Real Fake The Art, Life & Crimes of Elmyr De Hory (2017) Movie Script

And for lot 100,
I have an opening bid
of $100,000.
One hundred? Any bids? 110,000.
Art market
is booming right now.
- 120 on the telephone now.
- 120,000.
Let's face it,
it's a feeding frenzy, isn't it?
...on my right. 160...
The auction houses are having
pretty fantastic success.
...on my right for $230,000.
The art market is,
is totally unregulated.
It's rife with fraud.
At $250,000...
You can open
the "New York Times"
or the "Wall Street Journal"
almost any day
and see some story.
Sort of like the penny
stock market in the 1960s.
It's kinda fun that way,
but you
have to pay a lot of attention.
- The trough is the art market.
- The trough is what's selling.
- Going once.
- Going twice. On for third.
On the hammer, 270,000.
What you're doing is putting
what's going down well
with the animals at the time.
280. Back in. 290.
People collect art
for all sorts of reasons.
Do I hear 300,000?
And to find out that what
you're collecting isn't real.
- Last chance.
- 300,000, I will sell.
I see, probably,
a fake a week,
but I don't get
caught with them.
The concept of "caveat emptor"
is alive and well in the US.
It's just like
your mother told you.
If it's too good to be true,
it's probably not true.
Like many a good tale,
it all started
because of a girl.
Well, sort of.
I saw her across
the crowded room.
Her soft shoulders,
her long neck,
her auburn hair,
her knowing smile.
My friend made
the introductions.
They both baited
compliments out of me.
I had to get to know her,
I had to have her.
And it was then
that my friend told me...
"She's fake."
And that's how
my eight-year long journey
into the art, life, and crimes
of Elmyr de Hory all began.
Let's say
we could find
a Modigliani made by Kisling...
a Modigliani by Elmyr...
and one Modigliani
by Modigliani.
We put these three drawings...
in front of a...
Let's say one...
is a director or curator
of drawings of a...
Of the Metropolitan,
one is a...
and one is a great art dealer.
It could be anyone,
from Knoedler to Perls
or any of the great ones
who consider themselves
great and experts.
And if any of them recognize
which one is which,
I am ready to make a great gift
to the
Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York,
and they can hang it
next to some other Modiglianis
who are possibly also by me.
When you look
at the famous forgers,
you look at Tom Keating
who did Samuel...
Samuel Palmer and Constable,
Eric Hebborn who specialized
in doing old master drawings.
A fellow named Beltracchi
and one named Pireni
at a Qian level...
Very, very talented works.
Van Meegeren of course,
who's famous for doing Vermeers.
It's nothing new.
It's been going on
for probably 2,000 years.
All these people were
pretty much frustrated artists
and so they started to copy
other artists' works
and passing them off
as being by them.
Of course,
for someone like Elmyr,
his fakes were so good,
people would see them
and they wouldn't feel the need
to look much further.
He's a person
who was able to do
a great deal of...
Of tricking others
to a degree that I think
is not possible anymore today.
When you have fakers
coming out now,
you don't have them
having passed off
a thousand works, you have them
passing off 100 or 200 works.
And I think that's largely
because of the new tests,
also sort of a general suspicion
on part of the art world,
so he's sort of
a watershed moment
for the sort of
the history of forgery.
To make first, a point,
I don't copy
paintings, painters.
I paint in a certain style,
it could be the style of Matisse
or the style of Modigliani,
in the style of Picasso,
the style of Dufy.
His forgeries were so good
that many people wouldn't
recognize them as fakes.
A lot of people would
look at an Elmyr
but think that they
are seeing a Picasso
or a Matisse or Modigliani
or some of the other
greats that he faked.
His knowledge of art
was clearly very good.
Technically, he was
a good artist.
So he could replicate pastiche,
uh, other known artists' work.
Um, and he knew
enough about the market
to know how to actually sell it.
Forgers want and need to have
compelling and believable
sounding stories
to go along with
their fake works.
In his case,
Elmyr presented himself
as a sort of
down-on-his-luck aristocrat
whose family had
fallen on hard times
and he was selling off
his collection to help
pay his way.
Everything what I sold
very miserably.
The big money what was made
was never made by me.
It was always made
by the dealers
and the people who resold it.
What I got for it was a...
Was a token.
Like a lot of forgers,
he never identified for anyone
all of the works he did.
So we may never know
how many are out there.
We are never safe
from forgeries, frankly.
I think a lot of people have
sleepless nights about this.
They really do.
And the question is,
really, "How many of them
passed into museums?"
I remember reading
Thomas Hoving's book
about fakes and he claims that
40% of all the works that he saw
when he was
at the Met were fakes.
Things that were
offered to him. 40%.
The conservator friends
suggest that
a full 25% of any one
major museum's holdings,
including things in storage,
are not right.
I never offered
a painting or a drawing
to a museum who didn't buy it.
It's probably true that
there are some in museums
or in the hands of collectors
or their heirs today
that could be found.
- How many are still out there?
- It's a mystery.
Expose the man who holds
the art world
on red hot threads.
When the art world looks
at a painting or whatever it is
and they ooh and aah over it,
and they decide that it's
fantastic and it's wonderful,
when these kinda souls find out
that these pieces
are not legitimate,
I think there's a certain amount
of egg-on-the-face situation.
And I think at that point
they don't wanna talk about it,
because they made a mistake.
It's the ultimate game
of cat and mouse.
And how purchasers...
Unwitting purchasers of fake art
are supposed to know that
I think raises a lot
of very, very difficult
to answer questions.
And certainly difficult
in a legal sense,
and something that the law
just has to struggle with
on a case-by-case basis.
Really, any... any area of
crime within, involving art
reflects what the marketplace
is doing for art.
