The Man Who Swindled Göring | Han van Meegeren | The Master Art Forger

The Man Who Swindled Göring | Han van Meegeren | The Master Art Forger


In 1946, the second world war had just ended,
a Dutch artist and art collector stood trial in Amsterdam. His charge? Collaboration, for selling cherished cultural
heritage to the Nazis. He earned millions. His sales came to light after a Vermeer painting
was found in Hermann Görings art collection, which was traced back to him, Han van Meegeren. He was facing years in prison and even the
death penalty. The trial took an unexpected turn when it
became evident he hadn’t sold a real Vermeer to the Nazis, but an extremely detailed forgery. The court was sceptical at first but it soon
became clear he hadn’t just swindled Göring, but the entire art world, for decades. -intro- Personal life and Creativity Van Meegeren’s story isn’t a usual story. Born in 1889 and showing both skill and passion
for painting at an early age, Han van Meegeren was expected to become at least a decent artist. Well, aside from his father, who thought artists
were degenerates. After Han finished high school he was forced
to take up an engineering study in Delft by his father. Han himself would rather go to the art academy,
but this was no option for his father While their bond worsened he tried to make the best
of it at university. Though not a model student, his artistic talents
once again were prevalent when he won a first prize drawing the interior of the St Laurenskerk
in Rotterdam. Not just that, but he designed the clubhouse
for his student rowing club. And eventually, he decided to quit his studies
altogether and follow his passion: painting. He developed himself as a good artist the
general criticism regarding his paintings was that, while technically it was great,
the style was too traditional and wasn’t that original. His work did sell and he wasn’t condemned
to poverty, but nevertheless, Han did not receive the recognition he felt he deserved. He married Anna de Voogt in 1912 and the couple
had a son and daughter. This was around the time his career as an
artist took off, having many expositions and selling multiple paintings. Eventually, the couple divorced and in 1928
Han married Jo Oerlemans. By the time they married, Han had been forging
paintings for some time already. Forgeries and Techniques During his trial in 1946 Han would state he
wanted to test internationally renowned art experts. After the criticism his work received he thought
of them as snobby. It was during that time he hatched a plan
to forge paintings of great masters – or, in his words, to “force the art world to
its knees”. During the 1920s Han shared a workshop with
the art-restorator Theo van Wijngaarden. Theo would be crucial for Han’s initial
forgeries, as he would become the middle-man in selling the paintings to Dutch, British
and American art collectors. Han’s first forgeries were two paintings
in the style of Frans Hals, one of the most well-known Dutch Golden Age painters. One of the paintings, the laughing cavalier,
wasn’t sold as there were doubts about its authenticity but the other painting hung in
the Groninger Museum until Han was put on trial and confessed to his forgeries in 1946. There certainly was a method Han developed
and fine-tuned in order to fool the keenest experts. After doubts arose about one of his paintings
he retreated to France where he experimented with old canvas from the 17th century, tampered
with paint to give it a grainy texture and added bakelite, a form of synthetic plastic,
in order for the paint not to dissolve when tested with alcohol, as was commonplace during
that time. Aside from chemical procedures he even created
his own paintbrushes with badger hair – it was known Vermeer used this. The blue lapis lazuli, a gem, was bought from
London in order to reproduce Vermeer’s enchanting blue paint. After he was finished he baked the paintings
in an oven at 120 degrees to harden the paint, then roll the painting for the cracks in the
paint to emerge. These cracks were subtly filled with Indian
Ink and dirt. Now, obviously, it took Han several years
to master these difficult and time-consuming procedures. But once he managed to master the forgery
procedures – after all, he could already paint at an excellent level – he used his contacts
to enter the art market. Magnum Opus Han didn’t sell his first two forgeries,
Lady Reading Music and Lady Playing Music, modelled on Vermeer. They now hang in the Dutch Rijksmuseum. But his third forgery, the supper at Emmaus,
was destined for something larger. Via his contacts, it ended up at Abraham Bredius,
a renowned Vermeer expert. That was not before it was offered to an American
expert that called the painting “a rotten fake”. Nevertheless, Bredius stated it was real,
praised the painting and recommended it to the owner of Museum Boymans in Rotterdam. 540.000 guilders was collected and the painting
was sold to the museum. It was Han’s first success and due to it,
many more would follow. He sold two more “Vermeers” to the Boymans
and another one to a wealthy harbour baron. Forging paintings from multiple artists such
as Frans Hals, Gerard ter Borch and Pieter de Hooch, Han was able to amass a small fortune
and live his life in incredible luxury, exposing in both the Netherlands and Germany. This all happened during the 1930s. As we know, at the end of that decade, due
to another artist that didn’t feel the world had properly recognized his talent, the second
world war would break out. And while horrible for many, it became a financial
blessing for Han. Swindling Göring Han moved back to the Netherlands from France
a year before the low countries were invaded. After the German invasion, he managed to sell
much of his works and had expositions of his own work in Germany. It’s a grey area whether Han had actual
sympathies to Hitler but some evidence certainly does point towards that. At any rate – he became rich. Filthy rich. Whilst Europe was suffering under the terror
of war he lived in “het Roode Huys”, a beautiful Amsterdam canal house and a luxurious
manor outside of town. Dutch art collectors bought many of his forgeries
because they didn’t want the Germans to get their hands on it. Now, the painting that would eventually lead
to his downfall was a Vermeer forgery, ‘Christ with the Adulteress’. The painting was sold to a German banker for
a sizeable sum. This German banker ended up selling it to
Hermann Göring. Or, well, traded it for 137 other paintings. These paintings combined would amount to around
1.6 million guilders, an absolute record. It became one of the most expensive paintings
ever. As we know, the war ended badly for Germany
– what is lesser known is that Nazis, and Göring himself, hid their stolen art collections
all over Europe. Göring hid his collection in a salt mine
in Austria. After the war the Allied powers discovered
the paintings and thanks to the efficient German bureaucracy, I mean, that’s one thing
they did get right, Han van Meegeren was quickly traced. When authorities came by to investigate, he
could not explain the origins of the painting and on the 26th of May he was arrested in
Amsterdam. He was charged with collaboration with the
enemy. If convicted of this crime, it meant decades
in prison, if not the death penalty. The Dutch authorities thought he stole the
painting from families that had been sent to concentration camps. At least, he didn’t get the painting in
a fair and square manner. Two long weeks of pondering on his situation
followed for Han. If he didn’t confess he forged the paintings,
a terrible fate would await him. If he did confess, it would not just mean
they knew this painting was fake, but many more of his paintings hanging all over museums
in the Netherlands and Germany. Trial After two weeks of imprisonment, Han decided
to confess. He stated he forged Göring’s painting,
hoping to reduce his sentence. At first, he wasn’t believed though. Dutch authorities thought it was rather convenient
to just state he painted the painting himself to receive a lower sentence. And as such he was made to forge a new painting. And, well, he did. With judicial civil servants watching him,
Han forged another painting, the Christ in the Temple, meticulously following each step
in his systemic process he had mastered over the years. When court realized he did, in fact, forge
the painting it became an incredible headline – the man who swindled Göring – newspapers
all over the world ran articles about him. When asked why he did it he stated he wanted
to create a painting that was acknowledged as ‘good art’. He despised art critics and their snobbiness. Perhaps it was a revolt against his father
as well. Eventually, Han was sentenced to 1 year in
jail. He claimed his ex-wife by now, Jo, didn’t
know about the forgings. She was able to comfortably outlive the rest
of her life. Han himself never served his prison sentence. He fell ill and passed away in 1947, less
than a year after his trial. It is the tragic story about an, in my opinion,
extremely talented artist. The Supper at Emmaus hangs in the Boymans-van
Beuning museum to this day, so if you’re ever in Rotterdam make sure to check that
out! Thank you for watching this video and what
is an interesting person’s life story you’d like to know more about and perhaps see a
video of? Let me know your thoughts in the comments,
don’t forget to subscribe. See you next time.

