the works of Matisse, Modigliani, and Renoir.

Here are just some of the high-level con jobs he pull off:

  • 1949 – The Niveau Gallery in New York bought a forged Modigliani.
  • 1951 – The William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City bought a bogus Picasso and the Atkins Museum of Fine Arts also in Kansas City purchased a fraudulent Matisse.
  • 1952 – Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum paid top dollar for several fake Modiglianis and a Renoir.

Ultimately, de Hory’s scam was uncovered by Algur Meadows, a Texas oil tycoon, who purchased many of de Hory’s forgeries.  Meadows altered the police and de Hory, knowing that a prison sentence was imminent, took his own life.

De Hory’s career was so legendary that a popular book, Fake! by Clifford Irving, and a big-screen film, F for Fake by Orson Welles, were made portraying it.

According to one source,

There are some art experts who believe that many of de Hory’s forgeries have not yet been discovery and still hang in galleries around the world.

The Crime Book by DK Publishing, page 77.