The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Bernard Welt presents … The Crying Boy *

* (Halloween countdown post #12)

 

The Crying Boy is a mass-produced print of a painting by Spanish painter Bruno Amadio, also known as Bragolin, that was popular in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.

On September 4, 1985, the British tabloid newspaper The Sun reported that a fireman from Yorkshire was claiming that undamaged copies of the painting were frequently found amidst the ruins of burned houses. He stated that no firefighter would allow a copy of the painting into his own house. Over the next few months, The Sun and other tabloids ran several articles on house fires suffered by people who had owned the painting.

By the end of November, belief in the painting’s curse was widespread enough that The Sun was organising mass bonfires of the paintings, sent in by readers.

-The Crying Boy at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crying_Boy

 

 

The legend around this painting is as grim as it gets. The stories began around 1985, when several mysterious fires occurred all around England. When the debris was sifted through the only item that remained un-charred was a painting of a little boy with a tear rolling his cheek in every fire. Could this all be coincidence?
Whether real or not a Yorkshire fireman was so upset that he talked with the “Sun” newspaper in England. They ran his story about how everything in the home was consumed by fire except for a painting of a crying boy. There were at that time more than one of these paintings around and each seemed to have the same effect. The home and all contents would be totally destroyed but the painting of the little crying boy would not show any sign at all of going through a fire. The newspaper began receiving telephone calls from people all over the area that had similar stories to tell about the crying boy painting.

One person that called the “Sun” was Dora Mann of Mitcham and she has been quoted as saying “Only six months after I had bought the picture, my house was completely gutted by fire. All my paintings were destroyed, except the one of the crying boy.” After one month of hearing all the tales, the “Sun” gave their readers the chance to bring their crying boy paintings and agreed to have a very large bon fire to rid everyone of this cursed or jinxed painting. All paintings that were brought to the newspaper were in fact burned and everyone rejoiced. 

However, the story goes on. There have been reports of the crying boy painting being found in charred homes untouched since 1985 and as recent as 1988. 

No one knows for sure who the artists might be and where he got the idea to paint a portrait of a crying boy, the rumors are many and the tale is still around. The fact is beware if you find a beautiful painting of a sad, little crying boy.

-At a website I can’t be bothered to type the name of
http://thelongestlistofthelongeststuffatthelongestdomainnameatlonglast.com/haunted12.html

 

 

Something very bizarre surfaced in London in 1985. The “Sun” newspaper-which has a fondness for the absurd-ran a story about Peter Hall, a Yorkshire fireman who was disturbed by the fact that his brigade had been called to a number of domestic blazes in which the entire contents of a series of houses had been destroyed; everything, that is, except a single painting which hung undamaged on a wall. It was not necessarily the same painting, but of a kind always depicting a tearful child-one of a series which portray a boy. Somewhere between two and five years of age, with tears welling up in his unnaturally large and limpid eyes. The kids are not in any obvious pain, but are wistfully, sadly, attractively unhappy in ways calculated to make you either melt or vomit, depending on your taste. They are available in any colour or complexion and have become very successful commercial icons throughout Europe; but there is not a fireman in Yorkshire who will allow one into his home.

With good reason it seems. The newspaper was besieged with calls in response to the story. Dora Mann of Mitcham said: “Only six months after I had bought the picture, my house was completely gutted by fire. All my paintings were destroyed, except the one of the crying boy.” Sandra Craske of Kilburn reported that she, her sister-in-law and a friend had all suffered from fires since buying the picture. And Linda Fleming of Leeds and Jane McCutcheon of Nottingham had similar tales to tell. This was on 4 Spetember 1985. Five days later Brian Parks of Boughton destroyed his undamaged copy of “The Crying Boy” after fire put his wife and two children in Hospital. And on 9 October, Grace Murray was admitted to Stoke Mandeville hospital with severe burns after a fire in her Oxford home which left her painting “almost undamaged”. On 21 October the Pavillo Palace in Great Yarmouth was consumed by fire, all, of course, except for its copy of the tear-jerking child. Three days later Kevin Godber of Herringthorpe watched his home go up in flames. The painted boy survived, but pictures on either side of it on the same wall were destroyed.And the day after that, the Amos home on Merseyside was destroyed by an explosion which left two “crying boys” intact, one in the living room, one in the dining room. Mr Amos took pleasure in destroying these himself. At the end of that eventful month The “Sun” announced that it was inviting readers to send in their copies of the pyromaniacal painting for mass burning. Thousands did and the supervising fire officer observed that they all burned beautifully: “We listened for muffled cries, but all we heard was the crackle of burning paint.”

