VQR Review: ‘The Man Who Made Vermeers’ by Jonathan Lopez

The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, by Jonathan Lopez. Harcourt, August 2008. $26
Imagine this as the plot of a novel: in the 1920s, a moderately talented Dutch painter reacts furiously to bad reviews and becomes a forger of Old Masters in revenge. He paints six phony Vermeers with biblical subjects, thus creating a religious phase in the master’s career and fooling many established experts. During World War II, he collaborates with the Nazis and becomes the richest painter in the world from his fakes. Then Hermann Goering decides he must have a Vermeer because the Fuhrer has two and buys the phony “Christ and the Adulteress” in 1943. Arrested after the war for trading with the enemy, the artist claims he faked Goering’s masterpiece to fool the Germans. He then becomes a folk hero in the Netherlands despite being sentenced to a year in jail for forgery. But that’s not fiction; it actually happened, and one of the fakes, “The Supper at Emmaus,” still hangs in the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam. Lopez strips away the folk hero veneer of van Meegeren by deep research into archives and a thorough understanding of the complex world of art, faking art, and selling it. He says, “Although the best forgeries may mimic the style of a long-dead artist, they tend to reflect the tastes and attitudes of their own period.” The faked Vermeers don’t look like Vermeers today, but in the 1940s, they did, as well as looking like National Socialist art. Here is a serious, funny, ironic, informative study of a delicious scoundrel that reads like a novel.
—Don Fry, The Virginia Quarterly Review


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