By Darla McCammon
Han Van Meegeren was from the Netherlands and greatly admired the work of the Dutch masters, particularly Vermeer.
Once he determined, from low sales, that he still needed to prove himself a great artist, he decided to get revenge on those who did not recognize his talent. Meegerem then took the next step into dishonesty and began making copies of the work he admired. Initially, he chose to make forgeries of two Vermeers, one Frans Hal, and one Ter Borch. Meegeren was painstaking and clever.
He did everything he could think of to duplicate Vermeer. He used historical, old canvas, he acquired for his base. He found old supports and used them on the old canvas to escape detection. He also worked like a mad chemist in creating his own pigments to match those Vermeer would have used. He studied details, brush strokes, values, color, composition. He even went so far as to find a way to add plastic to his paint that would harden under heat and would fool the experts with paint the ages had supposedly hardened.
Once he was satisfied with his results, he kept these copies and did not sell them. He did not copy Vermeer in his next step, but instead created a “newly discovered” Vermeer. Next, he went to work to produce one of the best forgeries, ever, as he created a painting in the style of Vermeer.
Critics were in awe in 1937 and gave rave reviews to this now-famous Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus (See Photo). A respected art historian, Bredius was approached to view this painting that was ostensibly from a Dutch estate. Bredius wrote in a magazine article, “It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master, untouched, on the original canvas, and without any restoration, just as it left the painter’s studio.” Bredius, called “The Pope” by art lovers because of his critiques, went on to say it was “the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft.” So, Meegeren’s revenge was complete…but not his story.
He was gratified and made wealthy by his forgeries but of course, he received no personal recognition–that still rankled. He had to operate with great secrecy and scheming. He could not even bring in models who might reveal him to the public. Once the fake Vermeer was produced, other “estates” suddenly began offering more paintings by Vermeer. Meegeren’s own Netherlands government purchased his work, but of course, gave him no credit. Hermann Göring, one of Hitler’s high-ranking Nazis collected art and managed to add one of the forged Vermeer’s to his collection.
Van Meegeren’s story continues next column. You will not believe what happens to him next!