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Erroneously Attributed Vermeer's and Fakes

(part two)

Hans van Meegeren at his trial Han van Meegeren at his trial

Han van Meegeren (1889–1947), the most notorious and celebrated forger of the twentieth century, was born in the Dutch town of Deventer. He was fascinated by drawing as a child, and pursued it despite his father's disapproval, sometimes spending all his pocket money on art supplies. In high school he was able finally to receive professional instruction, and went on to study architecture, according to his father's wishes."1

"Van Meegeren's artistic career began well. He showed his first paintings publicly in The Hague, where they were exhibited from April to May, 1917 at the Kunstzaal Pictura. In December, 1919, he was accepted as a select member to the Haagse Kunstkring, an exclusive society of writers and painters who met weekly on the premises of the Ridderzaal. In his studio at The Hague, opposite the Royal Palace Huis ten Bosch, Van Meegeren would paint the tame Roe Deer belonging to Princess Juliana. He made many sketches and drawings of the deer and in 1921, painted Het Hertje (The fawn), which became quite popular in the Netherlands. He undertook numerous journeys to Belgium, France, Italy and England, and acquired a name for himself as a talented portraitist."2

However, after an initial success in the Dutch art circles, critics began to decry Van Meegeren's work as tired and derivative. The artist felt that the critics had attacked him unjustly and destroyed his career. He decided to prove his talent to the critics by forging paintings of some of the world's most famous artists. And by later selling his fakes to Nazi leaders, he had vindicated his culture and country which they had invaded. Or so goes the popular myth. The real story, largely rewritten by Jonathan Lopez in The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, is that Van Meegeren was neither unappreciated artist nor antifascist, but an ingenious crook who worked virtually his entire adult life making and selling fake Old Masters trough networks of illicit commerce that operated across Europe between the wars. He had landed fakes with powerful dealers and famous collectors such as Andrew Mellon (including two pseudo-Vermeers that Mellon donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.).

To pass off his fakes, Van Meegeren spent six years researching techniques in great secrecy, finally producing near-perfect forgeries of paintings attributed to Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, Gerrit ter Borch and Johannes Vermeer. He had cunningly replicated the styles and colors of the artists he copied. Even the best art critics and connoisseurs of the time regarded Van Meegeren's forgeries as genuine, and often exquisite. The materials and techniques he used could not be detected by tge authentication methods of the time. Van Meegeren never admitted to creating any fakes dating from before 1937, but there have always been rumours suggesting that his career had, in fact, begun much earlier than that.

The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen staged an exhibition of ten famous forgeries of Han van Meegeren from May 12- August 20 2010. Most works are in the style of Johannes Vermeer, but forgeries of Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch were also included.

During World War II, a number of wealthy Dutchmen wanted to prevent the sales of precious Dutch Master paintings to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and avidly bought Van Meegeren's forgeries. Nevertheless, one of the nation's "Vermeers" ended up in the possession of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. Following the war, the forgery was found in the art collection of Goering, and Han van Meegeren was arrested as a German Collaborator. Since Van Meegeren's crime brought the death penalty he had little choice but to confess to the forgery and clear himself of the charge. In the beginning, Van Meegeren was not believed until was able to exonerate himself by painting another "Vermeer" from his jail cell.

On 12 November, 1947, Van Meegeren was convicted of falsification and fraud charges, and sentenced to the legal minimum punishment of one year in prison. He never served his sentence; before he could be incarcerated the forger suffered a heart attack and died on 30 December, 1947.

Van Meegeren never admitted to creating any fakes dating from before 1937, but there have always been rumours suggesting that his career had, in fact, begun much earlier than that. It is estimated that Van Meegeren duped buyers out of an estimated $25 to $30 million dollars.

How could have Van Meegeren's forgeries fooled even the great art historians of the time? "In essence, what these forgeries had done was to re-interpret Vermeer in the light of art inspired by Nazi ideology— with which Van Meegeren ...sympathized. The late Vermeer forgeries are basically a Nazi fantasy of Vermeer, and this was, of course, an entirely plausible image of Vermeer if you happened to be living in occupied Europe during the war, when Nazi imagery was an absolutely ubiquitous part of daily life." 3

This intriguing case received international attention and its outcome served as the greater art community as an admonition against unscrupulous art dealers and the untouchable art experts. The long-needed reckoning that ensued after the trial had the positive effect of pruning Vermeer's oeuvre of many works that had been erroneously attributed to him.

There are now 35 (36?) paintings that are almost universally accepted as by Vermeer. The Girl with a Red Hat, once doubted by various specialists, is now solidly admitted as a stable work of the artist tiny oeuvre. Girl with a Flute may not have been entirely finished by Vermeer but it too is believed to by Vermeer but retouched by a later hand. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. presumes that the St. Praxedis is a copy by Vermeer of an Italian painting of the same subject. However, the work has met with strong criticism and is generally dismissed by most art historians. A Young Lady Seated at the Virginals (not to be confused with the London National Gallery picture of similar name and motif) has been recently accepted by the leading Vermeer expert Walter Liedtke and included it in his Vermeer: The Complete Paintings (cat. no. 36). Although some authoritative experts have accepted this work as authentic, the lack of scholarly discussion which currently surrounds this work has encouraged the author of this site to add a question mark alongside its catalogue number.

