The Revenge of Han van Meegeren, One of the Great Art Forgers of All Time

The Revenge of Han van Meegeren, One of the Great Art Forgers of All Time

Han van Meegeren was born in 1889 and developed
an interest in painting at a young age. He wasn’t supported in his dream to become
an artist by his father, who forbade van Meegeren’s artistic development, trying to steer his
son in the direction of architecture instead. Undeterred, van Meegeren met Bartus Kortelling—a
teacher and painter—at his school, and Kortelling later became van Meegeren’s mentor. Kortelling loved paintings from the Dutch
Golden Age and likely had a hand in van Meegeren’s love of golden age paintings as well. A particular fan of Johannes Vermeer, Kortelling
showed his protégé how Vermeer mixed his colours—a lesson that would have a great
impact on the aspiring artist’s later life. Still, van Meegeren’s father was not impressed. He sent his son to school in Delft to become
an architect. Perhaps he wasn’t aware, but Delft was the
one-time hometown of Vermeer. Van Meegeren proved to be an adept architect,
but his heart was still set on painting. He continued his painting lessons and never
took the final exam that would allow him to become an architect. Instead, he moved on to art school in The
Hague in 1913. That same year, he was granted a Gold Medal
from his school in Delft for his painting The Study of the Interior of the Church of
Saint Lawrence. Van Meegeren exhibited his first set of legitimate
paintings in 1917, and they proved to be quite popular among critics. However, as time went on he garnered less
and less attention. Critics were more interested in the forward-thinking
artists like the Cubists and Surrealists; they remarked that van Meegeren had little
to offer because he was focused only on the past. He received comments about being unoriginal
and simply “a copycat” without as much talent as the great artists who had lived
before him. In 1945, van Meegeren declared, Driven into a state of anxiety and depression
due to the all-too-meager appreciation of my work, I decided, one fateful day, to revenge
myself on the art critics and experts by doing something the likes of which the world had
never seen before. That “something” happened to be “the
perfect forgery.” Van Meegeren set out to show the world that
he was just as good as the old artists by creating paintings and passing them off as
the old artists’ originals—and make a lot of money doing it. It was easy for him to settle on Vermeer. He already had a base knowledge of Vermeer
from his mentor, and Vermeer was a good target because he’d only produced around 35 paintings—just
a tenth of his contemporaries’ output. That meant art historians were constantly
on the lookout for undiscovered Vermeers. The thought that there should be more likely
made it easier for them to believe that they saw a new one when they were presented with
one—even if it was a forgery. Van Meegeren was a careful forger. He did extensive research on Vermeer and his
paintings, bought authentic 17th-century canvasses, and used the original formulas for making
his own paints. His biggest problem was trying to make the
painting look like it was 300 years old. Oil paint takes decades to dry completely,
which meant that a newer painting would be found out the moment someone touched it. He was forced to experiment with the original
paint formulas and baking his paintings in an oven. Most of the paints burned or melted, but he
found using phenol formaldehyde on a finished painting would make the paint harden. When it was finished baking, he would roll
a cylinder over it to make more cracks, making it look more legitimate. Once the process of creating old-looking paintings
was perfected, van Meegeren had another obstacle: the content of the paintings. At first, he painted pictures much like those
that Vermeer had painted, but he found that experts looked too closely at them and detected
little differences between the real thing and the forgery. He ended up taking a gamble and painting something
completely different than what Vermeer painted, but with hints of Vermeer’s style. The result? Millions of dollars straight into van Meegeren’s
pockets. It was his famous “Christ at Emmaus” painting
that allowed van Meegeren to break into the market. The painting was larger than anything Vermeer
had done, and it had religious subject matter, which was also different. But art historians had speculated that Vermeer
had painted something like “Christ at Emmaus” for some time, and they were eager to believe
that the painting really was Vermeer’s. He even fooled Abraham Bredius, an art historian
who had a reputation for authenticating new Vermeers. The historian wrote an article on “Christ
at Emmaus,” saying, 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! And what a picture! … I am inclined to say the masterpiece of
Johannes Vermeer of Delft… Van Meegeren continued to churn out paintings
with religious subject matter, and they continued to be snapped up by art enthusiasts. By the time he was found out, he’d made
$30 million on his forgeries (about $400 million today). Unfortunately, his incredible success ended
up being his undoing. During World War II, Hermann Goerring—“the
No. 2 man in Nazi Germany”—traded 137 paintings for van Meegeren’s forgery “Christ
with the Woman Taken in Adultery.” Unfortunately for van Meegeren, Goerring kept
meticulous papers regarding his transactions. At the end of World War II, van Meegeren’s
name was found next to the trade for the Vermeer, and he was arrested in 1945 for “collaborating
with the enemy.” The allegations might have carried a death
sentence, and so van Meegeren was forced to out himself as a forger. He claimed responsibility for the painting
of the Vermeer that Goerring had bought, along with five other Vermeer paintings and two
Pieter de Hooghs, all of which had been “discovered” after 1937. The astonished court room had him paint another
forgery in front of them to prove it, and when he passed the test his charges were changed
to forgery and he was sentenced to just one year in prison, which was the minimum prison
sentence for such a crime. Rather than be angry with van Meegeren, the
Dutch public largely lauded him as a hero. During his trial, he presented himself as
a patriot—he had, after all, secured 137 paintings that had been unlawfully seized
by Goerring by duping the famous Nazi into thinking he’d purchased a real Vermeer. As van Meegeren said, “How could a person
demonstrate his patriotism, his love of Holland more than I did by conning the great enemy
of the Dutch people?” Van Meegeren never served his one year in
prison. He died of a heart attack two months after
his two-year trial. Until the end, he believed that—when he
was gone—his name would soon be forgotten, and his paintings would eventually be remembered
as true Vermeers.

