“The Crying Boy”: The ‘cursed’ portrait that terrified a nation.

If wall hangings could talk, then the infamous ‘Crying Boy’ painting that once hung in many a Glasgow front room back in the day could easily start up its own podcast.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Crying Boy series of paintings became something of a British household phenomenon and adorned the walls of untold numbers of Glaswegians – then came sinister tales that the paintings were cursed.

Originally conjured up by Italian painter Giovanni Bragolin, the mass-produced artwork was one of a number of kitschy paintings that everyone seemed to own back in the day, including J H Lynch’s Tina, ‘the woodland goddess’ print and that one of the dugs playing pool.

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But the Crying Boy’s popularity would very quickly plummet in the 1980s following a spate of deadly house fires in which the artwork appeared to survive undamaged time and time again. The stories became so widespread that people feared the paintings were cursed and had caused the fires.

The superstitious backlash began in September 1985, when Yorkshire firefighter Peter Hall told a national newspaper that he’d witnessed multiple examples of unexplained house fires where the Crying Boy painting was one of the only items to survive intact.

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Hall said he’d seen at least 50 incidents where the popular prints were found in the charred rubble of properties that had burned down. Each time, the paintings would be face down on the floor and always undamaged.

The firefighter had chosen to speak out after his brother, Ron Hall, who was sceptical of the story, purchased a copy of the painting to disprove the urban myth, only for his house to mysteriously burn down shortly afterwards. When the painting was pulled out unharmed from the blackened wreckage, Ron put his foot through it.

The Crying Boy 'curse' gripped the nation in 1985.
The Crying Boy ‘curse’ gripped the nation in 1985.

That same year, more than half a dozen other people came forward to share similar stories of Crying Boy paintings having survived fires – many of them fatal – up and down the country.

With all the negative media attention he painting was getting, an urban myth swept the nation and homeowners steadily began to dispose of their Crying Boy prints.

In 2010, British comedian Steve Punt investigated the infamous Crying Boy curse for a BBC Radio 4 production called Punt PI.

Punt reached the conclusion that the reason the creepy prints had managed to survive so many house fires was because they had been treated with a special fire retardant varnish.

He also concluded that the fact the paintings had ended up face down was not so sinister after all, stating that the string holding up the frames would normally burn first, causing the paintings to drop print side first in most instances.

Despite Steve Punt’s findings, there are still many out there who believe the paintings are jinxed. Paranormal researchers have even claimed that the real-life boy in the paintings had been a street urchin whose parents died in a house fire and that he cursed every home he was taken into.

A post about the Crying Boy painting on the Glasgow Live Nostalgia group on Facebook has sparked memories of the supposedly cursed print among locals.

Kimmy Mill, from Greenock, said they experienced the strange phenomenon for themselves many years ago, writing: “Yeah, our home went on fire with everything in the living room turned to ashes, but our Crying Boy stood at the fireplace – not a mark on it.”

Another person said: “Hated it as a youngster My parents had one in the living room. Nothing but bad luck.”

“My mammy had one,” added another, “He was called Alfie, but can’t remember if we called him that as kids or was that the name of the portrait.”

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