The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren
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The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  2,872 ratings  ·  82 reviews
It's a story that made Dutch painter Han van Meegeren famous worldwide when it broke at the end of World War II: a lifetime of disappointment drove him to forge Vermeers, one of which he sold to Hermann Goering, making a mockery of the Nazis. And it's a story that's been believed ever since. Too bad it just isn't true.

Jonathan Lopez has done what no other writer could--tra...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 8th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published July 28th 2008)
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Community Reviews

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This book is not one I might normally have read, had it not been brought to my attention by a series of strange coincidences that would make even Lemony Snicket's jaw drop. But this is a happy story, not a tragic one, so please bear with me.

I came across the names of Joop Piller and Han van Meegeren quite by chance, and later realized there was a book which discussed their case. It looked interesting enough, but as I have so many unread books on my shelves, I thought I'd never read it.

I joined...more
Jul 28, 2012 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is the second book that I have read in the past couple of months about the Dutch forger Han van Meegeren. The first (“I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Forger”) was a very sympathetic portrait of the man who made (in today’s dollars) millions creating fake works of art. While his own above-board career as a portrait painter and artist stalled.

This book is a much more critical look at the man and his life, but goes into far less detail about how he (suppos...more
Nov 18, 2009 Molly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Molly by: The Author - Jonathan Lopez
Shelves: non-fiction
OK. So - I knew nothing about Vermeer's art going into this. Other than I had heard of his painting - The Girl With The Pearl Earring. And I only knew about that because of the movie I had caught in passing on TV one day. And even then, I didn't remember that Vermeer was the one to paint it until I began reading this book. Why then would I read this book?

No - not for a homework assignment or a sudden budding interest in art history research. I read it because the author is a member of a Book Gro...more
Aug 19, 2008 Mary marked it as to-read
"A deliciously detailed story of deceit in the art world," brings us the story of a WWII era forger of Vermeers who was made a Dutch folk hero for hoodwinking Goering into buying one of his forgeries. However, this book reveals the truth of van Meegeren's true political colors.

Yes, we have an ARC at NP.

Reading it now:
An intriguing story, a compelling if not particularly likeable subject, crisp writing, elegant language and an author who explains details and concepts without talking down to his reader all made this a wonderful reading experience.
Michelle Nevius
A very enjoyable read, and informative about Europe prior to and during WWII (in addition to of course being a comprehensive look at this notorious forger).
Ed Smiley
It appears that Han van Meergeren was in a sense his own greatest forgery.

In this work, the author deconstructs the legend, and reveals a character on the borderline of sociopathy, albeit socially charming, but far more of a collaborator, Nazi sympathizer and hardened crook than the art world Robin Hood legend represents.

Rather than a loss, this results in a story I found far more fascinating, and far more coherent. What is somewhat puzzling to the contemporary reader is the mystery of how the...more
this is the best book on the subject i've read so far--and there are many out ii have yet to get to--having read only six or seven of them--

Lopez provides a study not only of van meegeren's vermeers and other fakes, but also the painter's own works, as well as an indepth look at the high class journal of the arts ven Megeeren did in late 20's--which includes his first forays into "fascist art critique" of a comcealed kind--and barely concealed plagiarisms from Hitler's views on modern art from M...more
Teri Zipf
I was listening to an interview with Marshall McLuhan's son, and he said that his father, when reading nonfiction, only read every other page, because nonfiction writers are so redundant (not to mention, generally boring) that it's all that's necessary. I smacked myself on the head because if I had heard that before I started this book, I may have finished it. As it was, I gave it a lot longer trial than it deserved, about 75% of the book.

You'd think that someone who has the elements of great ar...more
Another book that I read and had put away in the 'wrong place' (partially due to a minor flooding problem) and wanted to get shelved before I added my all too brief comments.

