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The Curse of the Crying Boy

Our "Crying Boy", sometimes referred to as Toby (but not by us).

Our "Crying Boy", sometimes referred to as Toby (but not by us).

A Family Heirloom

It was this month when the family sat around the dining table in the family home when my eldest brother—seemingly out of the blue—asked: “Who has the picture of the boy with tears streaming down his face?”

“I do,” my mother replied.

“You should get rid of it.”


“That painting has a lot of evil influence surrounding it.”

The table went somewhat quiet, and my father had a confused look on his face, although that might just be his normal facial expression. While it was dismissed by most who were seated there that late afternoon, I was intrigued and sought to find out more about this. So a day or two later, when I remembered the conversation that had taken place, it led me to that old favourite resource: the internet. I googled something to the effect of “boy painting crying” and immediately found what I was looking for in Google Images, as well as some articles on various websites, including that old classic: Wikipedia.

But that first series of images that Google produced shocked me. This was the painting that had hung upon the master bedroom wall next to the window since long before I was even born. This was the painting that had haunted me as a child, causing me nightmares, watching me sleep. It was a foolish mistake to think that I could find refuge from all the terrors of the night in my parent’s bed as a child. I had no such place of sanctuary—because their things were just that much worse.

To say the least, I was not only intrigued but a bit terrified, to say the least.

How the Crying Boy Painting Ended Up in My Family

It was likely back in the late 1960s or early 1970s. My parents were up in either Vereeniging or Vredenburg when they came upon a store. My mom saw this painting. She says that she spoke about it to her mother-in-law, who claimed that it was a very famous painting. When my parents got back to their home, which was at the time in Green Point, my mom found that her mother-in-law had bought the painting for her and gave it to my parents as a gift. From there, it stayed with the family, moving twice, having travelled from house to house to house—where the family home is now, where it has remained since 1973—for 41 years to date. She claims that a tag line, “You didn’t have to hit me so hard” was attached to the painting.

I often wonder if this is what a seer, who came to the house many years ago, was talking about when she said that she sensed an evil presence in the home. One that had followed the family around for a long time . . .

The Painting’s Origins

The Crying Boy, also sometimes known as The Gypsy Boy, is a mass-produced print of a painting by Italian artist Bruno Amadio (1911 – 1981), also known as Angelo (Giovanni) Bragolin, who in turn was also known as Franchot Seville, even though this isn’t a name he himself used. Bragolin was an academically trained painter who worked in Venice after the Second World War, painting Crying Boys and selling them to tourists. The exact time when the painting was actually done isn’t clear, but it was very probably somewhere in the 1950s, and some say Bragolin produced at least 65 Crying Boys in his lifetime—although some estimate that it was really more in the neighbourhood of one to two thousand. Even though he was known for other paintings, the Crying Boys are far and away the most popular of his creations.

A Scottish artist, Anna Zinkeisen (married Heseltine), also painted a series of similarly themed paintings which went by the name of Childhood. The paintings became very popular in the North of the UK, particularly South Yorkshire, among the working class in the 1960s and 1970s. Prints could be bought in virtually any department store, and it graced the living room walls of many homes for years. It even achieved some fame outside of the UK, evidenced by the fact that my grandmother, who resided in South Africa all her life, knew it well. It was sold in Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Scandinavia, and even in South America, where it is claimed that a lot of the superstitions surrounding the paintings arose in the first place. It has been claimed that about 50 000 of them were sold in the UK alone at one time and that a total of about 250,000 had been sold worldwide.


The Tale of the Cursed Crying Boy

It was in 1985 that The Sun, which was the most popular tabloid newspaper in the UK and throughout much of the English-speaking world at the time, ran a story in its September 4 edition titled “Blazing Curse of the Crying Boy” and explored how there had been many houses in Yorkshire, where the owners had at least one print of the Crying Boy, that had burned down, and yet the painting mysteriously survived unscathed. This was reported by Alan Wilkinson, a fire station officer, who had personally logged as many as 50 Crying Boy fires up until that time, which dated back to 1973. For this reason, no firefighter would ever allow a Crying Boy print in his own home. One was even offered to Wilkinson upon his retirement, presumably as a joke, and he turned the gift down. Indeed, as a joke, he attempted to hang one up in the firehouse that he oversaw, but his superiors demanded that he take it down immediately upon finding out.

