My grandmother had three of them, located in various parts of her home. The boy in the kitchen wept while holding a puppy, one side of his blue overalls unhitched, the buckle trailing on the ground. The painting in the bathroom was of a little boy hiding his hands behind his back. He wore a dark suit with a small red bowtie. He, too, wept. The third and final of the three was hung in my childhood bedroom. In this painting, the boy is staring directly at you, his shoulders slumped, his eyes clouded and dripping with sadness. His clothing is drab, a beige or offwhite shirt and his hair is a tousled, mousy brown. I don’t think I ever slept well in that bedroom…
Often duplicated, the Crying Boy painting that hung in my bedroom was likely an original. The others were simply imitations of artist Giovanni Bragolin’s work. They were widely available in the 1950’s and my grandmother was likely attracted to them because they were so expressive. She wasn’t an art collector or aficionado by any means, but she knew what she liked. Unfortunately, that usually meant that everyone else had to suffer for her love of art. I digress.
Bruno Amadio (15 January 1911 – 22 September 1981), popularly known as Bragolin, and also known as Franchot Seville, Angelo Bragolin, and Giovanni Bragolin, was the creator of the group of paintings known as Crying Boys. The paintings feature a variety of tearful children looking morosely straight ahead. They are sometimes called “Gypsy boys” although there is nothing specifically linking them to the Romani people.
He was an academically trained painter, working in post-war Venice as painter and restorer, producing the Crying Boy pictures for tourists. At least 65 such paintings were made under the name Bragolin, reproductions of which were sold worldwide. He was not always paid royalties for the reproductions. In the 1970s he was found to be alive and well-to-do and still painting in Padua. Claims that he fled to Spain after the war, painting children from a local orphanage which subsequently burned down, appear to be an unconfirmed urban legend.
Okay…so it’s just a painting, right? I mean, it’s definitely creepy, but it won’t actually cause you any harm. It might, however, burn your house down.
According to Tina Booth, owner of a Crying Boy painting, the work of art actually caused two fires in her home. She eventually brought it to Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures so that he could house it in his occult museum, fearing that the painting would one day cause a member of her family to come to harm. The painting is featured in season 1, episode 5 of Deadly Possessions. Booth traveled from Clevedon, England, to Las Vegas, NV, to give the painting to Bagans and was glad to have it leave her hands. Booth was well aware of the legend surrounding the painting, but when she went antiquing for her resale business and found an original, she had to have it. I’m not sure why you’d want to risk selling such an item, but okay…
Art expert Brett Maly states in the episode that the painting is of a supposed street urchin who had lost his family in a fire. The legend goes that, after the boy had escaped the fire, he had the ability to start fires of his own without the use of matches or kindling. Think Drew Barrymore in Firestarter.
When Bragolin painted his picture and made prints to sell, it is said that the boy’s curse was also attached to these images. In “fact,” shortly after Bragolin finished capturing the image, his studio burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. In every instance of fire involving a Crying Boy painting, the painting itself remains unharmed. Everything else is destroyed, but the image is usually found facedown in the rubble, completely unscathed. In 1985, following a house fire in England, firefighters found a Crying Boy painting in the rubble. They commented to local newspapers that they were fascinated by the condition of it, given that everything else in the home had been burned beyond recognition. I’m not sure if it was a slow news day, but the story became front-page fodder immediately.
Dr. David Clarke, a Research Fellow in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, disputes the claims that the Crying Boy has ever been the cause of any sort of fiery catastrophe. Clarke states on his blog that there are over four million results on Google for “Crying Boy Curse” and that the story is one of the most popular pages on his blog. From the blog(https://drdavidclarke.co.uk/2018/01/02/tears-for-fears-the-curse-of-the-crying-boy/):
“Mass produced prints of weeping toddlers painted by a mysterious Italian artist, ‘Bragolin’ and others, sold in tens of thousands during the 1960s-70s.
The Crying Boy (TCB) acquired its supernatural ‘curse’ in September 1985 after a local evening newspaper in the mining town of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, published a story about a house blaze in which a copy of the print survived unscathed.
In his piece, reporter John Murphy from the Rotherham Star referred to a ‘family hit by a curse’ after fire fighters revealed this was the latest in a series of fires in which prints, all featuring similar images of TCB, had been found undamaged. The earliest blaze on record was in 1973.
Two days later, on 4 September 1985, national tabloid The Sun published on page 13 its own hyperbolic version headlined “BLAZING CURSE OF THE CRYING BOY – picture is a fire jinx’.
Editor Kelvin McKenzie knew the story ‘had legs’ and, for a number of months promoted a tabloid TCB campaign – inviting readers who were troubled by the curse to send their prints to The Sun for destruction. The paper was inundated with copies of the print, attributed to a number of artists. Readers came forward with their own stories of bad luck, accidents and hauntings they associated with the ‘curse’.”
Dr. Clarke continues, “Since that time the legend has completed its transformation from media ‘silly season‘ story into an international online urban legend. Along the way it has acquired a complex narrative that explains who the ‘crying boy’ (sometimes a ‘gypsy boy’) actually is and why ownership of the prints can bring ill-luck.
Today copies regularly appear for sale online via Gumtree and Ebay with references to its backstory, despite restrictions on the use of supernatural claims in advertising. Since the 1990s, my research has collected versions from the USA, Brazil and Australia. My web-page on TCB is easily the most popular section of my blog. It has received more than 73,000 visits since 2012 and readers have used it to express their own personal stories and beliefs about it, for example:
“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.”
My grandmother never told me any stories about Firestarter-like children who were going to burn our house to the ground, but perhaps she was only attracted to the art because of the subject matter. Perhaps she’d also heard stories about the paintings being of homeless orphans and latched on in hopes of giving those children a place in the world. I don’t think she’s ever gotten rid of them. Who knows… Regardless, if you’re keen, you can grab your own Crying Boy painting on eBay for between $2,200-3,000.00. Just make sure your insurance policy covers fire before you bid.
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