An interesting case of forgery

Art heists, we see them countless times in movies as well as read about them in newspapers. They can be daring swiping of art works or plain robbing them outright. One such type of thieving is forgery. Forgery is a white-collar crime that generally refers to the false making or material alteration of a legal instrument with the specific intent to defraud anyone. Forgery in itself requires a lot of skill and mental acumen to pull-off. And as all crimes go once caught, one must prove their innocence in court to live freely. However, one case in Holland which included forgery was a little different, here the accuse pleaded guilty and tried to convince the court of his guilt. This was the case of  Han Van Meegeren in 1947.

Photo by u00b6Project Atlas on

Like the cliché which goes with art forgers, Meegeren was an artist whose original works failed to bring him renown so he set put to make fools of those who shut the door to the art world on him. Like it was stated this kind of thievery requires a lot of skill and practice. Meegeren worked for nearly 6 years, studying all about the old masters, their styles, their biographies, their techniques and their materials.  He chose a baroque painter from the 17th century by the name of Johannes Vermeer, a rather difficult choice given that Vermeer is celebrated throughout the art world for his technical brilliance in portraying domestic scenes. He carefully made meticulous practice pieces, going as far as to making his own brushes, and paint from his knowledge of Vermeer’s time. He was partly successful in his forgeries due to the fact that the sophisticated means of testing that are available now weren’t as advanced or widespread then. The other factor was his planning, the originality of the art work being tested depends on the art specialist reviewing them, and their popularity which is subjective. From his research he knew that the leading expert on Vermeer believed that he had an early fixation on religious painting and as there was no proof of this theory, Vermeer decided to provide one. Even thought it had some inconsistencies, as it was considered an early piece, it got the stamp of approval and he sold his fake for an equivalent of $4 million dollars. The success prompted him to make and sell more forgeries.  However, his triumph was to be short lived, soon Nazi Germany occupied holland, and Hitler’s top general Herman Goring wanted a Vermeer painting for his collection. And Van Meegeren was more than happy to sell his fake. However, when the allies won the world war, Meegeren was tried for his “treasonous” act and was to be sentenced to the electric chair for selling a Dutch “masterpiece”. Thus, began Meegeren’s trial and his fight to prove that it wasn’t an original. To prove this, he explained step by step how he had forged it. However, he faced an ironical obstacle, the very man he had used to dupe the world, now came forward to take him down. The very expert who had enabled him to do the scam, now fought to protect his own reputation. Thus, to prove his innocence Meegeren made another fake and submitted to the court and was thus acquitted for collaborating with the Nazis, but sentenced to one-year imprisonment for fraud. Thus, he went from the scum who collaborated with Nazis to the folk hero who managed to swindle them. Due to his notoriety his works became valuable is his own right. Later down the line even his son forged his father’s paintings to gain money.

Thus, his “lack of talent” in his peer’s eyes was actually the fuel that unlocked his real talent in his eye for detail and dealing the art.