Can a painting be haunted by the spirit of a small boy? Can its evil powers cause houses to burn down around it?
Well, probably not.
But back in the 1980s, a huge number of Brits believed it. Terrified that a rather tacky painting known as The Crying Boy was cursed, they ripped it off the walls of their homes. Thousands of the paintings were destroyed in a mass bonfire.
So how did rumours about The Crying Boy start?
The painting, along with other similar ones of children crying, was done by an Italian artist, Bruno Amadio, under the name Giovanni Bragolin. The prints were mass-produced and widely sold throughout the UK.
On September 4, 1985, British tabloid newspaper The Sun published a story about a couple, Ron and May Hall, whose house had burnt down due to a fire which started in a chip pan. The painting of The Crying Boy remained untouched, while all around it was charred ruins. The couple blamed the fire on the painting.
A fire station officer, Alan Wilkinson, said he knew of numerous other cases where this same painting was the only object in a house to survive a fire unscathed. A photo accompanying the story showed The Crying Boy, and the caption read, “Tears for fears… the portrait that firemen claim is cursed.”
No firemen had actually used the word “cursed”, but a legend was born.
Listen: Even more terrifying than a painting is John Jarratt’s character is Wolf Creek. (Post continues.)
The next day, The Sun ran a follow-up, saying they’d been flooded by calls from “horrified readers”.
Dora Mann said her house burnt down just six months after she bought the painting. “All my paintings were destroyed – except the one of the crying boy.”
Another reader said her son had “caught his private parts on a hook” just after she bought The Crying Boy. A third claimed that her husband and three sons had all died since she bought it in 1959.
When another house displaying a “crying boy” painting (by a different artist, Anna Zinkeisen) burnt down, panic grew. A story about the fire had a brigade spokesperson claiming there was no cause for alarm, but adding, “These incidents are becoming more frequent.”
The Sun, thrilled by the success of their story, offered to take the “cursed” paintings off people’s hands. Soon, their offices were stacked with 2500 prints of The Crying Boy. They were eventually burnt in a gigantic bonfire, with Page Three girls helping out.
But rumours about the painting refused to die. A story spread that the “crying boy” was a Spanish street urchin called Don Bonillo, whose parents had died in a fire. No one wanted to take him in, because wherever he stayed fires would start. An artist painted him, but then the artist’s studio was destroyed by fire. Years later, an unidentified body was found inside the charred ruins of a car. The name on the driver’s licence was… “Don Bonillo”.
No one has been able to find evidence of any truth to this story.
In 2010, a BBC radio presenter (and comedian), Steve Punt, attempted to burn The Crying Boy on his show, Punt PI. The attempt was filmed and put on YouTube. Punt set fire to the painting, but the flames wouldn’t spread. He concluded that the painting was covered in some kind of fire-retardant coating (which would explain a lot).
Punt finished the show by saying he would leave the painting on his porch.
“I’m not taking any chances – would you?” he asked.
Even today, people still believe in the curse of The Crying Boy. Dr David Clarke from Sheffield Hallam University wrote an article about the legend just a few years ago. He was flooded with emails from people who begged him to take the painting off their hands.
“One reader, who had just cleared his mother’s house in which a crying boy was discovered, wrote to say: ‘My wife will not have the picture in the house. I have had to hang it in the garden shed with fire extinguishers at the ready!’”
Other people have written about their fears on Dr Clarke’s website.
“My mum has this picture but they said they heard about the curse and they hang it in a cupboard facing the wall so no one looks at it,” posted one woman.
“They believe if they try and get rid of it something bad will happen.”
If you’re interested in buying your own print of the painting, there are some available online in Australia. Someone is selling one on Gumtree, describing it as “highly collectable” and referencing “the curse of The Crying Boy”.
Would you pay $165 to have the painting hanging in your house?