Further tales of small parts of history that generally the public misses, yet are relevant and intrinsic to wide ranges of topics. From the debased behavior of the art underworld to some famous(and infamous) individuals, there's a new 'truth' here about the devious and deceptive practices surrounding the work of the little k...more
First: A bit of back story. I have a friend who, every time I go to visit, hands me a book out of his collection. I read it and return it the next time I am around. These books tends to be varied and make for a pretty random assortment. So imagine my confusion when I returned a book on anthropology (a subject I love) and picked up a book on art(I can't even draw a straight line and I hate most art).
As usual however, I should have had more faith. This book is not so much about art, but about his...more
Mark B.
I'll admit that I'm a sucker for books about art world characters. This time, the protagonist is an art forger and the story is utterly enthralling. I love being projected back to a world where the most sought after thing in the world of old master painting validation was the certificate of an "expert." When these experts were duped, the intrigue becomes even more interesting indeed! A documentary on the same subject is due out later this year. Looking forward to that as well.
Hmmm. This turned out to be a very interesting book, especially about the immediate post-war period in Europe. My quibble is that there are many characters who appear only very briefly and various organizations (in Dutch- not my language) which are piled on in the setting of the stage at the beginning of the book that the details overwhelm the purpose. As the story progresses, it gets more interesting and more compelling. Maybe it did not have to be told in strict chronological order. Overall, i...more
James Nevius
Aug 26, 2008 James Nevius rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history, art history, World War II
I liked just about everything about this book, but what struck me most was Lopez's compelling comparison between Van Meegeren's forgeries and the popular Nazi propaganda art being painted at the same time. Blows Van Meeregen's legend out of the water. Well worth a read.
Jonathan Lopez
Aug 22, 2009 Jonathan Lopez added it  ·  (Review from the author)
Thanks for your interest in the book! For more about the research that went into it, a wide selection of reviews and interviews, as well as color reproductions of all the images included, please visit the book's website:


This is a great combination of history, the art world and true crime. Jonathan Lopez has used the facts and some great investigative work to spin a fascinating tale.
Fabulous and engrossing book. Art, Vermeer, Nazis, Kitsch, 'who-done-it'... all rolled into one.
I've been interested in this topic ever since I saw an exhibit on art forgers in Florida. This was the first book I got around to reading, and that also means this was the easiest book to find on the topic. It's well written, and it gives an interesting view of what the Netherlands were like during the Holocaust. the revelations about the art world were also intriguing, and approached with a cynical sense of humor. I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in Dutch art, or art forgeries.
Anastasia Hobbet
A lively, in-depth revelation of the real truth about that Dutch rascal of a genius, Han van Meegeren, who made a fortune before the Second World War forging 'lost' Vermeers. A highly talented artist in his own right, he went wrong early in his career when he discovered an even higher talent for mimicry and a love of the wayward good life of drugs and money. His keenest talents, though, were for reading the zeitgeist and putting on the charm. He was so good at the latter that despite colluding w...more
Alexander Polsky
Well researched, a terrific story and an almost terrific book. Daniel Lopez does a great job in uncovering the slippery art forger, van Meegeren, and although he gives us a bit of an outline of his life as a forgery that mirrors his work, he's much better on the art historical than van Meegeren's weirdly slimy chameleon/Zelig act. Lopez gives us great detail about the ways in which compromised "experts" and kitchen chemistry produced forgeries hanging on museum walls.

What he can't quite do is to...more
Hamlen Mark
Is Vermeer your guy? Did you know that in the '20's and '30's his oeuvre expanded by some 8 - 12 paintings? These lost masterpieces were found and then offered to the art buying public.

Unfortunately, they turned out to be forgeries produced by a Dutch forger, Han van Meegeren. So, another story about art forgeries beating the science of detection. Not quite, this story appears to be a third telling of a story started after the Germans abandoned the Netherlands at the end of WWII. At that time, v...more
Nov 30, 2009 Pang rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Pang by: Constant Reader
Shelves: quit, constant-reader
I made it to about page 148 before calling it quit.

