Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Faking It : Elmyr de Hory - The Century's Greatest Art Forger

Risky Business

Legros and Elmyr struck an agreement that entitled Elmyr to $400 plus expenses every month in exchange for his artworks, as well as an occasional bonus check when sales were especially good. It was further agreed that Legros, and his lover Lessard, would share the risks of selling the forgeries and pocket the remaining profits.

Ibiza view from the water
Ibiza view from the water

Elmyr was pleased with the agreement because he felt he could settle down and not have to worry about the face-to-face encounters that made him uncomfortable. Moreover, he believed it reduced his risk of getting caught. In 1962, Elmyr moved to the small Spanish island of Ibiza, where he planned to settle. He was getting older and he was tired of the constant running from city to city.

In the meantime, Legros and Lessard were selling hundreds of paintings for astronomical sums. They moved to a luxurious apartment in Paris, dressed in the finest clothes and bought fancy cars. They lived extravagantly from the proceeds of the sales, yet Legros greed remained undiminished. Comparatively, they were paying Elmyr a pittance. Sometimes they forgot to pay Elmyr his bonuses and occasionally his monthly stipend as well. In the book Enigma! Lessard explained that Elmyr was kept poor so that he would remain motivated. However, they also knew that if Elmyr received nothing, he would stop working. To keep Elmyr   interested and productive, Legros agreed to build Elmyr a magnificent home on Ibiza. Although Elmyr was pleased with the home, it didnt keep him interested for long.

By 1964, Elmyr began to get bored. As a result, the quality of his paintings suffered. It didnt take long before art connoisseurs started to recognize his increasingly sloppy work. Eventually, the FBI and Interpol were also beginning to pick up the trail again. They also began to suspect Legros and Lessards involvement, since they were involved in selling most of the identified forgeries.

Elmyr de Hory
Elmyr de Hory

Legros and Lessard heard rumors in Paris that the authorities were on the lookout for them. Afraid of getting caught, all three men fled to the Zurich area to determine their next move. Legros decided to send Elmyr to Australia for a short while until things died down. Elmyr stayed approximately a year in Sydney before returning to Europe in 1965. But his problems did not go away during his absence.

By 1966, even more of Elmyrs reproductions were being identified as forgeries. One particular client of Legros, Texas oil mogul Algur Hurtle Meadows, was particularly miffed when he learned from art dealer Klaus Perls that almost all of his forty-six paintings were counterfeits. According to Talbot, it was believed that Meadows owned one of the largest private collections of fake paintings in the world. The discovery led to a series of charges against Legros, who had sold the paintings to the millionaire.

Tensions between the three partners in crime began to grow with the forgery discoveries. It became clear that all three of them were out of a job and the authorities pursuit was gaining momentum. The mounting stress caused frequent disputes over property and money, often ending in violence between Lessard and Legros.

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