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

The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick
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's review
Mar 15, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: art
Read in March, 2009

Dolnick, Edward. THE FORGER’S SPELL. (2008). ****. This is the fascinating story of one of the greatest art forgers of the 20th Century, Han van Meegeren. He was a passable artist in his own right, but was pretty much ignored by the rest of the art community. According to him, he began to paint fakes to get back at the snobby critics and collectors, and, as a secondary benefit, to make some money. He settled on two famous painters from the 17th Century to work on: Vermeer and De Hooch. His first forgery was titled Christ at Emmaus, and was painted in the style of Vermeer. Through the use of several middlemen, van Meegeren was able to sell this painting for a fantastic amount of money. With this money, he adopted a lifestyle that was lavish – to say the least – in an era where the Dutch were under attack by the Nazis and there was no money to be had. Several famous art critics adopted this painting as their crusade objective and touted it to the rest of the world. It became more famous than any of the other Vermeer paintings that were known at the time. (It turns out that there are only 35 or 36 Vermeers known and catalogued.) Since he got away with the first one, van Meegeren continued in his career of forgery with several other paintings as if by Vermeer. He was extremely clever in his use of basic materials, and even discovered ways of producing the hardness and cracking of the oils as if they were indeed three-hundred years old. The story is a true tale of detection. What makes the story additionally interesting is the information the author provides on the Nazi art collectors, especially Hitler and Mermann Goering. Nazi leadership took every advantage of subdued countries to siphon off priceless works of art to their own private galleries. It turns out that one of van Meegeren’s painting, Christ With the Woman Taken in Adultery, supposedly as by Vermeer, was part of Goering’s collection, and one of his proudest possessions. Goering bragged that he had this Vermeer and showed it to all of his guests. He even bragged about how much money he had paid for it – although none of the money was his. In all, this is a fascinating story about fakery in the world of art, and the psychology of artists and critics. Recommended.

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