12 thoughts on “The Man Who Swindled Göring | Han van Meegeren | The Master Art Forger

  1. Timestamps in this comment
    Han van Meegeren is one of the, if not the most famous art forger in history. His sales thrived during the Second World War. Ironic, considering another artist that didn't feel recognized was the instigator of that massive conflict.

    Timecodes

    0:52 Early Life and Career

    2:18 Forgeries and Techniques

    4:17 Magnum Opus

    5:32 Swindling Göring

    7:32 Trial

    The books on my table are a hint as to what my next big documentary will be about. Any idea? Feel free to leave your guess in a comment!

  2. I was watching a Q & A video on the Casual Historian and someone asked about the role of Canadians in the American Civil War. One of the two Canadians that served in the war that comes to mind is Inspector Ephrem-A. Brisebois who commanded the NWMP detachment that established what became Fort Calgary and eventually the city of Calgary.

  3. I've always loved fraudsters by how clever, but defrauding Nazis is just another level. Loved the video man!

  4. hey, your accent have gotten better. well you could focus on the life and achievements of important and interesting people, such as Jon d Rockefeller, Alcibiades, or old naps Bonaparte. I'd love one about Pedro the I first emperor of Brazil(i'm from there hue), or maybe take a sweet step by step approach on the thirty years war , sengoku jiday or maybe more current events like the Libyan civil war

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