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I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Forger (2006)

by Frank Wynne

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2468110,206 (3.52)15
In 1945, a small-time Dutch art dealer was arrested for selling a forgery of a priceless national treasure - a painting by Vermeer - to Hitler's right-hand man. The charge was treason, the only possible sentence was death. And yet Han van Meegeren languished in his dank prison cell, incapable of uttering the words that set him free- 'I am a forger.' This riveting account of greed, hubris, excess, treason and fine art is the story of a failed artist and the greatest forger of all time, who executed a swindle which earned him the equivalent of fifty million dollars and the acclaim of the very critics who had moved him.… (more)
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» See also 15 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Utterly fascinating biography of Han Van Meegeren.
( )
  harishwriter | Oct 12, 2023 |
I never thought I would come to learn that artistic forgery can involve respect towards the original artist. The title of the book is a mere gimmick -- the core of the book is concerned with the art and beauty that engulfed forger Han Van Meegeren's life as an admirer of Vermeer. Anyone can paint a painting, but the real challenge rests in completely imitating the style of another artist, and Van Meegeren was most certainly a man capable of doing so. Pushing aside the ethics of forgery, this book invites the reader to open their eyes to the amount of talent that is required in producing masterpieces, forgery or not. While I found numerous occasions of editorial oversight, I still devoured this book. It does not demand great knowledge of Western art history (Google is your friend!), and presents the most dazzling biography I've encountered in a while, delicately tracing the life of whom I daringly see as a true artist. ( )
  biblio-empire | May 24, 2016 |
This is the fascinating story of Han van Meegeren, a 20th century art forger.
He was born in 1889 in the Netherlands to a middle class family.His father refused to support his art studies and insisted that he study Architecture. Along the way he marries, has two children, lives a life of debauchery and poverty, divorces his wife and woos and marries Joanna Oolerman, the wife of a prominent art critic.
Van Meegeren painted in the style of the Dutch masters which was considered passé compared to emerging styles such Impressionism and cubism. Unable to prosper, he decided to launch a career as a forger. His chosen artist was Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) who seemingly had painted only 30 or more canvasses. He realized there was a gap between young Vermeer and old Vermeer paintings and painted a masterpiece called The Supper at Emmaus which would bridge both time periods. His methodical approach included purchasing a 300 year old canvas, mixing pigments that imitated Vermeer's, perfecting the craquelature with a combination of formaldehyde and heat, and adding Vermeer's signature. He presented himself as an art agent for a wealthy family down on their luck and through an intermediary sold the Vermeer to the Boijman's museum in Rotterdam. He was so successful in duping prominent critics and art historians that he continued with several other forgeries and amassed a fortune.
In the summer of 1945 he was arrested not for his forgeries but because a painting for which he was a sales agent wound up in the collection of Field Marshall Goring. He was charged with collaborating with the Nazis. At the ensuing trial he pleaded guilty to the charges of forgery instead of aiding and abetting the enemy.
Great story ( )
  MaggieFlo | May 23, 2016 |
Antes de contar a história de van Mergeerer, Wynne enumera os estereótipos sobre falsário. Contraditoriamente, ele cai nesses estereótipos logo em seguida. ( )
  JuliaBoechat | Mar 30, 2013 |
Having already read Edward Dolnick's account of the Dutch WWII Vermeer forger Han van Meegeren called The Forger's Spell, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the two books complement each other well. Wynne's book is filled with famous one-liners such as "Of the 2,500 authentic works painted by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, 7,800 are in American collections alone". Museums and art collections have every interest not to reveal that their precious items are not originals. Thus, the longer the pedigree of a forgery the higher the chance it is accepted into the canon. The recent documentary about the authenticity of the newly discovered Leonardo da Vinci La Bella Principessa pointedly shows how much of such a decision rests in convincing a small number of insiders, turning a 22,000 USD painting by a German 19th century artist into a 100,000,000 USD masterwork (or not).

One important finding is that the forgery has to match current taste. Thus, today, van Meegeren's works look hopelessly old-fashioned and completely unlike those of Vermeer. In his time, however, they were what the buyers expected and craved for (at least until van Meegeren got lazy). A quick fun read. ( )
  jcbrunner | Jan 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frank Wynneprimary authorall editionscalculated
van Meergeren, HanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
La vie étant ce qu'elle est, on rêve de vengeance

Paul Gauguin

("Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge", translation from Babylon.com)
Dedication
For my mother, for her love and her unfailing, often bemused, support.

To the memory of Ric Shepheard: filmmaker, fraudster, friend, for his brilliance and inspiration.
First words
I am sitting in Het Molenpad, one of the oldest and most gezellig* of Amsterdam's 'brown cafés'.

*The great untranslatable Dutch concept which encompasses welcoming, cosy, friendly and good fun.
Quotations
Forgery is a booming industry -- though not perhaps one a career-guidance counsellor will recommend to your gifted child.  (p.1)
One might be forgiven for thinking that the single defining gift of the expert is hubris.  (p.148)
The former Reichsmarschall [Goering] learned that Han van Meegeren had forged his treasured 'Vermeer' while a prisoner in Nuremberg.

According to a contemporary account: 'he looked as if for the first time he had discovered that there was evil in the world.' (p.209)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In 1945, a small-time Dutch art dealer was arrested for selling a forgery of a priceless national treasure - a painting by Vermeer - to Hitler's right-hand man. The charge was treason, the only possible sentence was death. And yet Han van Meegeren languished in his dank prison cell, incapable of uttering the words that set him free- 'I am a forger.' This riveting account of greed, hubris, excess, treason and fine art is the story of a failed artist and the greatest forger of all time, who executed a swindle which earned him the equivalent of fifty million dollars and the acclaim of the very critics who had moved him.

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In 1945, a small-time Dutch art dealer was arrested for selling a priceless national treasure--a painting by Vermeer--to the Nazi commander Hermann Goering. The charge was treason; the only possible sentence, death. And yet Han van Meeren languished in his dank prison cell, incaple of uttering the four simple words that would set him free: "I am a forger."

I Was Vermeer is the outrageous true story of one of the greatest art forgers of all time. From his early childhood, Han had dreamed of being an artist, but in the electrifying world of modern art, critics ridiculed his art as hopelessly old-fashioned. Furious and embittered, he turned to forgery--and became a secret superstar of the art world. In his heyday as a forger, he earned the euqivalent of fifty million dollars and the acclaim of the world's press, and saw his paintings hung alongside those of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The acceptance of his work was so complete that when he finally confessed, no one believed him--until, in a huge media event, the courts staged the public painting of what would be van Meergeren's last "Vermeer." [from the jacket]
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