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The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  2,931 Ratings  ·  343 Reviews
As riveting as a World War II thriller, The Forger's Spell is the true story of Johannes Vermeer and the small-time Dutch painter who dared to impersonate him centuries later. The con man's mark was Hermann Goering, one of the most reviled leaders of Nazi Germany and a fanatic collector of art.

It was an almost perfect crime. For seven years a no-account painter named Han v
Hardcover, 349 pages
Published June 24th 2008 by Harper
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Art Forgery Enthusiasts
"Yesterday this picture was worth millions of guilders, and experts and art lovers would come from all over the world and pay money to see it," he declared at his trial. "Today, it is worth nothing, and nobody would cross the street to see it for free. But the picture has not changed. What has?"

Van Meegeren presumably had an unflattering answer in mind. The picture had not changed, but it had lost its glamour. Why? Because the "experts and art lovers" were as fake as it was. The world was full o
Oct 13, 2008 Michelle rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of art, Vermeer
Shelves: non-fiction
My review is going to be choppy, like this book. Yes, at times it was a fascinating read, but I think the author tried to cram too much information into one book. It was extensively researched and annotated, but jumped from subject to subject without much continuity.

It was part technical manual (forgery 101), biography, art history, art hoaxes, and WWII history (in particular the Nazi looting of Europe’s works of art). One good thing about this book was that it made me want to read several othe
Jun 22, 2009 Scot rated it liked it
As the title suggests, this book tells the story of the greatest art hoax of the 20th century, but it does more than that. In a choppy style (most chapters ran from 5 to 8 pages) we are introduced to a range of diverse areas of knowledge that indeed we should know something about to better appreciate the context and significance of this art hoax. There are several interesting asides along the way, popping in as footnotes--although for references to sources cited and direct quotes embedded in the ...more
Jul 14, 2008 Douglas rated it it was ok
what could have been a fascinating story, somewhat ruined by lengthy digressions. that the author includes a survey of 20th Century art forgery is no shocker. that he cites to stories out of Gladwell's 'Blink' and other psychological studies is somewhat less pleasing.

I would say that the proportion of story that relates to the title and the various ratholes needed to be reversed.
BreAnna Long
Jul 16, 2016 BreAnna Long rated it really liked it
Initial thoughts on completion:
This was a really fascinating book. It combined several of my favorite subjects, and in some cases informed new interests - history in general, World War II, Nazis, art in general, Vermeer, Dutch painting, forensic analysis, psychological motivation, crime, and detective work. I feel like a much more rounded person having read this. It was fascinating to watch the story unfold and Dolnick did a great job of providing other examples and similar scenarios to explain
Jul 19, 2014 Taylor rated it it was amazing
A big part of this narrative focused on the role psychology played in duping art experts; how Van Meegeren's forgeries seemed custom-made for the art experts that he fooled, as he appealed to "what they wanted to see" and thus could get away with painting mediocre works that still sold for millions. Similar thing with reviewing The Forger's Spell. I happen to be a sucker for art, history, psychology, and a yarn well spun, and so this book seemed custom-made for me. I know not everyone necessaril ...more
Sep 04, 2010 Anne rated it it was amazing
The Forger's Spell is the true story of Han van Meegeren, a not-so-great painter living in Holland during the Nazi occupation. What van Meegeren lacked in artistic talent, he more than made up for in his skills of psychology deception. When his own paintings couldn't sell, he turned to forging those of Johannes Vermeer (the Dutch painter of Girl with the Pearl Earring fame). He swindled over $30 million dollars from investors, much of it from German war criminals. Dolnick's book is a perfect mix ...more
Jan 22, 2010 Emily rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010
A choppy account of how Han van Meegeren duped art experts and Hermann Goering with his terrible Vermeer forgeries, this book would probably be more enjoyable for someone who doesn't know much about the Old Masters. The author approaches the topic in the form of article-like sections about occupied Holland, painting techniques used by forgers, the psychology of duping people into accepting forgeries, the biographies of the key figures, etc. The chronology becomes quite muddled and I also got the ...more
Aug 06, 2008 Bob rated it it was amazing
"So primed are we to see what we want to see (and to reject what runs counter to our hopes and expectations) that psychologists and economists have coined an entire vocabulary to describe the ways we mislead ourselves. 'Conformation bias' is the broad heading. The idea is that we tell ourselves we are making decisions based on the evidence, though in fact we skew the results by grabbing up welcome news without a second glance while subjecting unpleasant facts to endless testing."
Apr 21, 2009 Jesse rated it really liked it
"The Forger's Spell" by Edward Dolnick is a well told story about one of the most infamous art forgery cases of the 20th century. Han van Meegeren spent the duration of WW2 painting Vermeers; and what makes this case so fascinating - besides the big name artist he picked - was the way the critics fell head over heels for these forgeries, calling them Vermeer's best work. And if that wasn't enough, the story is made more intriguing by the fact that Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe and ...more
Nov 27, 2008 J. rated it liked it
Recommends it for: ... copy-cats ....
Art theft and Art forgery go hand in glove, and both have always been of interest to me for some reason. Maybe it's the inherent sleight-of-hand in all the arts -- can you really paint a woman's face without daVinci coming to mind, can you really write a tragic play without thinking of the greeks ? For the moderns, this legerdemain was taken in stride, exalted even, by the time of say, Duchamp & Pablo P. But there was theft for art's sake and theft for theft's sake, and therein lies the tale ...more
Richard Derus
Jan 03, 2012 Richard Derus rated it liked it
Rating: 3* of five

