The connection of Johannes Vermeer and Delft is so obvious because Johannes Vermeer lived all his life in Delft, worked in Delft, died in Delft.
Because I live in Delft, The Netherlands, I wanted a nickname that represented Delft in some way. Because a nickname is a kind of forgery of your real name, I chose Han van Meegeren the famous forger of a “Vermeer” painting. In honour of the memory of Mr. van Meegeren I dedicate my letter H in the Blogging A-Z series of April 2016 to him.
How van Meegeren became a forger
Han van Meegeren was born in 1889 and had earned a mediocre reputation in the early thirties of the last century. Critics had never praised him where he felt entitled to have some. Irritated by what he called the lack of aesthetic judgement of art criticism, he decided the most effective way he could think of to take revenge: he would show his talent by a great master that would be considered a masterpiece by all critics and experts.
The painting, called Supper at Emmaus, shows the meal Christ and two disciples held shortly after the resurrection. This biblical story has been painted by many painters before, like Rembrandt did in 1648
|Rembrandt van Rijn: Supper at Emmaus|
The lawyer sent the forgery to Dr. Abraham Bredius, an eminent art expert in Dutch art. Dr. Bredius examined the painting for several days and then announced with great excitement that it was a genuine Vermeer.
|Han van Meegeren – Emmaus supper|
How the fraud was revealed
Now if Van Meegeren would not have become greedy for power and recognition of his painting skills, he would have taken his secret to the grave, like he intended to do. But in the Second World War 5 other Vermeer paintings suddenly emerged, along with 2 Van Hoogh paintings. Hermann Goering was a collector of art and Van Meegeren supplied him the other “Vermeer” paintings as well.
After the war in july 1945 he was in prison, not for forgery but for collaboration the the enemy. After six weeks in his cell he announced the truth: the paintings of Goering and the Emmaus supper were not National Treasures, they were made by Han van Meegeren himself.
In the beginning nobody believed him. But an increasing number of art connoisseurs began to doubt. To invigorate his statements he offered to make a new “Vermeer” with the authorities present. He actually started the work but when he found out that his indictment had changed from Collaboration to Forgery he refused to finish the new painting.
After two years of preparation the trial was held. The trial was sensational but lasted only one day. Van Meegeren was trailed on 27th October 1947 for deliberative forgery and was sentenced to one year in prison. Han van Meegeren died of a heart attack one day before his sentence was to be carried out.
Sad story ends…
For the present public looking upon the Emmaus supper, it’s difficult to understand how this counterfeit work for a Vermeer has ever been able to cause such a stir in the thirties. Undoubtedly some kind of mass hypnosis caused the excitement of the critics in the thirties. One should keep in mind that many experts were eager to discover a new Vermeer. And, no doubt some critics were influenced by the signature that was with precision forged and what some other critics had to say about the painting.
They looked at their ears, not their eyes, and this was exactly what Van Meegeren was trying to prove. And so it is not difficult to bring up some sympathy for his act.
Het complete werk van Vermeer – Lekturama Rotterdam 1967
De wereld van Vermeer – Time-Life 1967