So, if Picasso is selling well
you'll find there's an influx of
fake Picassos into the market.
Now, how they do that,
whether they do a direct copy
that's the worst thing
they can do.
If they do a pastiche
of an artist,
perhaps he's not so well-known,
perhaps he's
second tier of that
particular area of art,
and therefore it's
unlikely there's gonna be
a complete catalog raisonn
for the art dealer to check on.
But it looks right,
and, hey, it's selling well,
and if he takes it,
"If I don't buy it
off this person.
"He's gonna take it
to a competitor
"who sure as hell's gonna buy it
"and I've got somebody who is
really interested in buying
this particular commodity
right now."
Dealers go for it,
they want to believe.
It's the desire
of wanting to see it right.
And this is what the forger
and the conman is playing on.
Well, the actual art market
itself, worldwide,
is about $200 billion a year.
That's the consumer part
of that art market.
The largest consumer country
in the world
for this type of market
is the United States.
40% of the $200 billion market
is here in the US.
Almost $80 billion a year.
To put it in perspective,
if you take the four major
sports in the United States
baseball, football,
hockey, and basketball,
the total receipts each year
is about $26 billion.
How much of that 80 billion
do you think is caused by fakes?
The FBI,
Scotland Yard, Interpol,
we put together some estimates
as to what the possible
illicit cultural property market
could have been.
And at that time we said,
maybe $6 billion a year.
When we talk about that market,
we are not just
talking about theft,
we are talking about frauds,
forgeries, and fakes,
as well as theft.
And from my experience,
what I've seen,
probably 75% of that market
is frauds, forgeries, or fakes,
it is not theft.
All you know is you went
to a gallery of some repute
and bought something
with the name Matisse
and it looks like a Matisse
and you spent
a lot of money on it,
are you supposed to suspect
that maybe it was
by de Hory all along?
It doesn't want to be
a Matisse.
It just wants to demonstrate
how in short minutes
close I can get to Matisse.
Clearly, I wasn't
the first to be fooled
and probably not the last,
so I packed up a few
questionable works of art
that I had acquired
and headed to Texas,
where apparently
one of the greatest cases
against Elmyr
and his associates
had been formed
by a gentleman of the name.
Algur Meadows,
who had been fooled,
not once, not twice,
but, well, in his own words...
Of the 40 paintings I have
acquired from two Frenchmen,
38 of them were fakes.
Well, there's different tracks
you need to do.
A lot of it is a track
that is focused
on the paintings themselves
and where they're located,
and another track is following
the forger himself.
Visualize a three-legged stool.
Those three aspects
are provenance, forensics,
and connoisseurship.
So provenance is...
That's getting to where
it came from, yes?
Provenance is
the history of it,
it includes
conservation done to it.
People emphasize the sale,
but they should also focus
on the conservation
and other things that were
done throughout its history.
Tell me about
the connoisseurship side.
Connoisseurship is the oldest
of all the practices.
It's looking at the painting...
Does it correspond with
the style of the artist?
Does it have that air,
that aura, that says,
"This is... this is it.
"This is the brush stroke.
This is the... the content...
The subject matter is correct."
On the forensic side, there's
a lot of new developments.
A lot of this technology
being brought in
to identifying, attributing,
authenticating works of art
are technologies
that were initially done
for other industries.
understanding a work of art
has been the world
of the art historian,
the curator.
And with conservators
and scientists
becoming involved
in the museum environment,
we're finding that
conservators have
a certain perspective
and scientists also
can have a perspective
that is valid and different.
And so, these
three different areas
have complementary skills.
So using that
investigative platform
how would you go back in now
and look at Elmyr,
the master criminal?
From the provenance side,
we would look at dealers
in the cities matching with
the cities he lived in.
Then see if you can find
records of their operations
with, say, a sales receipt,
a purchase receipt.
I think a big difference
a forger in Elmyr's day
and a forger today
is Elmyr
could fake his identity
and have an easier time
getting away with it
because, you know,
there was no Internet,
there was no mass media
in the same way.
So Elmyr could present himself
in San Francisco
and have one alias,
then he might be in Texas
or Miami with another alias,
and he just might not
be discovered.
I think it's much harder
to do that today,
but not impossible.
On the connoisseurship side,
if you deal a lot in those works
you get an eye,
you pick up on things.
You get a feel for the artist.
And so, dealers can
weed that out.
We look for style,
signature, medium.
The second thing we're gonna do
is once we document
those particular aspects
of a painting
we're gonna start our research.
And the first thing
we're gonna look for is history.
We're gonna look
at catalog raisonns.
Is the piece
in a catalog raisonn?
We're gonna look, uh,
to see if there's
any literary references.
We're gonna look
at exhibition history.
Has the piece
ever been on exhibition?
Is there record of it
ever being on exhibition?
Thirdly, we're gonna
look at the provenance.
Where did the piece come from?
If there's no traceable
evidence of acquisition,
that does create a red flag.
What's your feeling
looking at it now?
I'd have to say, well,
the color scheme
and the composition
do appear similar
to Leger's other studies.
The actual execution,
from a gut feeling,
doesn't appear to be
in the hand of Leger.
- You're suspicious?
- Yes, I-I'm very suspicious.
Now, in the forensics,
it's more difficult
because a lot of these paints
were used by the same artist.
In forgeries or in something
that has been over-restored,
people will use something
that is not necessarily made
at the right time
for that artist.
So, for example, somebody
forging a Botticelli painting
might have used Prussian blue.
That's a blue pigment
that wasn't available
until several centuries
after the artist had died.
But on the painting,
it looks right.
And so, they'll use it.
And afterwards scientists
can come along
and identify that
the blue pigment
is not azurite or ultra marine
as it should be,
but it is Prussian blue.