Here we have a non-fictional account of the 20th century's most astoundingly, resoundingly, and undeservedly successful art forgery scam.

In very, very brief, it's the story of a Dutch forger who cons Goering out of *boatloads* of cash for fake Vermeers. The book presents us with the fakes in a photo section. I simply cannot believe that anyone not completely blind and thus viewing these horribly hideous daubs in Braille could be taken in by them.

There are quite a few characters
Jul 29, 2012 Holly rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating story, both because of the events and because of the treatment.

Each of the many chapters could be read on its own, because each gives one aspect of the subject in depth while also reflecting the subject as a whole. The first impression might be that the author repeats himself a lot; but it is probably better to see this as a fractile approach, exploring each facet in relation to the others.

I was especially struck by the author's contention that contemporary forgeries tend t
Peter F
Sep 29, 2011 Peter F rated it it was amazing
This is the brilliantly ironic true story of a WWII-era art forger who could not paint. The title is a bit misguiding; the focus on the Nazis and World War II wanes in comparison to its emphasis on the tactics of art forgeries, the reality of peer pressure, the faux-credibility of connoisseurs and the story of Van Meegeren (the book's lovable Vermeer forger). Dolnick has an interesting way of piecing the story together, with chronology not necessarily the glue holding it together. It reads like ...more
Aug 05, 2012 Suzy rated it did not like it
I did not like this as much as I was hoping to. While billed as something of an adventure, I found the story itself to be bogged down with too many names, places, art history and psychological details that were disruptive to a smooth-flowing narrative. While the art hoax itself was great - including technical specifics about how one goes about forging 300-year old paintings - it really didn't come into play until the last 1/4 of the book. In my opinion, a much shorter book - or even a lengthy ...more
Jul 25, 2014 Liz rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history, cpl, art
All the back history to the scam was interesting and informative, but Dolnick adds all this material about how the scam actually works on the psyche of the victims and it just goes on forever and seems to repeat itself.
Rachel Metz
Sep 15, 2010 Rachel Metz rated it liked it
My book group read this one and was evenly divided between the do like/don't like. I found it quite interesting.
Jun 24, 2008 Ruth marked it as to-read
Famous art, a wily forger, nasty Nazis. What more could you want? LA Time gave this a very good review.
Jul 10, 2012 Jeanne rated it really liked it
The story deserves 4 stars...but, I was disappointed in Mr. Dolnick's style of writing, (it was a struggle to finish this book!).
Jackie Harrison-jewell
Great topic, so it was quite disappointing to me how difficult it was to slog through the writing.
Mike Barnett
Jan 29, 2011 Mike Barnett rated it it was amazing
A great story: Nazis, Vermeer, and forgery all tied together! Excellent!
Mar 31, 2013 Sheila rated it really liked it
Great Book; now want to visit museums and see Vermeer's
Feb 10, 2014 tea_for_two rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history, 2014
The Forger's Tale is the story of one of the greatest - and most improbable - art frauds of the twentieth century. Han van Meegeren was a mediocre Dutch artist whose original artwork was panned by critics as shallow and insipid. After years of trying (and failing) to win recognition and respect with his own work, he decided instead to turn to forgery, and in the 1930s, he forged seven paintings by the great Dutch artist Vermeer, as well as paintings by ter Borch and Hals. Today, it's almost impo ...more
Feb 24, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it
Han van Meegeren was a Dutchman who wanted to be a painter, but whatever he tried was unacceptable to the critics.
Then one day he decided to paint under another countryman's name -- Vermeer. His efforts with the new name were met with wild enthusiasm. van Meegeren found 17th century canvas and wood and went to great lengths to discover a method of "aging" his work -- even down to the nails and wood canvas supports-- so that it looked original. As this work was accepted, he engaged a middleman
Elisha Condie