The Sun and other newspapers stoked interest in the story by entertaining horrific stories from people who had called the newspaper or wrote in about their own experiences with the painting, and eventually The Sun organised a massive bonfire, on Halloween, October 31, 1985, whereas many as 2500 prints of the Crying Boy, that had been sent in by worried homeowners, were burned. Other bonfires may have followed into November.

Then it seemed as though the curse vanished, as all went quiet for some time, but then stories started to surface abroad about Crying Boy fires, and it has even seen a resurgence in the UK once more in more recent years.

This is what was said to happen to people who kept Crying Boys in their homes.

This is what was said to happen to people who kept Crying Boys in their homes.

What Is the Curse, Then?

People who have an original painting or a print of the Crying Boy are apparently at severe risk of injury, or there’s a large chance that their house will burn down. Some claim that the painting is filled with subliminal messages, which encourage people to buy the painting, take it home and hang it on the wall, and that, as a result, they will possibly even set their own house on fire while under the control of this painting and not have any recollection of even starting the fire. This would perhaps answer the question that has been posed by some: “Why would anyone want a picture of a crying child?”

Paintings of the Crying Boy are often found intact and still hanging on the wall after everything else in the house, including most of the house itself, has burned to a cinder. And this is probably for the best, because it is said that if a portrait were to fall off of a wall, that would be even worse, because that is regarded as an omen of impending death.

Can the Curse Be Broken?

The only two ways the curse can be broken is to either give the painting away to someone, seeing as burning it doesn’t always seem to work according to those who have tried—or you need to get a hold of a Crying Girl picture. The two of them together will bring good luck, cancelling out the bad luck, according to legend. Others claim that being kind to the print can bring you good luck.

Why Don’t the Paintings Burn?

Steven Punt, a writer and comedian, who applied a little bit of scientific method to try to debunk the curse, claims that the paintings don’t burn for two main reasons: one is that the print is put on a high-density hardboard which is difficult to burn, and the second is that the print itself is covered in a flame resistant varnish. In addition to this, the paintings were said in some cases to fall on the floor after the string at the back of the painting perished, and from there, the painting would collapse face first onto the floor, thereby preserving the print. This last theory contradicts some eyewitness accounts that detail how after the fire, the painting was still hanging on the wall, and it also fails to explain why other paintings did not survive the fires if they had been given the same treatment or were exposed to the same circumstances. Firefighters themselves were unable to come up with any real reason why the paintings didn’t burn. Those of a more superstitious orientation claim that the tears running down the boy’s cheeks put out the flames that attempted to burn it.

In fact, some people other than Steven Punt have even tried to burn the painting themselves in a controlled environment, only to find that they indeed didn’t burn. This has to make one wonder how The Sun was so successful at burning some 2500 paintings—or whether they were really burned at all.

Are the Paintings Worth Any Money?

Seeing as a lot of them have been destroyed over the years, yes, they can bring in some money. Prints aren’t worth all that much, to be honest, maybe $40 at most, but original paintings (not prints), especially if they are framed, can bring in considerably more. Crying Girls are rarer than Crying Boys, so if you have an original of one of those, that would be worth up to $3000 and over. The one worth the most that I've seen is an original Crying Boy oil painting going for over $5000! These are the prices I’ve seen on eBay for these items.

Theories on the Identities of the "Crying Boys"

Tom Slemen, an author, claimed that he had a source by the name of George Mallory, a retired school headmaster who had apparently met with the artist Giovanni Bragolin. Bragolin told him that the boy was a sad little street urchin by the name of Don Bonillo, who was despised and unwanted by everyone in Madrid because it was said that fires were said to start in any home he settled in (including his parents’ home, consuming them in the blaze)—which has led some to believe that he was an arsonist, possibly even a “fire genius”—someone who has no control over the fires they start. Sounds unbelievable, but apparently, there is at least one known person who has this ability in the world, named Nina Kulagina.

