Posted on: October 4, 2014

In my younger days, back in the 1980s, I remember this one hitting the newspapers, and causing quite a kerfuffle.  ‘The Crying Boy’ was a kitsch mass-produced painting which showed the face of a rather forlorn-looking little chap, with a tear running down his cheek.  Now quite why anyone would want a picture of a weeping child hanging up in their living-room is one thing, but this one  also supposedly came with a curse attached. There are in fact several variations on the picture, which was originally painted by an Italian artist, Giovanni Bragolin, back in the 1950s. Some show a little girl, but it is the Curse of the Crying Boy by which it is more popularly known.

The story broke in September 1985, when ‘The Sun’ newspaper (yes, alright, stop tittering, British readers) ran an article in which a Yorkshire firefighter claimed that on several house-fires he had attended, each contained this picture, and, that whilst the houses were reduced to a smoking ruin, the picture of the weeping boy would remain mysteriously unscathed.  Over the next two months worried readers sent in their own copies of the painting, and ‘The Sun’  – in true Sun style – organised mass bonfires of the mawkish pic.  It is believed that the notorious Kelvin MacKenzie was responsible for unleashing the Crying Boy story on the British public.

Reports of house-fires related to the picture went back to 1973, and often centred around the Rotherham area, for the simple reason that kitsch pictures tended to be popular with the working-classes back then.  I can’t help thinking of the Spanish dancer which was on Vera Duckworth’s wall in ‘Coronation Street’ for years, (my parents had an awful picture of a gypsy carrying a basket of cherries hanging up in our living-room when I was a child). It wasn’t just Rotherham that was affected though. An Italian restaurant in Great Yarmouth was gutted by fire … but a copy of the Crying Boy remained unscathed.  A lady in Paignton, Devon, claimed that her copy was haunted, and would swing too-and-fro by itself.

Urban legend has it that the original artist based the series of paintings on children from an orphanage, and hence it came with a curse, that any house which contained the painting would burn down.  And it would seem that there is some confusion over the identity of the original artist, that in fact Bragolin was the pseudonym for a Spanish artist called Bruno Armadio.  Attempts to trace Armadio foundered.

According to Wikipedia, BBC Radio 4 investigated the story, and comedian and writer Steve Punt came up with the conclusion that the painting was treated with fire-resistant varnish.  A short video of an attempt to burn one version of the picture can be found on YouTube if you browse on Google.

The legend of the Curse of the Crying Boy has endured to this day.  Copies of it turn up on eBay, and apparently there was even once a Dutch fan club devoted to it!  A Brazilian chap, Rodrigo Faria, claimed that Bargolin, the original artist, had made a pact with the Devil, and that all the 28 variations on the Crying Boy were of dead children.  Jeepers.  Faria urged anyone in possession of a copy to throw it away immediately, that with it came nothing but illness and bad luck.

It’s an odd thing.  Sceptics would probably be quite right to dismiss this story as a particularly dodgy tabloid invention, but even so, I actually felt quite superstitious posting this story here!  If you want to see an illustration of the picture concerned, please Google it.  Why on earth anyone would actually want it in their house is another matter entirely.

ADDENDUM: Whilst reading Stephen Young’s collection of true paranormal stories,  ‘Terror In The Night’ , I came across the story of another unsettling painting.   He tells the tale of a picture called The Anguished Man, which had been left to a Cumbrian man called Sean Robinson by his grandmother.  She had kept it in her attic.  His grandmother had believed the artist had used his own blood to create the harrowing picture, and had subsequently committed suicide.  After hanging the painting in his bedroom,  Sean said his house became plagued by disturbing events.  Doors had banged, moans had been heard, and the shadowy figure of a man had been seen.   In an attempt to try and find out more about the artist, Sean had posted his family’s spooky experiences on the Internet, but to no avail.  The painting can be seen easily enough if you Google The Anguished Man.  It shows the somewhat cadaverous head and shoulders of a man with a mouth stretched open in agony, reminding me a bit of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.  Pretty disturbing.



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