The book is a story of a man named Han van Meegeren who made his living forging art works of dead masters, including Vermeers and Hals. The opportunities for fake arts arose as a side effect of the World War I. As homes were raided and destroyed, art works were also confiscated and sold. So more arts from great artists were "discovered" during 1920s and 1930s where it was easy to paint something similar to what the great artists would have paint...more
A brief, concise history of the Dutch forger Han van Meegeren who made a fortune in the 20 years leading up to the Second World War by painting and selling bogus works attributed to Vermeer and Franz Hals to galleries and museums throughout Europe and America.[return][return]In hindsight it is reasonable to declare that the paintings are not in the same league as genuine Vermeers. In fact they are often not even good paintings. Awkward compositions, imperfect modeling, it seems hard to imagine a...more
Rachel G
This is a very interesting & in-depth look at the life & times of Han Van Meegeren. Van Meegeren was a painter in his own right, but he did not get the recognition he thought he deserved so he took to forgery & was able to sell his "Vermeer" paintings for astronomical prices both before & during World War II. He was able to dupe art historians & buyers in the era before much chemical testing by using a variety of materials including Bakelite e as the paint medium in conjuncti...more
I liked really liked this book. He was well informed on his subject matter. It was presented in an easy to read style, which did not bog down for me.
I was amazed how easy venerated art critics were fooled by this man. I have a book of Vemeer paintings. The ones he was passing as originals were not up to standard. The artist was wise in saying these were painted in the period of twelve years that Vemeer did not paint. Nor did Vemeer paint anything like the subjects in the fake paintings. I don't...more
Criminal intrigue, high art, and WWII history. What more could you ask for?

Lopez's crazily extensive research and documentation, aided by the 1979 publication by Marijke van den Brandhof, clearly reverses van Meegeren's immediate post-war almost-hero status. The fun of the book, though, comes from his colloquial analysis and judgment of the individuals' personalities. Though the psychology he imposes on them is of course quite speculative, it's well based on each person's actions, interviews wit...more
An adventure-story mystery, a work of history, and an exploration of moral issues, this book does a good job of demonstrating that the forger Van Megeren was talented and charming but at the same time a menacing sociopath. The discussion of his flirtation with the Nazis and Nazi art is both fascinating and deeply troubling. And some of the technical information — the use of Bakelite in the forgeries, etc. — is engrossing and presented in a way that makes complex issues very clear. It’s interesti...more
Ashley Rangel
Not as exciting as I had hoped but still informative and some interesting points. Skipped some pages.

Loving this excerpt:

Men who could have stepped right out of a Jeeves-and-Wooster story strutted about town with monocles cocked under their eyebrows, spats strapped to their shoes, and walking sticks firmly in hand. Indeed, more sober-minded Dutchmen often rolled their eyes at the seemingly endless capacity of Hagenaars to posture and pose - a set of behaviors nearly summarized by the term "Haag...more
This was an excellent book, well written, intriguing, and interesting in a lot of different ways and not just because of the forgery business. Lopez also covers war time collaboration, why forgeries work (when you look at the forged Vermeers now, it seems impossible that anyone could have taken them for genuine paintings by Vermeer, and yet at the time, the greatest experts were fooled) that has to do with people looking at art to some degree through the filter of their own times, and also the a...more
I really enjoyed this book about Han van Meegeren, a master forger famous for painting fake Vermeers that many people in the art world believed to be authentic. I had never heard of van Meegeren before this book so I had no reference to go by and this author portrayed him as a shady, Nazi-supporting opportunist. He was a despicable person with few moral standards, although after WWII he was hailed by many as a hero that tricked Nazis into buying fake art. The author's excellent research shows th...more
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Jonathan Lopez is editor-at-large of Art and Antiques, writes on art, culture, and books for The Wall Street Journal, and is a contributor at the entertainment desk of the Associated Press. His book, The Man Who Made Vermeers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), is a biography of the Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren, based on 3 years of archival research and interviews conducted in 5 nations. It wa...more
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