And using instruments
that have helped us identify
pigments more carefully,
infrared spectrometry's
been developed to a new level,
and we can take
very small amounts of material
and collect
a very good spectrum,
and then connect
that to a library
and we can identify
pigments that way.
Also, at Harvard, we've
developed a technique called.
Laser Desorption
Ionization Mass Spectrometry.
And it's a technique
where you'll put a sample
of pigment on a plate,
zap it with a laser,
and that will volatilize it,
put it into a mass spectrometer,
and then those very complicated
organic molecules
that are used for modern paint
can be identified.
And if we want
to understand Elmyr,
don't we sort of
have to understand,
I guess it would be his MO?
Why he did what he did?
Why not be a real legit artist
and why do this life of crime?
- How would we go about that?
- What would you suggest?
If we study the person,
his profile, his upbringing,
his background.
Social economic upbringing,
where he comes from.
It sounds like you're
suggesting we go to Budapest.
Budapest, we'll learn
about the history
of that period
in which he comes up.
He has an upbringing,
he has an art education.
You know, what does
he do to be able to survive?
He changes his name.
That's very common
in Jewish people
who went through
the Holocaust.
- Right.
- ...and survived.
But that experience is so heavy
that it can create a person
in a certain mold.
And from that, we'll be
able to know him better
and understand why it was
so easy for him to just
turn away from being
an artist himself
and just flaunt it
with forgeries
to fund a lifestyle.
Yet our intention
is to find out the truth.
Find out the truth
and separate the fake
from the real.
I knew that Elmyr was
a very talented faker,
who had
a very adventurous life,
and who was a very
special character.
But we didn't know very much
about what happened to him
when he live before
here in Hungary.
His original name
was Hoffmann Elemer.
In Hungarian we change
the order of the names,
we put surname first
and then we put given name.
At the turn of the century,
there was a flourishing
artistic colony in Transylvania.
It was called
the Nagybanya colony.
That-that beautiful, lovely
little Transylvanian village.
The translation
actually of this village
is "Huge Mine," Nagybanya.
This is a place where later,
which Elmyr attended
himself, too,
for this was
a really controversial time
after the First War
until the beginning
of the Second World War.
Plenty of new art, unions,
organizations were established.
A lot of kitschy
paintings appeared.
There was a huge battle against
all these kitschy things that
appeared on the market.
But it was
a very good works as well.
There was also a little revival
of avant-gardism.
So Elmyr had lots of...
Lots of inspiration,
and lots of...
Lots of impact, I think,
- on his artistic, character.
- Yes.
And perhaps, I think this
could be a reason why he felt
a little bit overwhelmed
or maybe...
Overwhelmed by other artists
that were better maybe?
Yes, or maybe he felt
that the level
- to be reached is too high.
- Yes.
And maybe it just blocked him
and that's why he
turned to faking things
and not, uh, not living
his own artistic career.
Or maybe more deeper
part of his character,
a more colorful and more
"liar" character.
So this art camp,
or we call it art colony
or artists' colony,
it has a very rich heritage
in this country.
Very famous artists' colonies
like the Nagybanya
artists' colony,
it was a kind
of intellectual circle.
And not only the physical space,
but the common thinking.
But at the same time trying to,
uh, to produce artworks
that can be
distinguished from
other influence
and other area of thinking.
Because everything was basically
happening here on the spot.
And there's a very more...
Very important aspect
of being a member of a...
Of a regular artist colony
like Nagybanya
and many others in this country.
Because it was a kind of brand,
as a brand
it gave you prestige.
You belonged to a certain
intellectual circle
that could give you
some more support.
To be a forger is a very
strange psychological situation.
To be someone and to be
someone else at the same time.
But they need
to expose themselves.
The forgers himself
or themselves
want to be seen somehow.
Not as a forger, but as some,
as the producer of the work.
Yeah, the surface is old,
lot of cracks
on the surface of the color.
Sometimes I see
some bubbles, too.
It means this color
is not 100 years old.
The paint is very creamy.
And I'm not able to see
small grains inside.
When we talk about art
and when we love art,
we love the history,
that which is not seen.
We love that it was painted
by someone who we love.
We love Monet.
We love Tiziano.
We love Picasso.
This is a part
of this whole things
that we... we believe as art.
Several times,
I see artificial aging...
Frothing, make it dirty,
and so on and so on.
When something suddenly
proof to be forgery,
this is an attack
of this kind of knowledge
and this kind of belief
in... in our personality.
And this is something
that's very, very difficult
to... to cure.
Forgery must be served
as fresh as possible.
So the next day is not as good.
The original things are...
Have the same quality
every time.
And gives you new questions.
They have new inspirations,
even at its young,
500 years old.
But you see that, yes,
there is still some power.
A hair.
Maybe the hair
of the artist. Here.
It's so funny.
The forgeries unveil
by themselves, automatically.
This is the time...
The time executes
the forgeries after some years.
We go step by step and measure
each color with XRF gun,
and later on we got
the chemical components.
So, at first, I will
measure the red one.
On red area, we need to find
phosphor with mercury
or red lead.
On the white surface,
cadmium yellow.
And what is the most important
that on white area
it mustn't be titanium white
if this artwork
was painted later on.
So it must be lead white,
a kind of mixture
with zinc white.
I think that, yes,
in aesthetical sense,
the perfect forgery
can be produced.
But art-historically sense,
it's impossible.
- So it's not 100 years old.
- I'm sure.
Now you see, oh, it's very easy
to see yes, it's Elmyr de Hory.
Why did collectors of the 1950s
didn't see that it's bad things?
Because they were
living at that time.
And the forgeries were prepared
for the taste of that time.
Yeah, maybe the paper
was much more older.
I think that even today,
even this moment,
some corner of the world,
a good quality
forged painting is,
uh, made.
