Richard's Reviews > The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren

The Man Who Made Vermeers by Jonathan Lopez
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's review
Nov 11, 11

bookshelves: art, history, by-gr-friends, reviewed, readagainable, 2011
Read from October 31 to November 10, 2011

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 GoodReads on a whim, and by chance saw a review of one of my favourite novels, Madame Bovary. I know something about this book, having studied it in excruciating detail. So I commented on the review, and generated a flattering flurry of positive responses. But fate had yet another surprise in store: the next day, I was quite astounded to find that I had attracted the notice of none other than Jonathan Lopez, esteemed art historian and author of the award-winning story of The Man Who Made Vermeers. A friendship was soon forged between us, which made me think ever more seriously of reading his book. And the rest is history. Art history, to be exact.

And now, for the review. (You were starting to wonder if I would ever get to it, weren't you? Come on now, be honest!)

There are a few things that I would have liked to have different in this volume. I would have loved some colour plates, as I do enjoy paintings of the Dutch Golden Age; moreover, it would have been interesting to see the difference in colour between a Vermeer original and a forgery. That being said, there is a veritable plethora of illustrations in black and white. Many of these are reproductions of old photos, the quality of which is not greatly affected by the lack of colour.

I would also have liked to see the mechanics of documentation handled slightly differently. I was not aware until I was quite deep into the body of the text that there were a large number of endnotes providing many technical details as to the sources of information. I wondered why there were no superscript numbers (or even asterisks) in the text to alert the astute reader to the existence of said endnotes. However, although one must hunt a bit to find it, the documentation provided is voluminous and painstakingly thorough. The research undertaken during the preparation of this book must have been phenomenal--and in fact, aside from the evidence of the endnotes themselves, Lopez gives us tantalizing glimpses of this in his acknowledgments.

There is much to praise in this book. First of all, it tells a very complex story with multiple tangled threads. Van Meegeren, the man at the crux of it all, was the ultimate con-artist, who, even when he got caught, was able to cover up much of what he'd done, and manipulate even his captor into protecting him. For many he was a famous, likeable and even heroic cad, because he'd managed to hoodwink the great Goering himself into buying one of his spurious Vermeers. But despite his great charisma, Van Meegeren kept a lot of his true feelings to himself. Lopez does an admirable job of tracing how the master forger embarked on his career, how he operated, who he duped, how he covered his tracks, how ideological, political, and even religious feelings influenced his forgeries, and what his genuine motivations were.

The book contains many technical details about art and the art world that, in other hands, could have made for a deadly dull experience. The reader learns about canvases, age-crackle, pigments, chemicals, Bakelite, various testing techniques, authentication certificates and more. So--not being a professional artist or art critic myself--why did I not drop the book in disgust and look for a fantasy novel instead?

Well, Lopez has a way of demonstrating his mastery of the subject without clubbing the reader over the head with it. His style is elegant and polished, his story-telling is superb, his sense of humour flashes out often, and his psychological and historical insights are profound.
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Reading Progress

10/31/2011 page 20
11/04/2011 page 123
35.0% "What is emerging for me is the author's sense of humour. He also displays a delicate sensitivity to the way in which the religious feeling of the artist finds expression in his art--even when we are dealing with a forgery."
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new)

Michael Economy I read this as: the man who made veneers. Although I enjoy woodworking, that didn't sound that interesting.


message 2: by Richard (last edited Nov 14, 2011 08:42PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Richard If you are interested in art and WWII, it's a fascinating book. A friend of mine got me interested because she had a connection to the detective who uncovered some of the forgeries. Then later I met the author of the book by chance on goodreads (see my friends list)!

My dad took up woodworking as a hobby during his retirement. He made lots of furniture, including bookshelves which I'm currently using. He was a perfectionist, so he was very careful about veneers!

Richard By the way, this conversation reminds me of a Dickens novel I read called Our Mutual Friend which is full of social satire. In the novel there is a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Veneering, whose main purpose in life is to throw fancy dinner parties to impress their rich and influential friends.

message 4: by Michael (new)

Michael Economy Funny :)

message 5: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Great review Richard!! I love Vermeer's paintings. I've been fortunate enough to see a couple in the flesh (paint?) in Europe. Heck I wish I had a Van Meegeren to hang on my wall.

Richard Jeffrey wrote: "Great review Richard!! I love Vermeer's paintings. I've been fortunate enough to see a couple in the flesh (paint?) in Europe. Heck I wish I had a Van Meegeren to hang on my wall."

Thanks Jeffrey. I'm of Dutch background so I enjoy a lot of Dutch art. Jonathan Lopez is also one of my Goodfriends here on Goodreads.

Tracey, librarian on strike I love the tale of van Meegeren! Great review of what sounds like a great book.

message 8: by Hayes (new)

Hayes Wonderful review Richard, as always. I have had this one on my "radar" list for eons. I must find myself a copy. Sounds like I would adore it.

Richard Hello, everybody, and thanks for your positive responses. Yes, it is a wonderful blend of history and art criticism. I can't remember how many people I have recommended it to. I also bought several copies to give to family and friends (so I really put my money where my mouth is).

Christopher Conlon Fine review of a book I'll definitely read, Richard. On a similar note, you might want to get your hands on Clifford Irving's FAKE!--the story of another notorious forger, Elmyr de Hory. Fascinating, page-turning stuff. And are you familiar with William Henry Ireland, a literary forger who forged no less than Shakespeare himself? Check out THE CONFESSIONS OF WILLIAM HENRY IRELAND sometime, if you've a mind to.
Thanks for drawing my attention to THE MAN WHO MADE VERMEERS!

Richard Christopher wrote: "Fine review of a book I'll definitely read, Richard. On a similar note, you might want to get your hands on Clifford Irving's FAKE!--the story of another notorious forger, Elmyr de Hory. Fascinatin..."

Thank you, my friend, both for the response and for the excellent reading suggestions.

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