The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren

by: Jonathan Lopez (0)

It's a story that made Dutch painter Han van Meegeren famous worldwide when itĀ broke at the end of World War II: A lifetime of disappointment droveĀ him to forge Vermeers, one of which he sold to Hermann Goering, making a mockery of the Nazis. And it's a story that's been believed ever since.Ā Too badĀ it isn't true.Jonathan Lopez has drawn on never-before-seen documents from dozens of archives to write a revelatory new biography of the worldĀ€Ā™s most famous forger. Neither unappreciated artist nor antifascist hero, Van Meegeren emerges as an ingenious, dyed-in-the-wool crook who plied the forger's trade far longer than he ever admittedā€”a talented Mr. Ripley armed with a paintbrush. Lopez also explores a network of illicit commerce that operated across Europe: Not only was Van Meegeren a key player in that high-stakes game in the 1920s and '30s, landing fakes with powerful dealers and famous collectors such as Andrew Mellon, but he and his assoc

The Reviews

I got interested in fakes, forgeries, and heists, and that led me to some books about Vermeer. First I read The Forger's Spell, by Edward Dolnick, tremendous fun, and the first I'd heard of Van Meegeren, the forger. Then I read The Man Who Made Vermeers, and learned that Van Meegeren's story is a far darker tale. He was an adept forger, eventually a Nazi collaborator, and a cheat, even in dealings with people he knew, along with a few other personal character flaws. The book is a terrific history lesson wrapped up in the tale of the forged paintings, their creation, and their sale (one to Hermann Goering, of all people). The third book is Vermeer's Hat, by Timothy Brook. It's an examination of about a half dozen of Vermeer's paintings, with some shrewd insights into what clues these paintings hold about life at that time, and Holland's prominent place in world affairs. Brook is primarily an historian of things Chinese, and he draws some enticing connections between the Delft of Vermeer's time, and Shanghai of the same period. I suggest reading these in the order I've mentioned them, it works well that way, especially if you're new to the topic.

I found this book to be very interesting, well-written, and knowledgeable while still being accessible to the average reader. The author traces the 'career' of Han van Meegeren through the mid 1920's to the mid-1940's, and showed how he used his artistic expertise to first earn a valid reputation for paintings under his own name, and then branched out to forgeries. He did not limit himself to Vermeers, but made forgeries of several well-known 17th c. Dutch painters. The author puts the decision to focus on forgery in a cultural and political context, not just a personal and financial one.There is considerable discussion of van Meegeren's political loyalties in the years leading up to WWII, and how that influenced his forgeries, as well as showing how his becoming a Nazi collaborator fit into his personal world-view. Van Meegeren's capture, investigation, and trial are dealt with quite quickly over the course of 2 chapters (which is a good thing, as there wasn't a lot of evidence given at the trial, the author spends the right amount of time discussing it), and concludes with an overview of the art world (as far as Vermeer and other Old Masters were concerned) in the immediate aftermath of this scandal.This book is probably intended for a niche market, but if the subject matter appeals to you, I'd highly recommend it as a concise, clearly-written, and approachable rendering of the subject. Unfortunately, in common with many/most nonfiction books on Kindle, the actual story ends at about 70% through, with the remainder being notes, bibliograpy, etc.Note on Kindle formatting: Excellent. The only quibble I have is that the captions to the pictures usually ended up being on the next page. The pictures themselves displayed very well, though they do lose something by being only in B&W instead of color as in the paper versions of the book.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable account of the master forger Han van Meergeren. I appreciated it for the attention to the details that really brought the story and its larger context to life. The story of van Meergeren cannot be told without understanding the milieu in which he worked (just before and during World War II), and this book does an excellent job of placing him in that milieu. This is no better captured than at the very end of the book where the author describes previous attempts to tell the van Meergeren story that did not include a discussion of the Volkgeist artistic style that permeated Germany at the time, and how this style would have been helpful to van Meergeren in passing off his fakes. I also appreciated the details at the end of the book about the post-war period relating to anti-collaborationist sentiment in that one gets a sense of what Europe was like as both the war and the events that transpired during the war (in this case, related to art forgery and the movement of stolen/looted/faked works of art) unwound afterwards. Not being a period in time I am generally familiar with, I was glad this section of the book was added.I felt that the narrative 'petered' out a little towards the end. For all the stress that selling a fake to Goering must have brought van Meergeren, the way it was written seemed to be almost anticlimactic. This is clearly a nitpick, but after feeling so engaged in the early parts of the book (especially as Lopez recounts the web of shady and legitimate dealers and well-meaning critics and specialists who were brought together to move a fake painting), I felt a little detached from parts of the ending. Maybe it was the seemingly brisk pace the final forgery sale seemed to occupy in the book.Regardless of the nitpick, I enjoyed this book for its historical perspectives as well as detailed account of the forgery world related to van Meergeren as well as the interesting discussion on how his (van Meergeren's) sympathies can be seen in his paintings. All of this greatly enhanced the thesis and made for a good read.

Its an interesting story which would have been improved with more context. That the author understands the topic is obvious, but it is sometimes hard to follow for those of us without that wide extent of art history knowledge. It did send me to look up a bunch of stuff in Wikipedia, and I found that the paintings stated "forgeries" here are sometimes accepted by other art historians but it certainly gives a lot to think about and it explains why older books of Vermeer often have "too many" pictures.

I imagine this author really loves the sound of his own voice. He just goes on and on and on.... He also does not understand the concept of brevity, so you will read several pages before he makes a simple point. I couldn't finish the book. If you want to learn the story of Han Van Meegeren, just watch the movie "The Last Vermeer". Much more palatable!

I could not put it down. The strength of this book is Van Meegeren himself.The book races by trying to cover as much of the whirlwind as possible; the art, the forgery, the lies, the lifestyle, the marriages, the Nazis and the aftermath. The story of a consummate con artist in every sense. The book does a wonderful job covering certain details of art forgery for that time period (though I should state I am neither an art expert nor an art historian).I wish the book went greater into depth regarding the wheeling of all the dealing, but perhaps it is lost in history. Names of friends and rivals fly by and money and fake masterpieces change hands and countries eventually lose their governments. You want to know more about these people, but the author feels the need to get it all in.Even the aftermath is quite a spectacle. The book makes you want to know more about Lt. Joseph Piller and (if records could be found) what the experts really thought when they discovered their own hoodwinking. It is remarkable to see a man like Van Meegeren snake through every danger, coming out some sort of cultural hero, while he left behind him so many ruined reputations.As the author appropriately recites (from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"): When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. The author wrote down the facts too.

The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren
ā­ 4.3 šŸ’› 151
kindle: $11.99
paperback: $2.52
hardcover: $24.00
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