Villagers called the boy Diablo, meaning “Devil”. So Bragolin adopted him, against the advice of a local catholic priest, painted him, and managed to capture the sad, tearful expression on his face. Some believe that the artist may have beaten the child (perhaps due to his pyromaniacal behaviour), and that is why he was crying in the painting. In fact, it is claimed that Bragolin’s studio burned down after having painted the child’s portrait and that Bragolin blamed the boy for it and chased him away. It was several years until the name would resurface, but eventually, in the mid-1970s it was reported that an individual had been involved in a traffic collision and that the car had exploded into flames. The name on the driver’s licence read “Don Bonillo”. This tale was partially backed up by a psychic, who had apparently no knowledge of any of the stories surrounding Bragolin and the child.

The above story sounds very unlikely and most likely fictional, mainly because of the dates involved. In this interview between Mallory and Bragolin, which apparently took place in 1995 (keeping in mind that Bragolin died in 1981), it was claimed by Bragolin that he adopted and painted a portrait of Don Bonillo in 1969—but the paintings have been dated before then, as far back as the 1950s. This fact is supported by people who wrote into The Sun to tell their stories of how the paintings had ruined their lives. Rose Farrington claimed in her letter to The Sun: “Since I bought it in 1959, my three sons and my husband have all died. I’ve often wondered if it had a curse.”

That date alone was a full ten years before the meeting between Bragolin and Bonillo allegedly took place. Unsurprisingly, nobody has ever been able to trace this George Mallory character to verify his story.

This also only explains the identity of one of the children. There were other children, boys and girls, who were painted by both Bragolin and Zinkeisen.

Theories on the Identity, History, and Motives of the Artist

Bragolin himself has been difficult to trace, no doubt in part due to his insistence on using pseudonyms, of which we know of at least a few: Giovanni Bragolin (as well as Angelo Giovanni Bragolin and J. Bragolin), Bruno Amadio, and Franchot Seville—he may have had others. The reason why he likely used different names is that not only were the paintings (and by extension, the subject in the case of Don Bonillo, if he was at all real) viewed as being cursed, but Bragolin was said to be cursed as well, and thus he may have had to use different names to get work.

It is claimed that in the 1980s, when the painting became popular in Brazil, Bragolin went on a TV show and explained that all the paintings were of dead children or at least represented them, leading some to have an even stronger belief that the paintings were cursed or haunted in some fashion. Bragolin apparently admitted that he had made a pact with Satan in order to sell his work and become wealthy. How many starving artists in the world haven’t thought of doing the same?

This tale is unlikely, seeing as Bragolin died in 1981, so it could only have happened in 1980 or 1981, and no later than that.

Others claim that he fled to Spain after the war and that all of the boys and girls he painted were orphans. And not only that, but the orphanage that they lived in burned down.

Was the Curse Just a Publicity Stunt?

In short, yes. It was the product of a readership war between The Sun and The Daily Mirror. Kelvin Mackenzie, who was the editor of The Sun at the time, decided that this story ‘had legs’, and so decided to publish it. There may be evidence that Kelvin was possibly superstitious himself and may have believed in the curse, leading to some sort of biased reporting on a story that others would have ignored because when the assistant editor hung a print of the Crying Boy on a wall in the staff room before a meeting one day, Kelvin apparently said: “Take that down. I don’t like it. It’s bad luck.”

The Reality Surrounding the Curse

As has been stated by others: paintings don’t cause houses to burn down. People do. Most of the fires that were caused in the homes in Rotherham and elsewhere in South Yorkshire and indeed worldwide at the time were caused by human carelessness. This is how most house fires start, likely. The fact that these houses all contained prints of The Crying Boy is just down to coincidence. There were probably many more fires in that area in the same time frame in houses that did not have Crying Boys in them, and those fires were also caused by the homeowners in some manner, likely by accident.