100 thoughts on “The Revenge of Han van Meegeren, One of the Great Art Forgers of All Time

  1. OK that is an interesting way to think about that person and an interesting take on the justice system and who is considered a hero and a patriot.

  2. Your pronunciation of Van Meegeren is spot on. That is exactly how US Citizens with an historic Dutch surname would pronounce it. However in Dutch the "ee"are pronounced more like the English word melee.

  3. Frankly we are so used to English speakers to use the soft 'g' we pretty much volunteer that soft 'g' when saying names with a 'g'.
    It's close enough. We even accept 'Vincent van Go" And that should really be 'van Gogh' with 2 sharp 'g'-s and a short 'o'.

  4. Nice and loved to see one of my favorite forgers here.
    But… small thing that needs to be said I think:
    He did not use phenol formaldehyde (Bakelite) 'on' his paintings. He actually used it as medium 'in' his paint. This made the paint solvent proof. This was a simple standard test to check the age of paint. Cotton swab with some turpentine or petrol over some non-varnished piece of the painting. New paint will leave color on the swab. 100 Year old paint does not budge but nether does new paint with Bakelite that has been baked. Ingenious.

  5. Interesting fact: one of van Meegeren's own original paintings, de hertjes (the two little deer) was later forged. You can see that forgery in the museum voor valse kunst (museum for false art), in the province of Drenthe.

  6. Simon, if you do the English style pronunciation, but with the Dutch "g" sound, it would be virtually perfect. The "Mee" bit sounds like may, then the g sound and the last 2 e's are pronounced as in "the".

  7. Van Meegeren's life and work are not only interesting in their own right, they provided a basis for an excellent group of novels. The Canadian novelist Robertson Davies wrote an entire trilogy in which the unmasking of a forgery by a van Meegeren-like character provides one of the central events. (In the novels, the forger paints a fake Hubertus van Eyck, revealed when the protagonist recognizes that the forger painted in a New World monkey that would have been unknown to van Eyck, who died in 1426.)

  8. Nice. But you pronounced Emmaus incorrectly. Here is the correct pronunciation and thank you for trying to pronounce so many things correctly.

  9. So Vermeer had painted 35 known paintings, but suddenly one man had the remarkable good fortune to find one previously unknown painting after another … and yet no one noticed or even suspected.

  10. I’m sensing the beginning of the fifth Anglo-Dutch war over that pronunciation! Great video, what a fascinating life

  11. from a dutchman who was born and raised speaking Dutch, yeah it was a bit off, but honestly i think your genuine effort to pronounce it correctly is genuinely admirable and makes me proud haha. Love you simon

  12. I wonder if the genuine Vermeer ever once thought that centuries after his death, another painter would have such a colorful career forging works under his name, maybe he would've been flattered.

  13. Can u buy forged paintings?

    I mean it's not really made by a famous artists, but the work would still be so incredible to have.

  14. What a pity that a man with such talents was so under-appreciated and dismissed that he felt compelled to turn to forgery! His art should have been much more appreciated than it was.

  15. It's so sad that so many of these old artists die without being appreciated for what they can do, yet they become so famous and appreciated later on. I wish at least some of them could know how appreciated their works are now.

    It's kind of sad that even in the present day, artists still have very difficult lives a lot of times. I have such an appreciation for creative people, I have always been very mathematic and analytical. I can help you with your statistics homework or anything IT based but I can't draw you anything.

    I've always admired the creative, you guys really add a lot to the world, even if some people don't have the vision to truly see it. Artists, musicians and thespians alike.

  16. I don't think that van Meegren being called a forger is fair. If he didn't replicate actual pieces of art but merely created his own works of art but in the style of particular artists, he was only guilty of imitation. Imitation is a form of flattery in this case.
    And duping the Nazis: that was very good!!!

