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Erroneously Attributed Vermeer's and Fakes (redirect)

(part one)

ThoreThoré Photograph of Thoré-Bürger from
the sales catalogue of the
Thoré-Bürger collection, 1892

"For nearly 200 years after his death in 1675, no one knew the extent of Vermeer's oeuvre. A few connoisseurs in the Netherlands maintained continuous contact with some of his flagship paintings but, by the end of the 18th century, many of Vermeer's other works remained hidden or were attributed to another painter. By the 1850s, however, the French art critic, Etienne J. Théophile Thoré (more publicly known as William Burger, the pseudonym he adopted in 1855 during his political exile from France and retained until the end of his life) had launched a formidable campaign to locate Vermeer's work. Despite an obsessive desire to establish the artistic identity of what he dubbed the "Sphinx of Delft,"Thorè- Bürger's search was especially hindered by the moveable traverse of Vermeer's style. All of these factors, combined with the dispersal of Vermeer's paintings over time after his death and a rather wide range of techniques that the artist employed, presented experts with a most difficult task of attempting to authenticate (and date) Vermeer's work. Consequently, by 1866, when Thorè- Bürger formally brought Vermeer to the attention of readers of Paris' Gazette des Beaux Arts in three articles which later became a book, he gave Vermeer credit for more than seventy paintings. Clearly, in an effort to be inclusive, he had cast his net far too widely, though Thorè- Bürger did succeed in defining the stylistic, thematic contours of Vermeer's oeuvre."1

Although Thorè- Bürger had wrongly attributed many paintings to Vermeer, the importance of his pioneering effort is of pivotal importance to scholars today. Dutch painting at the time had not yet been studied systematically and few of today's indispensable analytical methods and technical supports for determining the authenticity of dubious works of art existed. Far less comprehensible were the false attributions which came later.

"By the end of the nineteenth-century Vermeer [paintings] were beginning to fetch big money. American millionaires, including Henry Marquand, J. Piermont Morgan, Henry Frick and Isabella Stewart Gardner, had joined the Vermeer owner's club, and the great American museums were discreetly lobbying for the pictures to be given to them or at least lent to them and later given as bequests. The Dutch museum director and art historian Abraham Bredius did well in this process. He had bought the Allegory of Faith in 1899 for roughly 700 guilders, loaned it to the Mauritshuis and the Boijmans Museum for many years, and then sold it for $300,000 to the American collector Michael Friedsam. Friedsam later left it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Vermeer prices were also affected by shortage: there just weren't enough of them to go around. With hindsight, we can see that the conditions were becoming ripe for new 'Vermeer's' to turn up, whether as result of generous attribution or from counterfeiting...as entrepreneurs thought there should be more of them to fulfill the demand."2

"In 1928 the art historian, museum director and optimist W.R. Valentiner wrote: "It is still quite possible that for a number of years to come new Vermeer's may now and then appear." Valentiner went on: "Vermeer used a very small number of models and repeated certain details like costumes, curtains, pillows, windows, mantelpieces and even paintings hanging on the walls so often that newly discovered works by him frequently seem like puzzle pictures taken from different groupings in known pictures by him. Almost a description of how to forger a Vermeer."3

Vermeer's name had clearly become well known in the 1920's and 1930's as enthusiastic collectors, in competition with one another, were willing to pay high prices for what a greedy art trade was willing to establish as authentic Vermeers, too many times, with the complicity of trusted scholars. Although the "Vermeer craze" assumed international proportions, it had yet to reach its sad climax in the post-WWII trial of the Dutch forger, Han van Meegeren..

Cottages by Van Laan
← Dirk van Laan's The Rustic Cottage was wrongly thought to be an authentic Vermeer by Thorè- Bürger, the French art historian who is considered to be the rediscoverer of the master. In the annual Paris Salon of 1866 it was shown along with other authentic and not Vermeer's. Not only was it a favorite among the public but it was also thought to be one of Vermeer's best works by laymen and connoisseurs alike. Zacharie Astruc singled it out for its studied simplicity. "One hears voices..." he wrote. "What intimate existence, and how well expressed."

view of house by Van Laan

← When in 1792 Dirk van Laan painted this variant of Vermeer's Little Street, he probably had not even the slightest idea that his work would later be attributed to Vermeer. This work was shown with great success in the same Parisian exhibitions of great masters of the work above.

Jacobus Vrel

Thorè- Bürger's personal collection comprised this City View (now in the Getty Museum) by Dutch landscape painter Jacobus Vrel, along with two others which he considered authentic Vermeers. It too was shown in the Parisian exhibition mentioned above and was likely the most popular work of the exhibition. Critics were impressed by the novelty of these Dutch street scenes lined with red bricks and although it may seem incomprehensible their favorite too.

"Signatures on paintings are the only surviving documents of Jacobus Vrel's life. His seemingly naïve style and his pictures' rarity even have prompted speculation that he was an amateur. Scholars most often link Vrel's manner to Delft artists such as Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch, but elements in his street scenes may indicate connections to Haarlem, Friesland, Flanders, or the lower Rhineland. Scholars have attributed thirty-eight paintings depicting domestic interiors, courtyards, street scenes, and church interiors to Vrel. His only dated painting, from 1654, suggests that, rather than following, Vrel anticipated Delft artists' interest in domestic themes and light effects.

Vrel rejected Dutch artists' traditional approach of describing surfaces in great detail. Instead, he created lofty spaces, often conveying an eerie feeling of emptiness. His interiors, with their curiously stunted furniture, frequently display a single woman, usually viewed from behind or in profile. His street scenes are unusual in their anonymity, showing unremarkable back streets and ordinary people. Vrel's painting technique--a straightforward manner without glazes or other refinements complemented his unpretentious subjects." 4

portrait of a seated man by and inknown artist

A Portrait of a Man was even published in full color in a monograph of Vermeer by art historian A.B. de Vries in 1939 in, so sure was he of the painting's authenticity.

Smiling Girl, imitator of Johannes Vermeer

← This Laughing Girl hangs in the Special Collection of the National Gallery in Washington and is now thought to be a work by Theo van Wijngaarden (1874–1952), a Hague art dealer and notorious forger. It was exhibited in the Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450–1900 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1929 (no. 317, as Head of a Young Girl by Johannes Vermeer).

Van Wijngaarden was a lesser artist whose legitimate income came largely from restoration, working with cheaply purchased pictures and moving them to other areas of Europe to sell for a profit. He worked on several of Van Meegeren's well known forgeries, including Frans Hals and Smiling Girl. He often served as the front man, making the sales deals on van Meegeren's forgeries.

According to Jonathan Lopez, the author of he Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, as far as Van Wijngaarden's granddaughter understood the arrangement, Van Meegeren furnished the raw image-making talent while her grandfather provided the technical knowledge of faking methods. Interestingly, this description of the partnership between Van Meegeren and Van Wijngaarden accords well with various facts uncovered, independently, through archival research into the scandalous case of The Laughing Cavalier."4

  1. Jon Boone, "Saint praxedis: Missing the Mark", Essential Vermeer, July, 2002, <http://www.essentialvermeer.com/saint_praxedis.html>
  2. Anthony Bailey, Vermeer: A View of Delft, New York, 2001, pp. 226-227
  3. Jacobus Vrel, The Getty Museum Website, <http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=1039&page=1>
  4. Jonathan Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, , Orlando, Austin, New York, San Diego and London, 2008