But that was not the end of the story. Soon after the Suns big bonfire the newspaper found itself embroiled in strike, production turmoil and violent mass picketing at its new plant. William Armitage of Weston-super-Mare was burned to death in his home, where a copy of “The Crying Boy” was found intact, lying on the floor beside his body. One fireman at the scene said: “We have all heard of this jinx, but when you actually come across the picture in a gutted room, it is most odd.”

It certainly is. To me the most interesting feature of the story is that it involves paintings which happen to be portraits. Human likenesses. You never hear of jinxed landscapes or haunted copies of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. The stories, the folkloric elements, are always firmly atached to representations of people. Oscar Wilde mirrored such concerns in “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, which did it’s owners aging for him, safe in the seclusion of the attic. There are reports of painted images which have actually changed, including a Greek orthodox icon of the Madonna which suddenly grew a third arm. It accomplished this in full view of the congregation in Madaba, Jordan in 1978. The whole thing is absurd until you know that in Orthodox iconography, such portrayal has symbolism which is clearly understood. It means “something out of the ordinary, something universal”.

I do not believe such thing are coincidental. They are incidents with an axe to grind. They tend, if one looks carefully enough, to be deeply rooted in culture and belief. I am certain it is no accident that all the children in the “Crying Boy” have preternaturally large eyes. These send the sort of signals ethologists classify as ‘supernormal stimuli’, playing on the fact that our first responses as infants are directed to the eyes of adults around us. Eyes remain vital social signals for us all, and we share the comon experience of having been at some time in a room with a portrait whose eyes “seem to follow you wherever you go”…….

-Commentary from The Unexplained Mysteries Discussion Forum on the Crying Boy
http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/lofiversion/index.php/t2093.html

 

 

Apparently the Crying Boy painting gets pissed off if you’re not nice to it:

THE CRYING BOY CURSE HOAX

The Crying Boy (TCB) is a mass-produced painting and exists in several forms. The subject is a boy ranging in age from 4 to 10 years old. His clothing and the painting style differ depending on what period the artist has set him in. The jinx story seems to have been started by “The Sun” (a British tabloid i.e. cheap newspaper) in 1985 and went from strength to strength with all sorts of reasons (the boy was a Romany whose family placed the curse, the boy was an orphan, the boy himself had died in a fire etc). One version of the myth is that the original TCB picture was a portrait painted by a Spanish artist and that the subject was an orphan. The artist’s studio burnt down and the boy himself was later killed in a car crash. Psychics claimed the boy’s spirit was trapped in the painting and that the curse extends to all the many different versions of the painting! The curse apparently only affects those who are aware that the painting is cursed – hardly surprising since any subsequent misfortune will get blamed on the painting.

On 4 September 1985 “The Sun” ran a story reporting that TCBs were jinxed. Yorkshire fireman Peter Hall was quoted as saying that unscathed copies of TCB were frequently found at the scenes of fires. He and his colleagues were serious enough about this to vow never to allow the painting into their own homes. Peter’s own brother, Ron Hall (Swallownest, South Yorkshire), had ignored this warning: fire damaged his kitchen and living-room, but the TCB in the living-room wall unscathed. The jinxed painting was destroyed by his family.

“The Sun”, 26th October 1985 carried a follow-up report on collection of TCBs for burning, thus fuelling (pardon the pun) TCB curse stories. By this time, its jinx story was building up quite a following. Also a summary of improbable incidents. A male stripper’s fire-eating act went wrong after he taunted his wife’s TCB. A woman blamed the death of her husband and 3 sons on TCB. Dr Peter Baldry of City University, London, cited saying there was no reason why TCB pictures shouldn’t burn. Roy Vickery, secretary of the Folklore Society, speculated whether the artist had mistreated his model resulting a vengeful curse (no mention of whether all artists had mistreated the models for all versions of TCB though!).

“The Sun”, 31st October 1985 carried yet another follow-up report, keeping the story going. “Thousands” of TCBs were burned under supervision of the fire brigade. This ritual burning was later transformed (by the process of urban legend, faulty memory or a reporter giving the story a new lease of life) into the story that the warehouse where the paintings were being kept had suffered a fire which destroyed the paintings. The Sun also carried further reports of TCB jinx. Sandra Jane Moore’s home had been flooded after she’d drawn punk hair on her friend’s TCB. Mrs Woodward (Forest Hill) blamed TCB for death of her son, daughter, husband and mother.

