Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
People can be very difficult – some more than others.For certain individuals, however, hustling, lonesomeness, and habitual aversion to truth are anything other than values of unguided choice. Rather, these are adopted as survival strategies in an unforgiving world. Quite often, the folks susceptible to a lifestyle rooted in such things are not bad men and women at all. They are, above all else, survivors who not only how – but what it means – to get by.Elmyr de Hory was one of these people.His life was one of boundless talent whose naturally-forged path to glory was met with roadblock after roadblock. Said complications were not the stuff of conventional society – de Hory was forced into a concentration camp during World War II, made to live as a displaced person after escaping the clutches of Nazism, faced with widespread aversion because of his homosexuality, and met with coolness by artistic authorities of his time because they believed his painting style was no longer en vogue.Could that man ever paint! The son of a commonplace Hungarian merchant, he was so skilled with a brush and canvas that his works eventually fooled many of the same ‘authorities’ who never would have thought his creations worthy of purchase – it was believed that Picassos, Matisses, and the like stood in front of them.Little did they know that Elmyr had since begun to emulate the style of masters and perfected his craft so well that some of those very artists believed his paintings to be their own.The story of intrigue, passion, and uneasy glamor which unravels from there is best told by Mark Forgy.“As a young American Midwesterner, I fell under [Elmyr’s] spell …. in 1969 on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, becoming his personal assistant while he became my mentor and closest friend,” Forgy tells on his website. “[Elmyr’s] hilltop villa was my university where, beyond the glamour of the rich and famous, the people I met seemed to spring from the mind of Lewis Carroll. Elmyr also had deeper secrets than anyone knew.”Forgy wrote The Forger’s Apprentice, an aptly titled book which is both an autobiography and a biography of de Hory. He shared his memories of Elmyr with me, and some of these are included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: Elmyr's passing remains one of the most striking aspects of his story. How and why did he commit suicide?
Mark Forgy: In November 1976 Elmyr had the most successful exhibition of his life at a prestigious art gallery in Madrid. All society's luminaries were present, including members of the Spanish royal family. The taint of scandal seemed a distant memory. Elmyr was in his glory. It was the social and professional validation he sought his entire life. At the same time the French government initiated a demand for Elmyr's extradition based on accusations by Elmyr's former partner, Fernand Legros, who was obsessed with his destruction.
On December 7th a tribunal of judges heard the case. The Spanish prosecutor stated three times that they were not there to determine Elmyr's guilt or innocence, only whether the demand conformed with the extradition treaty between France and Spain. A couple months before, a man unknown to Elmyr came to his home and informed him that Fernand Legros had a contract out on him and if Elmyr ever went to jail in France he'd be killed. Elmyr knew it wasn't an idle threat. The criminal complaint contrived by Legros was a clever way of manipulating the legal system to achieve his goal.
When the judges ruled to comply with the extradition demand Elmyr elected to take his life instead of awaiting the fate promised him. He took an overdose of barbiturates and Cognac and died in my arms on December 11th. It was his fear of being murdered - and the impending fall from grace he had finally achieved that made his resolve impenetrable to my pleas that we flee and fight the extradition from another country. I was torn between complying with his wishes and allowing him to die. It remains the nadir of my life and I struggled for years with survivor's remorse.