"Vermeer: Malice and Misconception"4 by Ben Broos and "Vermeer and Thorè- Bürger: Rediscoveries of Reputation"5 by Francis Suzman Jowell, should be consulted for more detailed information regarding the reputation of Thorè- Bürger and the question of various uncertain Vermeer paintings.

Van Meegeren's Dilemma

"As he moved from strength to strength as a forger...Van Meegeren grew increasingly disenchanted with the way he was perceived, or misperceived, by his peers. And with some justification. Known in public as the inoffensively traditionalist court painter to the patricians of The Hague, Van Meegeren was, in reality, one of the most successful artists alive in Europe. When Joseph Duveen bought the Lace Maker, in 1927. Not even Picasso could have sold a single canvas for £38,000—or even a quarter of that. Moreover, Van Meegeren had risen to the top in a field of creative endeavor so radical that it went beyond cutting edge to criminal. Yet,, only his closest confidantes knew that he had painted The Lace Maker, and The Smiling Girl before it. It was a bitter pill for a man like Van Meegeren, who had craved a public triumph… "

Jonathan Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing
the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren
, 2008, p. 86

flase_vermeer in the MET

← The Metropolitan Museum of Art website affords a rather interesting comparison on a page where a an uninspired imitation, A Young Woman Reading can be viewed along side with five authentic Vermeer's of the collection. Curator John Walsh changed the attribution to imitation (early 20th century) in 1974 although the painting was known to be fake much earlier as all the literature reflects. The painting features a marine-scape in an ebony frame identical to the landscape which hangs in the background of the authentic Love Letter in the Rijksmuseum.

"The fabrication of this painting is atypical of the seventeenth century. Analysis reveals the use of a zinc white primer, which was not widely used as an artists' material until the end of the eighteenth century. After the painting was completed, the support was manipulated to induce cracks. A black material, possibly ink, was rubbed into the cracks, and the surface was distressed and retouched in an attempt to simulate an old paint film."6

← During the second world war, Hans van Meegeren painted Christ and Disciples at Emmaus which he purported to be an early Vermeer. Since some scholars had come to believe that Vermeer had in effect visited Italy in his formative years, Van Meegeren cunningly validated their theory though this forgery.

The composition is strongly reminiscent of work by Caravaggio but both the blue-yellow color harmonies and the jug which are characteristic of Vermeer's genuine paintings. The composition seemed to bridge the gap between earlier and later works.

Despite some doubts whether it was a genuine Vermeer, the painting was purchased by shipowner Daniel George van Beuningen for 550,000 guilders ($300,000 or about $4 million today. In 1938, the piece was highlighted in a special exhibition at the Rotterdam museum along with 450 Dutch masterpieces dating from 1400–1800.

In the "Magazine for [the] History of Art", A. Feulner wrote that: "In the rather isolated area, in which the Vermeer picture hung, it was as quiet as in a chapel. The feeling of the consecration overflows on the visitors, although the picture has no ties to ritual or church." The emotional effect of the picture as religious experience was so profound that many art critics no longer questioned the authenticity of the piece.

←Today, t he Lady and Gentleman at the Spinet by Van Meegeren seems to be little more than a weak collection of Vermeer quotations. The standing man strikes a similar pose as that of the standing man in Vermeer's authentic The Music Lesson whereas the seated woman seems to have been drawn from other female genre figures of Gabriel Metsu or Nicolas Maes. The curtain and ebony-framed landscape in the background are take literally from other compositions by Vermeer. This forgery was once announced as a "masterpiece of the Great Man of Delft" by Abraham Bredius (1889–1909)' one of the world's most important Dutch art scholars of the time.

Bredius was the director of Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, connoisseur and art collector. He was raised in a wealthy family. His father was Johannes Jacobus Bredius a director of a powder factory in Amsterdam. His family collected Chinese porcelain and seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, which Bredius would build upon.

"Although other eminent art historians, including J. G. van Gelder, also validated the work, Bredius published an enthusiastic appraisal in the Burlington Magazine ("every inch [is] a Vermeer"). Bredius' opinion was still so valued that other leading art-historians including Abraham M. Hammacher, Thomas H. Luns, Johan Q. van Regteren Altena, Frithjof W. van Thienen, and Ary Bob de Vries accepted his judgment. Principally on Bredius' recommendation, Dirk Hannema, director of the Boymans-Van Beuningen museum, acquired the work where it remained until its true identity was discovered after World War II."7


← This is one of Van Meegeren's "traditional" Vermeer's. As can be plainly seen, it was partly cribbed from the authentic Woman in Blue Reading a Letter in the Rijksmuseum and A Lady Writing in the National Gallery of Washington. This picture, like the Woman Playing Music, remained unsold and was later found in Van Meegeren's Nice studio a decade after they were both painted. It has been suggested that they were never sold because Van Meegeren felt that they were too like real Vermeers as far as subject matter was concerned and thus exactly what a forger would be expected to produce.