I'd say 50.
This painting around
50 or 60 years old.
And if someone ask
if there are forgeries
in an art collection,
the Hungarian National Gallery,
I would say that
as much as I know,
today, we don't know
about forgeries,
but there might be
in 100 years.
So, for me, this whole research
was very interesting because,
when we met,
we started
to investigate a bit...
A little bit more deeper,
we started to dig
a little bit more deeper,
here in Hungary,
in the archives, in databases.
And that opened another
or maybe more deeper
part of his character,
more colorful and more
"liar" character.
I'm not sure that it's here
but I can't really imagine
another Hoffmann Elemer
at the same time.
And it says that, uh...
that, uh, there was a...
The story goes back
to, uh, the last year
when there was a huge case,
that Hoffmann Elemer...
Elmyr Hoffmann... the painter,
was punished by...
Was arrested by the police
because of stealing something.
And later,
against this artist,
Zita Perczel, who was...
Was the actress of...
Hungarian theater.
Yes, we found something
very interesting about Elmyr
in an archive.
Uh, a newspaper article,
And it was about
a very interesting story that,
once he painted a portrait
of an actress.
And while painting this actress
in the apartment of her family,
when they didn't
pay attention, he just
took a few things away.
He has stolen
a few things away,
like silver things
and jewelries.
And of course, the parents
of this actress discovered,
and discovered that he was
a thief basically.
And they went to the police.
The police investigated,
they found everything
in Elmyr's flat.
All the silver,
all the jewelries.
And of course, he was arrested.
It's a funny story,
I think. No?
And he told that, "Well,
those were very,
very strange times."
He doesn't exactly remember
what happened in those times.
Probably, it all happened
because he was in Serbia
when the King was killed.
And he was arrested then
because they thought he's a spy.
And he was even
treated with morphine.
And even Prince Joseph
can tell that it was truth
because while he was
painting his portrait
he was treated with morphine
because he was so
extremely exhausted
and excited and...
And sick, so...
And his lawyer ask him to...
To examine his state of mind.
Whether he's...
he has some psychological
And then I proceeded
to France, to Paris
where I studied
under Fernand Leger
at Academie
la Grande Chaumiere.
And I must...
I must also add that
in this article,
we could read that
he was punished
and he was arrested
before several times.
Not only in Budapest,
but also in London, in Zurich,
and other European cities.
Actually, this is something
that he denied,
and told that
his passport was stolen.
And someone under his name
committed these crimes.
When all of
the other people sort of
tried to get over the Atlantic,
I returned to...
I returned to Budapest.
Just imagine what it's like,
you're in France,
war's about to break out.
The French are getting
a little excited because,
all of a sudden, they realize,
"Well, if there's
Germans coming in
"then everybody with
a Germanic background
is gonna be suspect."
So they are already starting
to put people in prison.
If Hungary's his home,
then the natural thing
to do is go back home.
Elmyr goes back to Hungary.
And Hungary's far away.
So, technically speaking,
it's also a point of escape,
and he is a mischievous,
opportunistic person
based on the background
that we've come to know of him,
so I think, honestly,
it was the right choice for him,
and he probably felt that
being back in the homestead
would allow him to sort of
regroup and figure out
what the next step would be.
The war broke out.
And the stories around, uh,
he is staying
in this concentration camp
are very questionable.
But clearly,
if it's before 1944,
then obviously
it's the Hungarian authorities.
He explains that, um...
he was injured.
His leg, I think
his leg was broken,
and he was sent to hospital.
This... this didn't happen
in those times.
You think that somebody
like Elmyr might realize that
his background
could work against him,
but it can also work for him.
The International
Tracing Service
is really about
anybody who disappeared
or who went missing.
The fact that we do have
so many Hungarian names
is predicated both in part
because of
the Budapest situation,
but also because
so many deportations occurred.
And once you cross
the "border,"
and face
incarceration in a camp,
then, your name will surface.
In other words,
you have to be in a prison,
you have to be in a camp,
you have to be in a place where
you're gonna be registered.
So we use this card index, uh,
to see if we can find anything
on Elmyr's family.
'Cause if we start
to look archives,
we mustn't use his
invented name, Elmyr de Hory,
but we must use,
of course, his original name,
Hoffmann Elemer.
Now, they did confirm
the mother,
they confirmed
that he had a family.
And also another relative,
a relative's grave
was mentioned
in the letter
who was called Adin.
But we couldn't go
too much beyond that.
It's only if he, uh, somehow
just fell off the radar screen,
and he wouldn't be, uh, listed.
But people like
Istvn and Elmyr,
at this point, were sort of
looking at them as a duo,
that enable
one another to do things.
More illicit than licit.
And those are the kinds
of people, frankly, who,
wake up interests
in intelligence agencies.
And if his talents
are known even to Istvn,
and if Istvn is
close to the Germans
for whatever reasons,
then that's the kind of message
that doesn't go unheeded.
Because, by the early '40s...
which is really the foreign
counter-intelligence arm
of German secret service
is looking for people like that,
because they need
fake passports, fake visas,
and if you have
skilled individuals like Elmyr
who were available,
then they're likely
to recruit them.
"I was taught
to question everything."
- Who knows? What is it?
- What makes you travel?
You want
to change your landscape,
you want to meet new people,
you want to meet new faces.
You think you'll meet
somebody more attractive
in the next town.
'Cause you met there.
You never know why...
Why people travel.
A titled Englishwoman
walked in one day to my room,
and she saw on the wall...
Pinned on the wall a drawing.
And say, "Hey, where you
got that Picasso?"
I say, "Well, do you think
it's a Picasso?"
She say, "Well, I know
enough about Picasso
to know whether
it's a Picasso or not."
I say, "Fine."
