From 1938-1945 the most famous and admired Vermeer in the world was a fake.
This entertaining jaunt through the world of art forgery focuses on Dutch painter Han van Meegeren, who foisted seven fake Vermeers on a fawning audience of duped art critics, swindling millions out of American robber barons and infamous art collector Hermann Goering.
Dolnick tells Van Meegeren’s story with a light touch, very Thomas Crown Affair. His account jumps all over the place, so you’ll learn a little about a lot of things: Vermeer, wartime Holland, Nazi hobbies, how to forge a painting, how not to forge a painting, and the psychology of scamming an audience into willing belief.
In retrospect, the striking thing about Van Meegeren’s forgeries is how little they resemble real Vermeers. His technique was painstaking, right up until he mixed his paints with 20th-century Bakelite. His human figures are increasingly crude and vampirical, and Christ has really, really bad hair. But reputable art critics fell all over themselves to pronounce his paintings not just authentic, but masterpieces, the finest of Vermeer’s oeuvre.
Hey, don’t million-dollar paintings have to stand up to rigorous testing and verification? Apparently not. Even though dendochronologists can take the wooden panel on which a portrait has been painted and tell you what year the tree was cut down, Thomas Hoving, former head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, says: “Nobody bothers to take the time or spend the money.” I am suddenly encouraged to consider a life of crime.
Check the WRL catalog for The Forger’s Spell