  17. My Dad told me this story when I was a teenager. From what I recall, the art critics did not believe van Meegeren, perhaps because they too had been duped, and they didn't want to admit their fallibility. While your version of the story is likely quite accurate, I preferred the way my Dad told it. According to him, the judge at the trial instructed van Meegeren to paint a copy of a real Vermeer and then purportedly had it presented, along with the original, to several leading art critics for evaluation. They unanimously agreed on which painting was real and which was a forgery. The judge then informed them that van Megereen had painted both of them, thus vindicating the famous forger.

  18. you butchered his name but i don't think anyone is gonna blame you.
    I've never heard a american say Dutch names perfectly.

  19. Its just sad for most Artists…. they can paint better then Van Gogh ever could …you find such People even here on Youtube….. but no one pays them 150 millions for a Painting….
    So there is frustration on one side and a temptation for Money on the other…… i can understand People who forge Paintings…
    But its hard you have to make the Colors Yourself…most old Colors where high toxic…Vermillion from Mercury,Schweinfurt Green from Arsenic,white from Lead… all that is no longer on the Market today and just offered as "Hue"… one X-Ray and one would see the lacking lead for example 😉
    So a good forger has to be a good chemist too i guss

  20. Could you do a video about WW2 cemeteries. In France, American grave markers are mostly Crosses; but at Arlington they are simple, rectangular headstones

  21. Dude, you left out the best part.
    After his death, his son became a painter. Like his father, his originals weren't selling. However, by this point his father's forgeries were very highly priced. Can you guess where this is going? Can Meegeren's son took to forging his father's forgeries.

  22. Han van Meegere, by his great forgeries, proved that the quality or importance of a work of art is a relative thing. Critics didn't like his work but loved the art he did under the name of another artist. Go figure.

  23. There is speculation that Vermeer himself was a bit of a "con artist" in the sense that he used a mechanism to paint photorealistic paintings.

    See the movie Tim's Vermeer. Who knows if it is true, but it's certainly an interesting subject and a huge credit to Vermeer that so many people have tried to copy his style.

  24. Iv got a life. I have a job a girlfriend a bunch of friends and family hobbies. I’ll watch this when I have spare time.
    The day I’m first to comment is the day I delete my YouTube app and take a long look at what my life has become

  25. Goddamn. Foiled not because any expert caught him, but because he had to out himself. Ironically, I bet his forged paintings must be worth quite a lot (maybe not as much as the originals of artists, but still.)

  26. Great video, you didn't butcher his name too much, you were pretty close : )
    In English his name would sound something like 'Van' 'May' 'Gah' 'Run'

  27. It's Han van Meegeren not Hen ven Meegeren. The a in Dutch is pronounced like the a in car. (I really like these video's. Keep them coming.)

  28. When it comes to pronunciation of anything in a tongue other than your own all depends on which syLAble you add the emPHAsis upon. :}

  29. The market for quality art forgeries is quite vibrant. The best van Meegeren forgeries are no longer available including his Vermeer
    “Woman Reading Music” that is owned by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

  30. He did design one, and only one, building:

  31. Yeah, as a Dutchman, your English pronunciation sounded less painful to my ears than your Dutch pronunciation, so just stick with that.

  32. have trouble hearing and understanding the spoken words…and I must say that of all the you tube universe TIFO has the very best CC and I thank you

  33. Pseudo-Vermeers. That was an ingenious process he came up with to artificially age his paintings. I'd be curious to hear about modern open efforts to produce other pseudo works just to prove it can be done — that these skills are still imitable. They could become collectibles in their own right if done well.

  34. I would imagine that the forgeries would be valuable today…I would have like to hear if that was true, and if so, what are they worth?

  35. Now that you know all about art forger Han van Meegeren check out this video and find out about That Time Mozart Pirated a Forbidden Piece of Music from the Catholic Church from Memory:

  36. trading a forged painting for 137 paintings seems like a good deal lmao! and even did it in wartime while netherlands was ocupied what a boss

  37. i had the honnour of cleaning one of Han's controversial paintings now, Van Megeren paintings always seem a bit dirty that's how he made them but this thing was nearly black from hanging above a fireplace in a heavy smokers room for nearly 80 years i removed the offending nicotine and pine tar and was left with a painting that looked convincing with all of the fake dirt intact.
    i call Van Megeren's subjects sleepy eyed people because they always seem to have pronounced eyelids making them look tired.

  38. It was also discovered that he had unknowingly used ultramarine cut with cobalt blue, which wasnt available to Vermeer, helped make his case that his paintings were, in fact, forgeries.

  39. i never understood how Van Meegeren's paintings passed as Vermeers….Vermeer's paintings had much more depth and richness….Meegreen's seems flat. A meer underpainting……How can experts be so fooled!!!!!

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