She say, "Would you sell it?"
I say, "Well, delighted."
So she says, "Well, how much?"
Well, I can't remember saying.
I think 50 pounds,
I think she offered me.
And I did sell it to her.
I didn't feel good about.
She was a friend.
But the 50 pound
helped me a great deal,
because it was the day
of the payment for the rent,
and I didn't have
the money for the rent.
I need to take it
out of the frame,
but it's pretty rigid.
So I think there may be
another canvas attached to that
which would prevent me from
seeing the back of the original.
Yeah, it has that feel.
If a painting's been torn badly,
if a painting is flaking...
If it's been terribly buckled,
crimpled up,
to put it back in a single plane
to consolidate the paint film.
Linings have also
been done, um...
Perhaps to disguise the back
of the original painting.
Let's take a look
in ultraviolet light,
to get a good look.
Um, the varnish...
is fluorescing, which indicates
it's been on there for a while.
If it's been
in a restorer's hands
this might well be
the restoration varnish.
It's uneven.
And the hair,
the pigment in the hair,
fluoresces the same way
the signature does.
So it certainly
suggests that it is
similar paint to that hair.
Now we do think this is,
uh, Elmyr de Hory.
Um, it is very good.
- Yes.
- And, uh...
however, ultimately,
to fool the eye even more...
- Yes.
- ...this is passed off
as a print.
If you look at this image,
you'll see
lines, and they form
a very pleasant face...
- Yes.
- ...of a woman.
And what else do you see?
- Oh, I see a signature.
- Yeah.
We see it's a series.
- It says 23-50.
- Okay.
So the edition is 50,
there's 50 in existence,
and this is the 23rd.
Now, lithographs
are print making technique.
You think of a Crayola crayon
drived across a paper
with texture
what happens to the little bits
of Crayola crayon?
Well, they stay on the paper.
Yeah, on the high
points, on the high points.
When you're drawing
with a wax crayon,
- the longer you draw...
- Yeah.
...the softer the wax gets
and the darker the line.
So what you generally see
is an accumulation of
more and more crayon
on to the surface of the paper.
So let's follow this line down.
Matisse drawings,
line were never
that sure as mine.
He was hesitant.
These are very long
complex lines.
- Yeah, that's a very long line.
- Look at that.
That is a long line.
And it's a lot of
confidence in doing that...
with that starting it
and finishing.
You think he understood that...
This line right here.
- Oh, that went on for a while.
- Yep.
And we can see
it ends over here,
- just when it gets really warm.
- Yep. Yeah. Yeah.
That's a very confident hand.
That's extremely
confident hand.
I want to write uniquely
and exclusively of my work.
And I think my work
is good enough
and is serious enough
to give pleasure and joy
to the people
who will acquire them.
Yes, I have too many girls.
They have to put up with...
How many?
One, with...
Two, three, four, five.
Two boys and five girls.
It's a hard...
It's a hard profession.
I met Elmyr in Palm Springs,
California, in 1964.
I was involved
with Sascha Brastoff...
Very popular
in Southern California,
most known for his
ceramics and his jewelry,
gold jewelry and that...
And the Liberace, the pianist...
...and Howard Shoup,
the high style
fashion designer for MGM.
And also for Judy Garland,
did all of Judy Garland's
for the Judy Garland
television series.
The three of them had a gallery
called the Esplanade
in Westwood, California.
It was kinda like the "in"
gallery at the time,
mainly because of the namesakes
of the ownership.
We had one of the most
unique meetings with Elmyr
at a little restaurant
called the Matador,
a little Spanish restaurant
which was
a favorite hangout for a lot
of celebrity people and that.
And, uh, the meeting
was based on the idea
of Elmyr having an exhibition of
his own work at the Esplanade.
Very unexpectedly,
in that meeting
in the conversations,
uh, the idea of his reputation
being affiliated
with fake or fraudulent art
had come up in conversation.
Prior to that, I had
no true knowledge
of it or anything,
but, you know, as a...
An art collector, art dealer,
art appraiser and so forth,
I kinda related to that portion
in that conversation
very deeply.
And I said, "My goodness.
Isn't this something?"
I was first introduced
to Elmyr de Hory's work
as a little girl
when I would visit Mother's
friends in Palm Beach
or perhaps Miami,
and it just seemed
every great house
had a de Hory or two
juxtaposed amongst all of these
other fabulous collections
of authentic,
original paintings.
And I was rather brazen,
curious, outspoken child, then.
I had to be...
have my enthusiasm curbed,
so to speak.
You know, to not be
so terribly rude as to ask,
"Which one is the de Hory?
Which one is the fake?"
Elmyr offers us a chance
to look at how decisions
were made,
and to understand with...
Where we might have gone wrong,
where a forger can get in there
and take advantage
of a certain system.
Agnes Mongan
was somebody who started
at a junior level in the museum
and worked her way up
to eventually be
the director of the museum.
In a world at that time
that was dominated by men,
she was an important
female figure
and an inspiration for many.
She had these drawings
that were in her collection.
Um, she had access
to the Conservation Department
and all the facilities there.
What the drawings had was,
that they were
made of materials
that were all available
to the artist.
And so, any scientific approach
to try and identify
the materials used
on the drawings
would not have
yielded any evidence
whether they are real or not.
Again, they contain
a veneer of something
that looks genuine.
But when you spend
a lot of time looking at them,
there's something missing.
In this instance,
it's the connoisseurship leg
of the stool that came away
and unbalanced this tripod.
You know, she had the eye.
You know, she was able to
look at these and say,
"There's something
wrong with these drawings.
They don't look right."
- If we, at first glance...
- Yes. we look at this,
our eyes immediately
make the connections,
recognize the image.
And it says to us,
"This is... this is Matisse.