As for Bragolin, he was apparently a hard-working, devoted husband and father with many friends and had no need to make a pact with the devil to sell his paintings, seeing as he was a naturally talented artist who had all that anyone could truly want out of life. And it's a shame that people, particularly the media, once again had to conjure up a story just to sell newspapers and make money, with little thought to how it would affect the reputation of the artist, and the public, preying on the minds of those who had bought his paintings over the years, driving them into a panic.

As for our Crying Boy, I think he'll likely stick around for a while longer, but I have to be honest—this is one family heirloom I'm reluctant to inherit.

© 2014 Anti-Valentine


TobySA on August 21, 2020:

Toby was the first ever piece of "Art" I purchased in 1977. He has always graced a place on my walls, wherever I went. In the early 90's somebody from the UK (not a friend) nearly had a cadenza seeing Toby on my wall. I ignored her and her comments. I have had "my Toby" now for 43 years and having moved into a retirement complex I have space problem, but Toby will not leave my house. I am not sure whether it is a print or geniune, but being a retired Educationist, his sad eyes just speak to me.

Angela Micensky on April 08, 2019:

I do not know if mine is an original I found the Crying Boy in a Goodwill and fell in love with it. I have the copy where he is wearing a red shirt with a blue coat. It is signed in the top right corner. I did have it reframed and even after reading the history behind it I could never part with it. I have lost two sons so this painting tugs at my heart. I have it in my bedroom and look at it everyday.

Lanina Dodson on January 19, 2019:

My husband likes to collect antiques. He found a crying boy painting in an antique store in Panama City Beach FL and purchased it in Feb. 2018. We didn't look anything up about it because he simply bought it because he likes antiques and the painting looked like my grandchild. In Oct. 2018 Hurricane Michael came through and destroyed our home and almost everything in it...but that picture was unharmed. One of my friends sent me this link today and I was shocked. Mine was not a fire but my home is destroyed and that painting is still standing. I will be getting rid of it now!

eunette on June 19, 2018:

I don't believe in curses nor am I superstious.But I am history other words the history behind ANY THING fascinates me.I was indulged in the story of the crying boy and thought to myself the crying boy reminds me of some one. They are beautiful paintings of so very sad boys and I wondered why only boys?I have never seen nor a print of the crying girl nor do I want to own a print of the question is why do people paint sad paintings and then sell them and others buy them?

Emmanuel Vasquez on June 14, 2018:

I used to have a picture that was given to my mom by a friend because he said it reminded him of my older brother. It had been hanging in the kitchen for as long as i can remember. One night about 4 years ago my mother came into my room and told me and my sister to see a video she had found on youtube. It was a video overviewing the crying boy paintings. We asked her where exactly it was and she "swore" she threw it away long ago. Then one day me and my sister had long forgotten about it when we were looking for something in my moms bedroom. We removed a cabinet from against the wall and to our surprise found the painting. Luckily our uncle was there and was about to leave so we entrusted him to take the painting to goodwill so it may never be seen again. And thats exactly what happened.

annah kontic on March 22, 2018:

forgot to mention that nan told us that it (the crying boy)was given her in the late 1920s (she left the employ of the duke of devonshire in 1929..but i thought these paintings were done later...she said this italian man came to lismore to paint at the castle in the not making sense..this is not a print and there is a second one of a lady not crying in oils to..please we really want to know..thanks

annah kontic on March 22, 2018:

we have nan was a milk maid to the duke of devonshire in lismore ireland(Lismore castle) italian painter used to come with his family and my nan was given it.....the signiture looks like w zagolin in the top right hand corner...could it be an original..he also gave her a painting of a woman who is not crying...we were wondering could both these paintings be originals by him

Alisa on March 09, 2018:

I have a crying boy and girl. Terrified me as a child when they belonged to my grandparents (paternal had the boy and maternal the girl) still terrify me now. I wont hang them. I have children and i know how hainting the images can be. They are far more sentimental than aestetically pleasing.

Greg P on February 26, 2018:

My Grandparents had a Print of “Toby” over their Lounge mantle for decades. They bought it as it looked so much like myself at 4 Years Old. I’m 52 now.

