H = Han van Meegeren


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.

Van Meegeren decided he could imitate Vermeer’s work  the best. Through his knowledge of art history, he knew that many historians believed Vermeer in his youth would have painted in the style of Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, other religious subjects. It made Meegeren decide not to create a typical Vermeer, but instead create a “lost religious Vermeer” with a touch of Italian influence.

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

Van Meegeren showed his painting in 1937 for the first time see and used a clever strategy. He brought the painting to a friendly lawyer and told him a story about an old Dutch family that owned a number of paintings they kept in their family castle for centuries. Some of these paintings was now in France held by a female member of the family who was secretly in love with Van Meegeren and had asked him to sell the painting.
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.

The painting immediately was received with great excitement and many comments about it were published  in art magazines. A bit of a routine examination for it’s age took place (van Meegeren used a 17th century canvas and scratched almost the entire paint coat from it ) and the painting passed all tests.  The critics were in ecstasy. One of them noted that testified of Vermeer’s “favourite balance between pale blue and yellow tones.”


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
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_van_Meegeren )


16 thoughts on “H = Han van Meegeren

  1. Thank you for your kind words. I think the circumstances about his son were quite different than the fathers…

    Anyway Bach's father was a musician also. One musician in the family is bad, but 2?



  2. Hi…a very interesting post. I saw the Supper at Emmaus in Rotterdam and could not believe that it had been mistaken for a Vermeer. It looks so different. I also find it interesting that his son, Jacques, made paintings in his father's style afte he died. One forger in the family is bad; but 2 forgers?


  3. I would not presume to stand in the shadow of the great van Meegeren… I do know how to ramble a bit though, 🙂

    Thank you for your comment, girl with the naughty name,



  4. Thanks for sharing this post, Han. You chose a namesake for your blog and I got to learn the reasons why. I am hoping for happy trails for you in comparison. =)


  5. Not the right solution Van Meegeren choose, but with hindsight he was right about the prepossessed critics in those days.

    Glad you liked the post, Appy and thank you for your kind words,



  6. Thank you gor this post, Han.
    I've watched the Emmaus dinner painting often in the Boymsns Museum in Rotterdam and never understood why the experts thought it was a real Vermeer. It is a nice painting, but totally different from Vermeer's style.
    It all happened in my youth and I was a real fan of Han van Meegeren.
    So it was a pleasure to find a blog named after him.

    Greetings from



  7. Well Rebel, there is a quality difference with the great masters and the imitators. You can see that clearly in the Emmausgangers and Vermeers paintings…

    Thank you for reading,


  8. Yes, he may be a crook who did the wrong thing to do, but he was not all wrong, and was wronged in his time…

    Like so many artist feel they are being not recognized for their talent, even today…

    Thank you for reading,


  9. Well, not writing under your own name, for whatever good reason, is a kind of forgery itself…

    Vermeer, Van Meegeren, it made sense..

    Thanks for reading,


  10. I always wonder why people who can paint that well, don't become as famous as the ones the imitate. Thanks for sharing this piece of history 🙂

    Rebel xox


  11. they looked at theirs ears… never heard that.
    Like it..
    Sad storry, but he must be a very good painter.
    Thank you, Han.

    Mona Lisa


  12. Wow, Han…I didn't realize that's where you got your 'name'. I knew there had been some Vermeer forgeries but didn't know the name of the forger. Thanks for sharing.

    Hugs and blessings…Cat


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