18. Most of van Meegeren’s ill-gotten gains remained outside the reach of the courts
Throughout his questioning and court appearances, van Meegeren adamantly insisted that his wife knew nothing of his forgeries, or the money which they brought. He claimed she never entered his studios when he worked, and had little interest in how he made his money. Neither the military investigators nor the Dutch civil authorities challenged his assertions, and no evidence of her involvement appeared. The vast majority of his fortune, including most if not all of the income from his forgeries, transferred to her in their divorce. In the absence of her being charged with collusion in his crimes, her money enjoyed protection from civil action against her ex-husband.
Jesus Among the Doctors sold at the court-ordered auction of van Meegeren’s estate. It brought the equivalent of about $7,000 in today’s value. The entire auction raised only about $500,000 in today’s funds, while his former wife retained most of the money his forgeries and other work had raised. Estimates are that van Meegeren earned, if that is the word, about $50 million during his lifetime, most of it through his forgeries. Despite the revelation that van Meegeren sent an inscribed copy of his book of art to Adolph Hitler, he remained immensely popular among the Dutch for decades. The inscription to Hitler read, “To my beloved Fuhrer in grateful tribute, from H. van Meegeren, Laren, North Holland, 1942”. Van Meegeren claimed he merely signed the book, and someone added the inscription later. Handwriting experts established both are from the same hand.