The Crying Boy
When I was a young child in the seventies, I became fascinated by a painting in my grandmother’s house. The painting was a cheap print of a popular painting and hung on the living room wall of her small terraced house. The reason I was so fascinated was that the picture depicted a child. The boy was a similar age to me and for some reason looked sad and downcast, tears brimming from troubled eyes. I was so attached to the painting I even gave the sad child a name. A few years after the painting went up on the wall there was a devastating kitchen fire in the house. While the kitchen was destroyed, the rest of the house was undamaged. Despite this, the painting of the boy was removed and thrown into a skip along with the contents of the kitchen. For years it puzzled me why my grandmother did this until I read a series of articles about a cursed painting. That painting was ‘The Crying Boy’.
‘The Crying Boy’ was one of a series of paintings by artist Giovanni Bragolin completed in the 1950s. The series depicted young teary-eyed children. While it may seem strange to want an image of a weeping child on your wall, the pictures proved popular all over the world. In the UK alone over 50,000 copies sold. The children represented were often poor and very beautiful. One boy's image particularly tugs on the heartstrings, his eyes a sad reflection of his soul. He became known as ‘The Crying Boy’. In total Bragolin painted over sixty paintings and up until the early eighties the prints and reprints of his images, continued to be mass produced.
The Blazing Curse is Born
In 1985 the most popular tabloid newspaper in the United Kingdom, printed a story that was to cause panic and end the popularity of Bragolin’s work. ‘The Sun’ published an article entitled ‘Blazing Curse of the Crying Boy’. The story described the terrible experience of May and Ron Hall after their Rotherham home was destroyed by fire. The cause of the fire, much like my grandmother’s, was a chip pan that overheated and burst into flames. The fire spread rapidly and destroyed everything on the ground floor. Only one item remained intact, a print of ‘The Crying Boy’ on their living room wall. Distraught at their loss, the devastated couple made the bizarre claim that the painting was cursed and it, not the chip pan, was the cause of the fire.
A Child is Blamed
The tale would have disappeared into the archives of the strange and mischievous stories that peppered ‘The Sun’, except for one thing. A firefighter claimed that he had attended at least fifteen house fires where everything was destroyed. The only thing left complete in each home was the picture of ‘The Crying Boy’. Before long the story gathered momentum and a rash of fires all over the United Kingdom were blamed on the cursed child. In subsequent articles ‘The Sun’ went onto claim;
• A lady in Surrey lost her house to fire 6 months after buying the painting.
• Two sisters in Kilburn had fires in their homes after buying a copy of the painting. One sister even claimed to have seen her painting sway backwards and forwards on the wall.
• A concerned lady on the Isle of Wight attempted to burn her painting without success and then went on to suffer a run of bad luck.
• A gentleman in Nottingham lost his home and his family were injured.
• A pizza parlor in Norfolk was destroyed including every painting on its wall except for one.
When 'The Sun' reported that even rational firefighters refused to have a copy of 'The Crying Boy ' in their homes, the reputation of the painting was damned forever.
A Halloween Bonfire
In all these cases, and many more that were reported, the painting of ‘The Crying Boy’ remained unharmed. Eventually, if there was an image of a crying child by any artist in a house that went on fire, the painting was blamed. Some claimed that they experienced bad luck if they attempted to destroy or get rid of their paintings. Others were convinced that it was only a matter of time before disaster struck them. After printing more articles and scare stories, ‘The Sun’ offered a frightened public a solution. On Halloween 1985, hundreds of the paintings were collected together by the newspaper and burnt under the supervision of the Fire Brigade.
So why would this seemingly innocent series of paintings be cursed? Before long speculation was rife. Theories ranged from the little boy being a gypsy child whose family placed a curse on the artist. Some claimed that the child had died in a fire and his spirit was trapped in the painting. The most enduring story claimed the crying boy accidentally set fire to the studio of the artist who had painted him. The child’s parents had also been killed in a blaze. Wherever the little orphan went fires mysteriously followed, earning him the nickname Diablo or Devil. The boy supposedly survived to early adulthood but was tragically killed when his car crashed and burst into flames. From then onwards it was his image that carried on his cursed fascination with fire.
In a bid to debunk the stories that grew up around the painting of ‘The Crying Boy’ various experts offered their own theories. A frustrated Fire Brigade pointed out that in all cases where there had been fires, there was a rational explanation. The fires in almost all cases could be traced back to human carelessness or electrical faults. What they couldn’t explain was the evidence that the paintings often remained intact when everything around them was destroyed. In a 2010 video made by Steve Punt and available on YouTube, a painting of ‘The Crying Boy’ is set alight in a bid to decide the matter once and for all. By the time the fire burns out, the corner of the painting is scorched but it remains largely intact and the face remains untouched. Yet ‘The Sun’ who first published the story of ‘The Crying Boy’ had no trouble incinerating hundreds of copies. Possibly the simplest of explanations is that the picture is printed onto fire retardant materials. Quite simply, the manufacturer of the print created a fire-resistant product that became a victim of its own success. The debate continues.
My grandmother was not a superstitious woman. Indeed, she went on to have another much worse fire some years later when her refrigerator overheated. Was she right then, to throw away her painting of my little friend because of unsubstantiated rumours? I think so. While there is probably a very rational explanation for the phenomenon of ‘The Crying Boy’ painting, where curses are concerned I believe it is better to be safe than sorry. Or is it? You decide.