"In fact, here's Matisse,
right back here
looking in" and this would...
- This is a very exciting drawing.
- Yeah.
So that. And it's signed,
"Henri Matisse, 1935."
Everything is right about it
in terms of materials.
The ink is right.
He used a dip pen.
Uh, the characteristics
of the lines are correct.
It is on an artist paper, um,
that is like the, uh,
paper used by Matisse.
There's some writing
on the back.
We do have a watermark
on here, too, right here.
We know that Matisse
did use MBM France paper.
However, there is
a little red flag here.
Perrigo. J Perrigo
would appear...
Was never used by Matisse.
Interestingly enough,
Perrigo arche
was sold in Australia.
So, tell me about
art in your life?
Did you grow up with it
or how did it enter your life?
I grew up in a castle.
So there must have been
lots of it.
We got a few Modigliani's
I've got a Marie Laurencin,
which I think you've seen.
I got a couple of Dufy's.
And, uh, Picasso,
which I don't think...
masters it.
And the lady here...
Who we can't mention...
She bought a huge collection.
And then when
they had a few problems,
somehow or other I ended up
with the collection at a price.
But as you know,
he didn't make much monies
doing his own stuff.
So, then whoever it was
started making him...
Not copy, but make one more.
So, let's say
there are 100 Picasso's,
there must be 150 nowadays.
They're fakes, aren't they?
They're not forgeries.
Because they are not copies,
they're just one more.
So, like, if you...
If Dufy painted...
20, now there are 50.
Where he didn't...
He didn't copy precisely,
but, I mean, as you well know
he used the right paper,
he used the right...
Whatever had to be.
But he was brilliant, I think.
And they say, "Oh, he never
signed Dufy or Picasso."
That's rubbish.
Some of the widows,
they still were alive
and they knew
they were not even aware
of what the husbands had done.
And he would just pay
them a little bit,
and then they would just
sign a document saying,
"Yes, my husband painted this."
And that was it,
it was not that much research.
When I came to Ibiza
for the first time,
the reason was,
in the times of Franco,
there was a lot of repression.
Uh, here was a place
with total freedom,
completely virgin,
very poor, very poor island,
but because of poverty,
it was absolutely beautiful.
We were living without
electricity and running water
in the country.
Ibiza, nobody knew
about it, really.
It was like to get there
the access was like, you know,
you'd fly in a little plane,
the airport was a tiny hut.
The place was so beautiful
and so utopian,
that everybody had the need
to create something out of that.
There was...
It was quite extraordinary.
And in those days, in the '60s,
you had, um...
what you had
if Franco was alive.
So, you had basically
all the criminals
who were being sought after
by Interpol or whatever
living on that island.
You had Nazis.
You had, uh, conmen.
You had everything.
And in fact, you know, well,
the police force in the island
were dressed in remnants
of the Afrika Korps.
'Cause Spain in the '60s
and '70s was, you know,
the church, and, uh,
it wasn't like it is now.
They were like 40 years behind.
The group of people in Ibiza
was called a family.
They were all black sheeps
escaping from our families.
And we created the family here.
It was a beautiful island.
It was a wonderfully
magic time, actually.
It was a fantastic time.
In retrospect, it seems
incredibly innocent.
One of my uncles had a lover
called Angeles de la Vega.
When I arrived to Ibiza,
there was a woman...
She's still alive...
Called Arlene.
An American woman.
She opened a bar, La Tierra.
It would be a little bit like
the Rick's in "Casablanca."
You see people there you knew
from all over the world.
The bar was fantastic.
It was a meeting point
after dinner.
It was run by...
a Jewish American lady
named Arlene Kaufman.
She spoke Spanish impeccably.
but with a Brooklyn accent.
So, it was...
I mean, it was...
And she was a fantastic DJ.
Not "Chumba, Chumba, Chumba,"
but I mean
the best music you ever heard
was Arlene in La Tierra.
The first day
I arrived to Ibiza,
of course, I go to La Tierra.
Angeles de la Vega,
she had a bar next called.
La Sirena Gorda,
The Fat Mermaid.
She was fat also.
"Come, sit down, let's talk."
Then I realize
she was the lover...
Had been the lover
of my uncle Oliveras.
I was really young
and looking quite good.
So she took me to Elmyr's house
as a sexual present.
I wanted to kill her.
I arrive there,
completely naive, I didn't know.
Elmyr already was...
He always looked like
a very old man to me, you know?
I never met Elmyr very young.
He had white hair, small,
with glasses sometimes,
you know?
And I remember, there was
like a sculpture...
A white sculpture of a mermaid
with a male sex.
And I was waiting like this,
and suddenly I realize
I was against
that funny sculpture.
"What? No problem."
Uh, Elmyr understood perfectly
that I was not
going to be there
for what Angeles thought.
And we became good friends.
Elmyr's house, La Falaise,
was very beautiful.
And he invited me
to his villa...
His rented villa in Ibiza,
which I really enjoyed.
And the funny thing
about staying there
was that you never saw him
early in the morning.
His routine was
to get up at dawn.
And there was one...
It was like a sort of garage,
and he used to work in there.
The one thing was banned.
He made it very clear,
"You are not allowed
into that room.
That room was a secret."
And that's where
he painted, you know,
until about lunch time.
There were a lot of artists
in Ibiza in those days.
That was a very...
It was very much
a center of activity...
Of creative activity.
There was a lot going on.
And then, he would
go down to Ibiza Town
where he was a great character.
People loved him.
And, you know, he would sit
at his favorite bar
and have a coffee
and people would say,
"Hi, Elmyr."
- He had a way in court.
- I run him in the Montesol.
We met in that caf...
Whatever the cafe's called...
In Ibiza.
This is a picture that Elmyr
did when we were both in,
uh, Ibiza Town.