Jun 06, 2009 Elisha Condie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: so-interesting
This book was SO interesting! It's the true story of an artist who just wasn't that popular with his own work. So before and during WWII when the Nazis were famously stealing art from all over Europe, this artist paints a few Vermeer paintings and people fall for them absolutely. Goering buys one, as do some famous museums for MILLIONS of dollars. This book explains how a forger goes about reproducing a 17th century painting, how and why people fall for it. The funny thing is, the public (and ...more
Oct 24, 2014 Joseph rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across this book while picking up another from the library, and my eye caught Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring peeking out from the bottom left corner of the cover. I've never been able to avoid staring at that beautiful painting, wherever I see it, and that was all it took for me to add it to my reading list. Then, I found that there were actually quite a few books written about the forger who sold nearly $30 million (in today's dollars) of fake Dutch masters during the late 1930s and ...more
Mar 11, 2014 Lily rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
I love museums and art so this book was right up my alley. Sometimes these books can be drawn out and boring but this one was incredibly studious, and thought provoking. Since reading it I've been lucky to see a few Vermeer's in person (Louvre & Frick Museum) The book made me appreciate why they are such coveted pieces of art.

Very interesting book about Vermeer's (a Dutch painter) paintings and another Dutchman Van Meegran that forged and sold Vermeer paintings. Van Meegran ma
Nate Briggs
Mar 29, 2014 Nate Briggs rated it really liked it
In terms of sheer financial achievement from art fakery, there's no one to compare with Han van Meegeren: who forged 6 "undiscovered" paintings by Vermeer in the late 1930s, becoming something like $30 million dollars richer.

One of these fakes was acquired by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring - which explains the Nazi reference in the subtitle.

But most of this book discusses the art and science of forgery - and the intricate psychology of deceiving "experts" and collectors. Judging by the color pla
Sharon Watkins
Feb 08, 2014 Sharon Watkins rated it really liked it
Art forgery fascinates me because it brings up such an interesting tension between the value of authenticity and the pleasure of the actual thing. The Forger's Spell tells the story of how Hans Van Meergen, a competent but uninspired Dutch painter, fooled much of the art world with 8 fake Vermeers, selling them to major museums and art collectors, notably Hermann Goering, for a vast fortune. What makes this story particularly fascinating is the fact that Van Meergen's paintings were awful - ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft
  • I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Forger
  • Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece
  • Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa
  • Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
  • Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World
  • The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War
  • Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists
  • The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities--From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums
  • The Art of the Steal
  • The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures
  • The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II
  • Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art
  • The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft
  • False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes
  • Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum
  • The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art
  • Old Masters, New World: America's Raid on Europe's Great Pictures
Edward Dolnick is an American writer, formerly a science writer at the Boston Globe. He has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, and the Washington Post, among other publications. His books include Madness on the Couch : Blaming the Victim in the Heyday of Psychoanalysis (1998) and Down the Great Unknown : John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy ...more
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