← During the initial decades which followed its first publication in 1904, this picture was universally accepted and published as an autograph work by Vermeer. Then, following the dramatic events of the affair of the Van Meegeren forgeries, Ary Bob de Vries, the then Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the recognized leading scholar on Vermeer, expressed doubts about the authenticity of the picture.8

Walter Liedtke, who curated the comprehensive Vermeer and the Delft School exhibition (New York and London in 2001), decided at the very last minute to include in that exhibition as one of the end pieces although it was not included in the catalogue.

Only during the last decade, since the picture was brought back into contact with the scholarly community, has it been examined seriously. Now, after more than 10 years of extensive research by a team of leading scholars, the painting has now been proposed as a secure addition to Vermeer's limited oeuvre. Not all scholars, however, are in agreement.

← The recent "discovery" of Saint Praxedis has been staunchly defended by the chief curator of Northern European painting of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Walter Liedtke opined: "In my view the Saint Praxedis attributed to Vermeer (but widely doubted) is probably Florentine." The Mauritshuis' Ben Broos, after reviewing the history of fraud, forgery and incompetent attributions that plagued Vermeer's oeuvre in the 20th century, wrote:

Oddly enough, history has recently repeated itself. It happened in 1981, when Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. discovered Saint Praxedis. "The moment I saw her something clicked," says Wheelock. "My reaction was immediate. It wasn't the signature. On something like that, you just don't trust the signature …." And indeed, the signature at lower left in the painting's present state is not authentic, and the translation on the right, "Meer naar Riposo" seems "wishful thinking" at best. In my opinion, Saint Praxedis is the latest wrongly attributed Vermeer of the caliber of Van der Laan and Vrel.

The work is a virtual duplicate of an original 1645 painting of the same name by the Florentine painter, Felice Ficherelli, whose nickname was "il Riposo." St. Praxedis was a second-century Roman Christian who, along with her sister, Pudentiana, cared for the often-severed bodies of those martyred for their faith. By the late sixteenth century she was especially revered by the Jesuits, an order which lived next door to Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins, along the Oude Langendijk in Delft.

ifalse drawing attributed to Johannes Vermeer

← This drawing bears a rather large monogram on the foot warmer under the young girl's foot that at first appearance seems similar to those of Vermeer (there exist no drawings securely attributed to the Delft artist). However, it seems to be drawn with a different colored chalk from the rest of the drawing. It is more likely that it is a work of Cornelis Bega or one of his Harlem contemporaries.

iVan Meegeren fake

← This malicious painting by Van Meegeren was an attempt to clone some of the most typical motifs and technical idiosyncrasies of Vermeer's mature style. The figure, who wistfully gazes out the window while tuning her lute, is obviously drawn from Vermeer's Woman with a Lute while mirror with the girl's reflection as well as the legs of the artist's easel, was drawn The Music Lesson. Van Meegeren made a rather clumsy attempts to imitate Vermeer's trademark pointillés caused by the camera obscura and modeling and contours brittle and inexpressive.

The painting is housed in the Rijksmuseum.

  1. Denis Dutton, Hans van Meegeren,< http://denisdutton.com/van_meegeren.htm>
  2. Han van Meegeren, Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_van_Meegeren>
  3. 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
  4. Ben Broos, "Vermeer: Malice and Misconception," in Vermeer Studies, edited by Ivan Gaskell, New York, 2001, pp. 18-33
  5. Francis Suzman Jowell, "Vermeer and Thorè- Bürger: Rediscoveries of Reputation" in Vermeer Studies, edited by Ivan Gaskell, New York, 2001, pp. 34-57
  6. Water Liedtke, "Imitator of Johannes Vermeer (about 1925–27), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website, 2007, <http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/110002335>
  7. Lee Sorensen and Monique Daniels, "Bredius, Abraham", in Dictionary of Art Historians (website), , <http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/brediusa.htm>
  8. In his monograph on Vermeer (1939) , De Vries focused on the study of the artist's works and their aesthetic relation with paintings by other artists. In the 1948 English edition, De Vries dealt with the discovery, after the war, Van Meegeren forgeries including the "Supper at Emmaus," the most discussed forgery of that time. De Vries admitted that in the earlier Dutch (1939) and Swiss (1945) editions of his work he had assumed that the painting was authentic. This information was drawn from: Monique Daniels, "Vries, A[ry] B[ob], de", in Dictionary of Art Historians (website), <http://www.dictionaryofarthistorians.org/vriesa.htm>