“The Guardian”, 1st November 1985: The Guardian, one of Britain’s broadsheet (quality) newspapers, carried an entertaining account of The Sun’s TCB bonfire. It wrote that Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie was a believer in the TCB curse and that he “went bananas” when a prankster hung a TCB in his office. The Guardian’s account notes the refusal of several fire brigades to join in the burning.

After 6 months, it was reported that TCB would reward those who were kind to the painting. “The Sun”, 20 March 1986, wrote how Bob Cherry (Glasgow) claimed his rescued TCB brought him nothing but good luck. One day when his old car broke-down in a lay-by, he noticed a TCB propped up by a dustbin. He put the picture in his car and the vehicle started first time and had given him no problems ever since (give it time, Bob!) Within a week of rescuing TCB from the dustbin, he had won £20 at bingo, £4 on the football pools and £11 on a fruit machine.

-From the Dragonqueen’s homepage
http://www.messybeast.com/dragonqueen/cryingboy.htm

 

 

I’m not sure what this is about except that apparently when you turn the picture sideways, it looks kinda like a fish is eating Crying Boy’s head. Isn’t this true of any picture of anyone wearing a shirt with a collar?

 

 

In the 80s the hugely popular Crying Boy paintings became a tabloid sensation when they seemed to repeatedly emerge from house fires completely unscathed. This led to widespread speculation that the painting was jinxed and actually causing the fires. In Radio 4’s Punt PI, Steve Punt investigates the supposed curse of the Crying Boy. With the aid of Martin Shipp of the Building Research Establishment, he sets fire to one of the paintings in order to see whether it really won’t burn…

 

 

An idea that’s floated around at some internet forums is that if you hang a crying girl painting across from your crying boy painting, the curse is “nullified.”

 

 

There’s a page on The Crying Boy at Kindertrauma, a website “about the movies, books, and toys that scared you when you were a kid. It’s also about kids in scary movies, both as heroes and villains. And everything else that’s traumatic to a tyke!”

 

 

Quasimondo thinks the Crying Boy image becomes more interesting if you animate the tears.
http://www.quasimondo.com/archives/000104.php

 

 

WARNING: DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO CLIP unless you are willing to test the Curse of the Crying Boy—by looking at an image while some “spooky” music plays.

 

 

Appendix 1:

 

Just Above the Mantelpiece by Wayne Hemingway is a book on “mass-market masterpieces,” with a chapter on the Crying Boy, and lots of other big-eyed kids.
http://www.amazon.com/Just-Above-Mantelpiece-Mass-Market-Masterpieces/dp/1861541945/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208098307&sr=1-1

 

 

BIGEYEDMASTERS really wants to spread the word about the putative greatness of artists such as Margaret Keane, Majo, Franca, Gig, Lee, and Eve.

 

 

Megan at besmirched is “totally obsessed with big, poor, pitiful, weepy, sad eyes”—so much so that she gloms on to images of puppies, kitties, and dear little birdies. No mention of E.T., though.

 

Appendix 2:

 

“The Hands Resist Him”

“The painting appeared on eBay in February of 2000. According to the seller, the aforementioned couple, the painting carried some form of curse. Their eBay description claimed that the characters in the painting moved during the night, and that they would sometimes leave the painting and enter the room in which it was being displayed. Included with the listing were a series of photographs that were said to be evidence of an incident in which the female doll character threatened the male character with a gun that she was holding, causing him to attempt to leave the painting. A disclaimer was included with the listing absolving the seller from all liability if the painting was purchased.” (Wikipedia)

Bill Stoneham, the artist, has a page on the painting
http://www.stonehamstudios.com/haunted.html

When I painted the Hands Resist Him in 1972, I used an old photo of myself at age five in a Chicago apartment. The hands are the ‘other lives.’ The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm.

As I recall, both the owner of the Gallery where ‘Hands’ was displayed and the Los Angeles Times art critic who reviewed my show were dead within a year of the show.

