The Museum of Hoaxes
hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1868 1869-1913 1914-1949 1950-1976 1977-1989 1990s 2000s
The Hoax Archive — A collection of the most notorious deceptions throughout history
Art Hoaxes
Michelangelo’s Cupid, 1495. As a young man, Michelangelo sculpted a sleeping cupid. He, or an accomplice, then buried it in acidic earth to give it an appearance of great age. The plan was to pass it off as an antiquity, to fetch a higher price. The artificially aged sculpture was bought by Cardinal Raffaello Riario of San Giorgio who, when he learned of the forgery, demanded his money back. But impressed by Michelangelo's talent, the Cardinal didn't press charges. Continue…
The September Morn Hoax, 1913. The French painter Paul Chabas completed "September Morn" in early 1912. The painting shows a young woman demurely bathing nude by the edge of Lake Annecy in Haute-Savoie, France. When Chabas showed it that year at the Paris Salon, it won a gold medal of honor. Critics praised it. But when copies of the painting made their way to America, it provoked a bitter controversy there about nudity, art, and public morality. Thanks to this controversy,... Continue…
The Disumbrationist School of Art, 1924. In 1924, Paul Jordan Smith, a Los Angeles-based novelist and Latin scholar, painted a picture of a South Seas islander holding a banana over her head. He intended the picture as a spoof of abstract styles of modern art such as Cubism, and as a joke he entered it into an art exhibition. He claimed it was the work of the Russian artist Pavel Jerdanowitch (a name he had invented), the founder of the Disumbrationist School of Art (another invention... Continue…
Van Gogh’s Ear Exhibited, 1935. The illustrator Hugh Troy was frustrated by the crowds at New York's Van Gogh exhibit, which made it hard for art lovers such as himself to view the works. He was also convinced that most of the people were there out of lurid interest in the man who had cut off his ear, not out of a true appreciation for the art. To prove his point, he fashioned a fake ear out of a piece of dried beef and mounted it in a velvet-lined shadow box. He snuck this... Continue…
Naromji, 1946. A woman displays "Three Out of Five" by Naromji. (Life Archive) In November 1946 the Los Angeles Art Association included a painting titled "Three Out of Five", by a previously unknown artist, Naromji, in an exhibition of abstract art. The work hung beside works by well-known modern artists such as Helen Lundeberg and Stanton Macdonald-Wright, and it was given a price tag of $1000. But the Art Association was embarrassed when, at the end of the... Continue…
Han van Meegeren, 1947. In 1947 Han van Meegeren (1889-1947), a Dutch artist and art dealer, was arrested for collaborating with the Nazis. He was charged with selling a painting by Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) titled 'Christ and the Adulteress' to Reich Marshal Hermann Goering. This painting was considered a national treasure, making it a crime to sell it to the enemy. Van Meegeren admitted selling the painting to Goering, but he defended himself by revealing that the... Continue…
Ghost Artists, 1952. On February 5, 1952, a small ad ran on the theatrical page of the Washington Post offering the services of a company of "ghost artists": "Too busy to paint? Call on the Ghost Artists? We paint it, you sign it." The idea of ghost artists caught the interest of the media, and a report about the company went out over the wire services and appeared in newspapers nationwide. The ghost artists were said to be earning lucrative fees from executives who... Continue…
Pierre Brassau, Monkey Artist, 1964. Paintings by a previously unknown avant-garde French artist named Pierre Brassau, exhibited at an art show in Sweden, won praise from critics. What they didn't know was that Brassau was a monkey. A journalist had come up with the idea of exhibiting his work as a way of putting critics to the test — would they be able to tell the difference between modern art and monkey art? The critics failed the test. Continue…
The Unraveled Weaving Hoax, 1974. At the 12th Annual Mid-Mississippi Art Competition, held in October 1974, there were gasps and cries of surprise when artist Alexis Boyar walked up to the stage to receive the blue ribbon and $50 cash prize he had won for his entry in the weaving category. The shock wasn't caused by the art. Rather, it was caused by the artist himself, since he didn't seem to fit the entrance criteria. Specifically, he wasn't human. He was, in fact, a 6-year-old... Continue…

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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.