And he was sitting at a caf,
as he always did,
particularly on
a Saturday morning.
And, you know, I suddenly
noticed he was doing a drawing,
and it turned out
that he was sketching me
with this rather
ridiculous hat.
And, um, and afterwards,
he tore it off
and gave it to me,
and I'm rather proud of it.
Always when he was
having a drink there or...
coffee or lunch,
there was a lot of people
sitting around him.
- So, tomorrow.
- The party is a big party.
- So, don't miss it tomorrow.
- What time?
- 8:00.
- Thank you very much, Elmyr.
And he was inviting everyone
who'd like to have a drink
or whatever.
So it was incredible.
- He was adorable.
- He was very small.
And he had the mind of his own
as you well know.
He was... he was
giving fabulous party.
Everybody was received
like princes.
And you were living
in another world.
Of course they had
no money problem.
Anybody wants to eat?
He liked to pay with people
from the European aristocracy.
They were the people
who really knew who he was,
and he knew who they were.
And somehow that was
his playground.
He enjoyed being
with those people,
that's who he wanted
acknowledgment from.
He knew the whole
French community in Ibiza.
He knew Jacqueline de Ribes.
He knew my uncle...
He, uh, he knew...
And he had many friends.
He had... Ursula Andress was
a very good friend of his.
He knew Roman Polanski. He was
a very good friend of his.
Fernando Ray, the actor.
I used to see him
with a lot of friends like.
Countess Jacqueline de Ribes,
who was nominated more...
Most elegant woman in the world.
Smilja Mihailovich
was an incredible personage
and a very good friend
of Elmyr, but...
It was fantastic because Smilja
was married to a taxi driver.
When she comes here,
and we don't know why
she comes here,
she pretends she's a princess.
But they used to talk
in Hungarian
or in Yugoslavian,
and they were
insulting each other.
It was fantastic.
I remember her saying...
It's like, "Fuck you," to him.
And in French he was saying...
"Princess of my ass," you know.
Was incredible because
they were very good friends,
but they were fighting
all the time.
He didn't seem
to care a great deal
about the art scene
that was going on.
I mean, he was interested,
but it wasn't...
Wasn't like he was going
to be participant in it.
Pacha organizes
a party for cancer.
And there was an auction
and Elmyr gave us a painting.
And the painting
is in the book of Pacha,
the photo with him.
And the painting is quite ugly.
Because he was fantastic...
Fantastic, but when he
was supposed to do something
it was four flowers
and not very good.
But there's some forgers
who can copy very well,
and then they
have their own style.
He didn't have his own style.
I think he had an extremely
profound understanding
of what other artists have done.
I don't think he had
the same desperate need
or commitment
to realize that in himself.
And the fantastic
thing of Elmyr,
he was unique in this world,
he was inventing.
I mean, you would see
this is a Matisse,
this is a Picasso,
this is a Chagall,
this is a Renoir.
Even Picasso would have said,
"This is mine."
Sometimes in art,
talent is the first thing
that has to be transcended.
It's when you go beyond
your talent
and you go beyond
what you know
or what is known,
that it starts
to become meaningful
and starts to become valued.
I believe he was in jail,
I mean, for a brief time.
After, you know, when he
was in the papers and all that,
I don't remember in what year,
but then they knew.
I don't think he knew,
his paintings were going to
museums as fakes and all that,
and when he finds out,
I think it's when
the bad thing started, too.
His work was at, you know,
the collection of Algur Meadows,
and the Perls,
and, you know, it's like
all scattered around.
- Not as Elmyr's.
- No, not as Elmyr.
Mr. Meadows, how did you happen
get into French modern art
and where did you
start buying that?
In 1961,
my wife passed away.
In 1962, I married
my present wife.
On our honeymoon,
which lasted about six months,
our first stop was Paris.
We went to several galleries
and looking for rounded face.
And we found
about seven altogether.
Six or seven,
and we bought them all.
Well, besides buying
in galleries
did you get paintings
any other way?
Uh, you... you mean,
about the two Frenchmen?
That's another story.
In 1964, my wife
called me at the office,
and said that, uh...
a friend of hers has asked
two Frenchman to come over
and show us their...
Some paintings they had for sale
they had brought from Paris.
"And they want to come at 4:00.
Can you come home early?"
I said, "The very idea.
You wouldn't invite
peddlers or strangers
into our home."
I said, "No,
I won't come home at 4:00."
But I did come home at 6:00,
and the dealers were there.
And they had, uh,
from the back of their car,
they had taken out some six...
Five or six paintings
and had them standing
all around the car.
And so they introduced
and they appeared to be...
gentlemen and...
Then I said, "Well, since
you came anyway,
bring the paintings
out in the house."
Yes. They had certificates.
Signed by, uh, experts,
appointed by
the French government
to authenticate such paintings.
And besides
they had evidence that they...
These particular paintings
had been purchased
from one of the outstanding
auction houses in, uh,
this country.
I met Mr. Meadows'
American attorneys.
I don't remember if you find
his complaint before the exam
before the French justice...
through me
or through the US consulate.
What despair from...
what you gave me
is that it was fine
against "X,"
which means for the US
it would mean "A-Y-Z," huh?
Right. Mr. Smith,
there's something John Doe.
Yeah, John Doe. Exactly.
- And why did he do that? Why?
- Because, uh...
there's two ways to trigger.
I need to examination,
by an examining judge.
One way is to do it
against the designated party,
in which case...
- you have to file a bond.
- Right.
If you find against "X,"
then it is up to
the French examining judge.
The examining judge is going
to investigate the case...
will decide, uh...
whether or not John Doe
is going to stand trial.
Art cases are... they cause
problems for the courts.