I’m sure it was coincidence, but some of what I paint resonates in other people, opening the inner door, or basement. By the way, I still have no idea what happened to the character actor who bought the painting at the show (editor note: it was John Marley, who died in 1984), or how it ended up abandoned in a building, though I could speculate. – Bill

 

Appendix 3 (marginally related):

Sam Taylor-Wood makes pictures of famous actors crying. Some people seem to like them; I sure don’t.

 

http://www.whitecube.com/exhibitions/newwork/

 

Appendix 4: More evil crybabies

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** David, Hi. Enjoy Liverpool’s mysterious charms. ** Ian, Hi, Ian! Are you liking your part in the construction biz? Is winter’s imminent arrival daunting in that regard? I’m happy to have occasioned you finding a book you like. Stuff’s good here, a bit crazed finishing the Haunt game project and sweating the event hosting part, but good. Take it easy, man. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Oh, cool, score on the post. The big P has its arms eternally open when it comes to you if I have anything to  say about that. I am curious as to what Budapest is exactly. One of these days. Yeah, the event is getting scarily close and anxiety is starting to become its main if not only effect. Eek. I totally understand that love’s loneliness. Spiders are underrated roommates, for sure. However … love’s shoulders unhunching because the mosquito he was sharing his bedroom with has finally realised that it’s cold outside which mean it’s time for it to die like a good mosquito, G. ** Misanthrope, Happy you dug it, pal. They say that having a brain that picks things apart is one of the big preventatives re: Alzheimers. Identifying what constitutes enabling and stopping doing what you’ve identified could help matters, it’s true. I hope ‘Dune’ does for you what its enraptured viewers are saying it does. Although your liking it might be an Alzheimers invitation, so be careful. ** Bill, Yeah, back when that post originally ran, which is well over 10 years ago now, buying those books was a cake walk. Sad. Me too: Dodie’s book. I might go check today, although I’m virtually positive it’s too soon. Are you still working on your gig? How’s that going, if so? ** David Ehrenstein, I’d love to meet Wes Anderson, but I think he moves in much tonier circles than I do. My eyes are peeled though. ** Steve Erickson, Ah, I look forward to reading that, natch. Everyone, Steve has reviewed Nobuhiko Obayashi’s undoubtedly great film LABYRINTH OF CINEMA here. (The page is pretty crowded, but it’s around the halfway point if you scroll down.) And he has just released his longish-in-the-works EP IN SEARCH OF, which you can improve your weekend by listening to here. Yes, the Baldwin gun thing is an awful head scratcher. ** Okay. I thought restoring this old post made by Bernard Welt would make a fine Halloween-relative experience for you, and of course I hope you’ll agree. See you on Monday.

16 Comments

  1. David

    Thanks Dennis… I’m back in London now.. my suitcase was as heavy as a fat old Rottweiler… on wheels but a nightmare to drag…’woof woof.!’ … and I had two backpacks to boot… I felt like a walking crucifixion on slowplay shifting to and from the train stations… miserable to leave as always…. (gets all dramatic) “Den.. my shielded face bled creatures across pale terracotta features, stationary infernal madness; all wild beasts know of my sadness!!”

    We had one of these ‘crying boy’ pictures on our living room wall when I was a lad… if was short lived though, as my siblings and I took it in turns to throw things at it… a pen from what I remember hit and stuck in… when Mom came back we pretended it was damaged already… and she got a refund…. we also used to chew bread and throw it at the kitchen wall to see who could get it the highest… bread mixed with saliva… finally I had something I was good at doing!!

    Some years back the Queen (of england) attended a special concert where various folk performed for her… and a number of her favourite people turned up to speak…. including Jenny Agutter of the ‘Railway children’ I always remember imagining the Queen saying “I was everso disappointed when I heard one of the railway children was going to be here…and I saw it was Jenny, as I thought it was going to be Jon Venables” (if you know the story you will get the joke) Can’t imagine any other boy shedding more tears than him….

    I now have a week of fucking dieting and running like a mad man… else I will end up like a fat dog being dragged on four wheels!!! have a splendid weekend pal xx

    • Billy

      That’s the best Railway Children joke I’ve ever heard

      • David

        Thanks Billy

        • Vanessa Bergstrom

          sick fuck. fall down a manhole and drown in a river of shit. that will compensate for the “joke”.

          • Maud Lin

            Something’s crawling up the kangaroo’s leg… happy Hal….

  2. Dominik

    Hi!!

