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I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the…

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

by Frank Wynne

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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 |
I made the happy mistake of following someone's link to BookCloseOuts.com on Black Friday in November and this was among the assortment of nine vaguely-intriguing books I picked up for $20. Having literally judged this book by its cover in deciding whether to buy it, I wasn't sure what to expect.

What I got was an examination of the life and work (legitimate and not-so-legitimate) of Han van Meegeren, the Dutch artist best known for having successfully forged and sold at least eight paintings attributed to Vermeer and other 17th century painters, only confessing once accused of treason for having sold a "national treasure" to Nazi commander and art collector Hermann Goring. The author does his best to provide some insight into van Meegeren's motivations, portraying him as a classical painter embittered and disillusioned with the art world post-Picasso and out for vengeance, but also as an almost compulsive liar, reveling in his deception and unable to stop "committing masterpieces" once he'd begun - shockingly easy to do, according to the author, who comments extensively on the subjectivity of art criticism and difficulty of establishing authenticity. I was most interested in the techniques van Meegeren had invented to create 300-year-old paintings in the 20th century, and Wynne spends a satisfying amount of time going into the issues the forger faced and how he managed to innovate around those problems.

Despite having read [The Art Forger's Handbook] a few years ago, I had this idea that art forgery was similar to currency forgery, in that art forgers create identical copies of masterworks - this isn't true, for the most part. Art forgers mimic the style and themes of masters, yes, but they create brand new works to be "discovered" and added to an artist's catalog. And if they do it well enough, according to Wynne and evidenced by the experience of Han van Meegeren, the forgery might hang on a museum wall as genuine forever ( )
4 vote KLmesoftly | Jan 7, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frank Wynneprimary authorall editionscalculated
van Meergeren, HanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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)
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.
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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.
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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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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"He was a second-rate artist with an out-of-date style and a plan to have his paintings hung in the world's finest galleries - but Han van Meegeren's forgeries would nearly cost him his life." "In 1945, a small-time Dutch art dealer was arrested for selling a priceless national treasure - a painting by Vermeer - to Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring. The charge was treason, the only possible sentence death. And yet Han van Meegeren languished in his dank prison cell, incapable of uttering the four simple worlds that would set him free: 'I am a forger.'" "I was Vermeer is the astonishing, bizarre story of a man out of time. From his early childhood, Han dreamed of being an artist, but in the scandalous world of modern art he found his work ridiculed by art critics as hopelessly old-fashioned. Furious and frustrated, he hatched a plan to revenge himself on his detractors. It was a dazzling, skilful swindle which, in less than a decade, earned him the equivalent of fifty million dollars and the acclaim of the very critics who had mocked him; and saw his paintings hanging next to those of Rembrandt and Vermeer." "As an artist, Han was a failure: as a forger, he was unstoppable. I was Vermeer is the unbelievable, irresistible true story of the greatest forger of all time, a riveting account of greed, hubris, excess, treason and fine art."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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