The courts are not fans
of having to decide
art authenticity cases.
Ultimately any case
you're gonna be able to bring
in any kind of court,
it is gonna have
some proof of fraud.
And so, you're gonna
have to prove the elements,
uh, same as in any other case...
A loss of...
Some type of loss
or profit or loss of money,
something valuable,
dependence on the information
to make that decision,
and the victim.
So, those are the things
you're gonna have to show.
And in case
of Elmyr at the time,
that's what Meadows
would have had to prove
in his court proceedings.
So, for a judge to come in
and say,
"I think this work is
or is not authentic,"
has ramifications.
And courts don't wanna be.
They don't wanna make
those ramifications.
They don't want to be
market makers.
Particularly for
something that they feel
uncomfortable analyzing.
For the next two years,
they came to Dallas
10 or 12 times,
each time bringing
different paintings.
- And you kept buying?
- I kept buying.
Uh, did you buy,
two, three, four at a time?
Two, three, four,
sometimes eight.
What kind of money
are we talking about here?
Oh, well... the first...
The first deal
was perhaps, uh,
$70,000 or $80,000.
All together...
$600,000 perhaps.
I think there was
an international search warrant.
Legros I believe was, uh...
arrested in Switzerland.
When you have
an international warrant,
it's cooperation between
the two states.
The French asked that, uh,
Legros be extradited
from Switzerland.
Yes, Swiss had a similar system
to the French one
and you can be...
put temporarily in jail
or obliged to stay in a hotel
until such a time
as the Swiss authorities
will make a decision.
Then even the French courts
at that point are still
having to continue a petition.
- Yeah.
- That's not guaranteed.
No, no.
Elmyr, strangely enough,
I don't remember him
telling the French case
which was really
directed against Legros.
It's not illegal
to paint something
in the style of another artist.
Where you cross the line is if
you sign that artist's name
and you're not that artist.
I don't think he knew
his paintings
were going to museums
as fakes and all that.
And when he finds out,
I think it's when
the bad things started.
Well, we found, uh,
some records
that show that Elmyr
had a painting
lent to a friend
who decided to put it
on consignment with Knoedler.
What we do know is that
the forgery by Elmyr de Hory,
it was sold for $60,000
in 1958.
Knoedler is...
it wasthe oldest
and the most prestigious
gallery in America.
Prestige, I guess,
is a qualitative term,
certainly by many accounts.
Lookit. Lookit.
Expose the man
who holds the art world
on red hot threads.
People were not
giving a shit in Ibiza
about what Elmyr was doing.
He was very well liked
in Ibiza,
because he was an outlaw.
He enjoyed his celebrity
a great deal.
And the fact that
it was based on notoriety
didn't seem to faze him.
He started doing
that same painting.
I mean, he would do
a bigger hour of...
whatever, you know,
a Modigliani.
And he would sign their name.
And then he would
sign "by Elmyr."
So, that he couldn't be
charged with fraud
and selling a fake.
But at the same time
it was... it was a real fake.
It was authenticated
by his own signature.
He became a star over night
with his wonderful pictures.
Picasso would get for something
like that of, uh...
$15,000, $20,000.
I will sell it for less.
And years to come,
he said to me
when we were walking
down past the Royal Academy,
he said that you'll find
an Elmyr
in nearly very major collection
in the world.
I would like to see
that poor Hungarian refugee
who would have resisted
of that... of that temptation.
All his life he was in flight,
and running away...
Not the police,
but he was running away from
the people he was involved with,
like Fernand Legros
and two other art dealers
who were after him.
Do you know anything
about those threats
that he received at least?
Well, uh...
I remember
when they killed his dog.
They hang him on a tree.
I think there was
a paper saying that next...
"The next will be you."
I mean, he was like
really cornered.
And one day Elmyr
arrived like usual
to the terrace of the Montesol
with his hippie bag,
and saying...
We thought
he was making a joke.
I had breakfast with him
the day before he died
at the Montesol.
And he said that...
We all knew then that
they were trying
to extradite him
and stand charges again,
and he said, "No.
I will never spend
another day in jail."
He said, "If they... if I know
they're coming for me,
"when they make the decision...
"if they're coming for me,
I'll kill myself.
They will not get me."
And he did.
I think after
many years of running
away from the law
and the lawyers
and people
who wanted to hurt him...
And I think he had
just a moment of panic.
And I just...
It's a shame because
you know he was really...
I mean, he was not going to be
jailed or extradited.
Or even some people say.
Elmyr did not died
and he escape.
The rumor is he was trying
not to go to jail.
And pretend a suicide
and then the ambulance
will arrive
then he will be okay.
They have to be somewhere.
Normally they,
the 44 works that were...
Were fake should
have been destroyed.
This is mean that
there is few of fake
on the market.
That's incredible.
I don't think Elmyr gets
any great pass just by saying,
"You know, what I did
was really good
and therefore it's beautiful,
so it's art."
If he...
If he really believed that,
he could have signed
everything "de Hory."
- I feel that you should burn it.
- We burn everything...
but myself.
It's been said that
beauty is truth
and truth beauty.
But doesn't Elmyr's work
blur that line?
His works were
his own creation,
executed brilliantly
"in the style of."
At the very least,
doesn't his life demonstrate
him to be undeniably
a true original?
But perhaps
what is most troubling
is that we are left to judge,
exercising our own
moral compass,
empowering our own aesthetic,
to offer opinion on beauty,
truth, value.
We may never know
how many works he created
during his career,
nor how deeply
they have penetrated
galleries, museums,
private collections.
And we have no way
of truly anticipating
his continued impact
on the art market.
But one thing is certain,
Elmyr de Hory will forever
influence how we look upon art.
And in that, he has ensured
himself a page in art history
as an accomplished,
celebrated real fake.