My Brother bought and lived in this house after they died of old age until around 2005-6 and sold the Print with the House, whichvis still there

Farzan on January 19, 2018:

I have the same painting as the at my home from more than 10 years nothing ever has happened.

Bryan on August 26, 2017:

If anyone wants to donate the painting to me, I'll put it up in my small 3 bedroom home in the heart of Oklahoma, where I have surveillance cameras inside and outside - uploading to the cloud. Then we will just test it out and see. If the home goes up in a blaze, we'll review the cameras until they stop working and see what really started the fire. Ready? Set, go!

anon on November 12, 2016:

If the painting was painted in the early 50s or 60s, and copies were made and is found all around the world. How is it possible that the boy in the picture ,was only born many years later in the 70s.

Tashyv on May 27, 2016:

My grandparents from my father's side had 1 on the crying boy in their house in the entrance of their home I always felt uneasy going their and what happened to me in that house is horrifying!!!

tessa on May 26, 2016:

Ive have a painting , oil on canvas , a small boy reading from a book, this painting also cry, before daethin our family . I do even know who the artist is/was as there are no name, not signed, ive shared this painting on facebook but did not get any information

Jana on May 22, 2016:

My gran had that one of the crying boy as well as the the one I f the girl. She has had it for a long ti,e. And nothing bad has happened....

Elmarie on May 21, 2016:

Lucky for me i have a boy and girl.

markybb11 on April 17, 2016:

I remember hearing of strange tales of this painting too, quite a few now that I think back. Not sure I would want it hanging in my house, eery.

Suzie from Carson City on April 01, 2016:

Congratulations on your HOTD. Very fascinating and quite spooky as well. But mostly, as Ricky Gervais's Bollocks! LOL......Very well written. I scored 100% on your quiz....I pay attention when I read!! LOL

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on April 01, 2016:

Congrats on HOTD! This was an interesting ghost story hub with a demonic painting. I never heard of it before. I'll pass on that painting as well.

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on April 01, 2016:

Extremely fascinating read. Never heard of this legend. It seems like a scary movie.

Uj on April 01, 2016:

This is just a very sad painting. I never had the reason to hang anything so sad and melancholy in my house.

Kimberley Clarke from England on April 01, 2016:

What a fantastic piece - thank you! I grew up with a picture of a blonde crying boy in our front room - I will try to get a photo of it. I never knew of this curse! My Mum still has the picture- and her house hasn't burned down. Phew. I'm glad she stopped smoking a few years ago now!

rita jensen on June 15, 2015:

I have the crying boy in my home. I felt his sadness through his eyes. I named him james and boughtanother painting of a little girl carrying a candle upstairs. I called her Elizabeth and told james thst was his sister who eould look after him. Tonight I read the story of the painter and his subjects. Toby especially who is my james.

mary on January 13, 2015:

I was in our local goodwill in Port Charlotte, FL last night and came across what I now know is one of "The Crying Boy" paintings. What made it catch my eye was two things:

1. The sadness captures in his face

2. Under the painting in black writing (letters) was the statement "CAMP JOY - WHERE LITTLE BOYS AND GIRLS LEARN TO LIVE"

I thought what a juxtaposition of the little boy crying and "Camp Joy" so I bought it.

Then I got home and researched the artist and the backstory. I emailed Camp Joy this morning. Would this painting be of interest to anyone?

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on May 20, 2014:

I'm loving the feedback this hub is getting so far! I had no idea it would be like this. Thanks all of you.

Barbara Badder from USA on May 19, 2014:

This is the first time I've heard of this story, so I was surprised to see that two other hubs were written about it. It is an interesting story. You've done a good job with it.

Brenda Thornlow from New York on May 19, 2014:

I think I've heard about this painting. Great hub, very interesting story! Voted up!

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on May 19, 2014:

I had heard about this curse. Even if it was a stunt, it's a creepy story that intrigues people. I will share this all over. Hit many buttons and voted up.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 19, 2014:

Great hub! I enjoyed this creepy tale so much I'm sharing and pinning. I'm not sure I'd want him hanging in my house either.