This Art Forger Had to Prove His Work Was Fake To Escape the Death Penalty
This Art Forger Had to Prove His Work Was Fake To Escape the Death Penalty

This Art Forger Had to Prove His Work Was Fake To Escape the Death Penalty

Larry Holzwarth - April 6, 2021

This Art Forger Had to Prove His Work Was Fake To Escape the Death Penalty
The Washing of the Feet, long believed to have been a Vermeer, was another van Meegeren forgery. Wikimedia

19. Van Meegeren retained near-mythic status among the Dutch for decades

As happens with many artists, van Meegeren’s death ushered in a period when the prices commanded by his paintings rose sharply. Both those signed with his name, and the forgeries he created in the styles of masters increased in value. Van Meegeren created hundreds of paintings which bore his signature during his lifetime, normally a deterrent to higher prices, based on supply and demand. The man whose work once drew the derision of critics became a highly desired source for art collectors. Inevitably, shortly after his death, forgeries bearing his signature began to appear in the international art markets. The forger became a target for other forgers, one of whom was van Meegeren’s own son.

Jacques van Meegeren trained with his father, and possibly assisted him in his work as a forger. Following the death of Han, Jacques created several forgeries in his father’s style. He signed them with his father’s name, rather than attempting to create other works by the old masters. By doing so, he eliminated the requirement to age the paintings. Jacques was far from the only painter to create works in his father’s style, many of which remained unidentified. However, he failed to attain the level of success realized by Han van Meegeren, and died in 1977, leaving behind a small estate. As a result of his work and that of other forgers, an unknown number of fake van Meegeren’s continue to hang in galleries today.

This Art Forger Had to Prove His Work Was Fake To Escape the Death Penalty
Van Meegeren’s inscription to Adolf Hitler, sent in a copy of his own book of drawings and art during World War II. Wikimedia

20. Van Meegeren remains a controversial figure in both art and Dutch history

To some Dutch, van Meegeren is a national hero for his defiant defrauding of the Nazi occupiers of their homeland during the Second World War. If he did deliberately scam Hermann Goering it certainly placed him at considerable risk. One can imagine the wrath, and the reprisals, had Goering learned of the fraud while still in power. Others argue that van Meegeren defrauded the Dutch courts by creating the myth of his defiance of the Germans. They point out the painter’s manipulation of the legal system to retain the wealth he obtained through his forgeries in sales to collectors of several nationalities. They also point out that many of the properties purchased by van Meegeren came from those fleeing the Germans before the occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

His paintings, both his forgeries and original works, continued to be displayed in galleries, museums, churches, libraries, and private collections. Van Meegeren may have summed up his life in an interview, in which he described his relationship with his father. According to the painter, his father once told him, “You are a cheat and always will be”. His painting, Jesus Among the Doctors, painted to prove he was a fraud and a cheat, is today displayed in a church. Christ with the Adulteress once hung in Carinhall as the pride of Hermann Goering. Today it is displayed in the Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle, Netherlands. And the search for previously unknown paintings by Johannes Vermeer continues to be a Holy Grail of the world of fine art.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“A New Vermeer: Life and Work of Han van Meegeren”. Frederik H. Kreuger. 2007

“I was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the 20th Century’s Greatest Forger”. Frank Wynne. 2006

“Han van Meegeren’s Fake Vermeers”. Article, Essential Online

“How Mediocre Dutch Artist Cast ‘The Forger’s Spell'”. Article, National Public Radio. July 12, 2008. Online

“Art Forger Han van Meegeren Fooled the World into Believing His Fake Vermeers”. Karen Chernick, Artnet News. November 10, 2020. Online

“Fake or Fortune: Han van Meegeren (1889-1947). Article, BBC One. Online

“Dutch Master: The art forger who became a national hero”. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker. October 20, 2008

“The source of infamous forger Han van Meegeren’s secret supplies exposed”. Martin Bailey, The Art Newspaper. September 30, 2020

“A Brief History of a Master Forger: Han van Meegeren”. Tom Coggins, Culture Trip. September 26, 2016

“The Art Forger Who Became a National Hero”. Article, Priceonomics. September, 24, 2014.

“The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren”. Jonathan Lopez. 2009

“Art in Action: The Story of Han van Meegeren”. Darla, McCammon, Ink Free News. June 4, 2020. Online

“The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century”. Edward Dolnick. 2009

“The Artist and the Forger: Han van Meegeren and Mark Hofman”. Edward L. Kimball, Brigham Young University Studies. Online