Monday, February 6, 2012

Ghost Artists

A notice appeared in the Washington Post in 1952 advertising The Ghost Artists, whose slogan "We Paint It - You Sign It" tempted would-be artists to skip the whole 'creating' part and just go straight to the exhibition. Why bother doing all that work when you could hire ghost artists to do it for you? Just sit back and soak up the adulation.

The notice received tons of serious replies and a flurry of attention. Washington newsmen descended upon the Georgetown address of The Ghost Artists only to find that it was nothing more than a prank by Hugh Troy (1906-1964). Troy was an artist and Illustrator, but it seems that his true passion was the pranks for which he is known to this day.

"People should be mystified more than they are. 
Life moves along too regularly."
Hugh Troy

According to lore, on another occasion at a 1935 exhibition of the works of Vincent Van Gogh in New York's Museum of Modern Art, Troy made a fake ear out of some meat and put it on display with a plaque that read:

"This is the ear
which Vincent Van Gogh
cut off and sent to his mistress,
a French prostitute, Dec. 24, 1888."

Whether any of this actually happened is open to debate. By that I mean Troy's apocryphal tale, but also the bit about Van Gogh cutting his own ear off: The story that it was, in fact, Gauguin who did the cutting has been doing the rounds for a while. Either way, Troy seems to have delighted in exposing the public as gossip-hungry and gullible fools.


  1. Alan, you might be interested to know that I own a book devoted to Hugh Troy's practical jokes (he spent a lifetime mystifying people, sometimes at great expense).

    A typical story is that he entered a subway car carrying, under his coat, a false leg wearing a silk stocking and lady's shoe. After taking his seat, he slowly dropped the leg between his own legs. "It bothered nearby passengers so much," said Hugh, "that they got up and walked away."

    Hugh Troy painted the "Fountain of Youth" mural in Radio City Music Hall, with Ezra Winter.

  2. Thanks, Mark! I had heard another story where he passed through a toll booth and left a fake hand along with the toll.

  3. Hugh Troy makes me smile -- what a wonderful cad he must have been! Thank you, Alan, for the introduction and thank you as well, Mark, as I'll have to look up the book.