    Sounds more than tempting; thank you! And I don’t want to sound so sour about Hungary all the time. If one doesn’t live here, Budapest is actually a fun and beautiful city, I think. So, you know, if or when you feel like making the trip, you’re more than welcome, too!

    Uh, I can relate to that. I’m a generally anxious person, but when something I’m really looking forward to is ALMOST happening, I’m a wreck. Even if it’s technically not my own thing. Is there anything that you’re worried about in particular? I start keeping my fingers tightly crossed for you, just in case!

    Nice, yes, I mean, poor mosquito, but she must’ve made love’s life hell, so… that’s the way it had to be! Love sneaking into the home of his old PE teacher who used to humiliate him in front of the whole class for fun for years and hanging a Crying Boy on her bedroom wall, Od.

  3. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Hahahaha. You know, one of the things people (I think) miss with you, either in your writing or just personally, is your sense of humor. You made me laugh again today.

    But you’re right re: picking things apart and finding out the enabling aspect. I think I know what the latter is, but it’s tough with him living here and right in my face all the time, you know? Ugh.

    Like, how do you get tougher/do a tougher love thing and not have that spiral out of control? Or do you just let it and hang on for the ride? I don’t know.

    So much easier to do if the enabled lives 3 hours away.

    Yeah, this Dune thing. There are people in the Timothee group on FB who are not exactly thinking it’s the greatest thing ever, haha. But I’m going into it like I approach any work. And I mean, frankly, I’m kinda on some people’s shit list in that group because I’m so critical of his movies and his role choices (read: Willy Wonka, etc.). He’s made a couple really shit movies and no way am I gonna say they’re great just because he’s cute and he’s in them.

    Anyway, onward and upward. I hope your weekend goes really well.

  4. Misanthrope

    And btw, this story in this post today is creepy as fuck. You know, the Wineses are some of the ugliest criers ever. Just turn into unrecognizable messes. Hehe.

  5. Rafe

    Great post—I love this blog , I always learn the strangest things on here. I’m a big fan of your writing too, my friends say I’m obsessed with you cause I’m always reading your books. .. Hope you have a good day 🙂

    • Bernard Welt

      Your friends are right

  6. _Black_Acrylic

    I always had a Crying Boy painting on the wall of my various flats in Dundee for many years. Bought the thing on eBay, probably after seeing this post the first time round. Now the cursed object is up there in storage and I just hope that all my stuff doesn’t mysteriously burst into flames. Ah what a delicious final irony that would be!

  7. David Ehrenstein

    J’ADORE BERNARD! and so does Boy George

    This whole “Crying Boy” deal suggestsa ValLewton movie directed byJerry Lewis.

    Looking forwad to the new Wes Anderson

    A neat video on the egregious Dave Cahppelle

  8. Steve Erickson

    I learned today about the death of a good friend. He passed yesterday, and no cause has been announced. But it came as a shock, since he was in his early 50s. I’m gutted. I feel particularly shook because I left a voice-mail message for him about 2 weeks ago and he texted me a few days later to say he was too sick to talk.

  9. T

    Hi Dennis, now who knew that if you maxed out your levels of tat and creepiness it would have inflagratory properties. I liked it when one of the peeved homeowners said in the articld ‘if I find the man who painted it I’ll sue him’

    Hope the haunt thing is shaping up well? Have to tell you that I’m unfortunately not gonna be able to make it 🙁 It’s fucking mundane but basically I thought my payday was last week and now I’ve paid my rent I have less than 10 euros to my name to last me til next Friday. I’m pretty pissed off because I was really looking forward to coming, but hopefully if there are more opportunities to see/play it in the future I’ll be able to witness it then 🙂 Hope you have a week where you can demand a payslip on the hour every hour, xT

  10. Jeff J

    Hey Bernard – Really enjoyed this trip through the Crying Boy curse – whether hoax or not or simply a “crying flame” as that one tabloid had it.

    Dennis – Enjoyed the Ed Templeton and Steven Wright posts, as well as the Halloween exhibit. Sending you and Zac a Zoom link tomorrow for the class visit this week and excited about that.

    You finished the Joy Williams yet? Recently read Roland Topor’s “The Tenant” which was fun and a big hit with my book club.

    I’ve managed not to catch a germ of Dune fever, though I’m excited the new Wes Anderson which opens here next week. Has it already premiered in Paris? Saw the new VU doc which I enjoyed and add my voice to the chorus about seeing it on a big screen if you can. The range of experimental film footage is impressive.

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