Art forgery has always been a lucrative trade, and perhaps few were more successful in the endeavor than Elmyr de Hory, who made a living forging art in the 20th century. His forgeries included works by Picasso, Matisse, and numerous others, bringing de Hory brisk business and international recognition in the art world. Collectors on 5 continents had his works in their possession, and with friends that included Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, and Montgomery Clift, de Hory had no shortage of new clients.
Still, De Hory’s trade of choice was not without its risks. De Hory sold his forgeries for more than 20 years before French art dealer Fernand Legros was accused of selling one of De Hory’s fakes in 1967, after it was discovered the paint was not completely dry. Legros ended up in jail while De Hory received international attention, his story featured in Fake by Clifford Irving, and the 1974 Orson Welles F For Fake. For the next nine years, Legros made it his mission to seek revenge.
Based in France, Legros hired private detectives to watch De Hory’s every move. When De Hory made a trip to Geneva, he contacted local authorities and attempted to get De Hory arrested on fabricated extortion charges. Legros made several attempts to have him extradited to France, where he had taken out a contract to have him killed in prison. The first two failed, but the third, in 1976, was successful. De Hory had just completed the most successful exhibition of his life at a Madrid gallery. Upon receiving the news, he took his own life, overdosing on sleeping pills and cognac.
Though de Hory was known for his mysterious personality, there were those who knew him better than others. His apprentice Marc Forgy knew de Hory for 7 years as his personal assistant and apprentice. De Hory served as Forgy’s mentor, and the two were close friends until de Hory’s death. In his book, The Forger’s Apprentice, Forgy recounts his experiences with the man who successfully forged countless prestigious works of art. From de Hory’s website:
The Forger’s Apprentice offers a unique behind-the-curtain view of de Hory’s Kafka-meets-Marx Brothers world of art, deception, misplaced trust, betrayal, greed, money – and search for the truth by his friend and protégé. This engaging memoir adds surprising revelations to our body of knowledge of a man long shrouded by mystery and a mythology of his own making, finally segregating fact from fiction.