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I Was Vermeer: The Legend Of The Forger Who Swindled The Nazis

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  940 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
I Was Vermeer Tells the story of Han van Meegeren, a second-rate painter who became the world's greatest art forger. His canvases would almost certainly be prized among the catalogue of Vermeers if he had not confessed. His handiwork is suspected in at least four Vermeers in major galleries. Full description
Published August 7th 2006 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published 2006)
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Eileen Phillips
Feb 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people into art forgery, or art, or Dutch history
Shelves: history, biography
I. Love. Art. Forgery.
I love it! I may obsess over it for a while!
Actually, I'm probably going to try to get ahold of a copy of Drawn to Trouble by Eric Hebborn, which is an autobiographical account of his art forgering exploits. I also have to get ahold of a dvd of Incognito which was what lit the spark of attraction between me & art forgery to begin with, waaaay back, sometime in the 90's.
Anyway! Enough of the geek-out. I liked this book a lot. It was delicious & I ate it up.
I made the happy mistake of following someone's link to 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 at
Beth Rosen
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a super fun book. I loved all the technical details about how to convincingly fake a 17th century painting. It has a lot of cynical philosophy about how and why some works are called "great art", the random power of art critics, and how forgeries are detected, all of which I really enjoyed. Han Van Meegeren is a fascinating, not completely likable person, but the story moves along quickly and the period details are never dull.
Mar 01, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-art-history
I don't understand the ratings on this. The book is vastly inferior to the Dolnick and Lopez books.
Eugenea Pollock
Apr 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On a certain level, it is almost impossible not to admire the artistic ability, technical skill, scientific research, and sheer audacity of this man. What began as a scheme to embarrass critics and dealers who scorned his work grew into much, much more: a fraud of monumental proportions, the echoes of which linger to this day. He was not a nice man, but he was a complex and gifted criminal whose exploits are fascinating to read about. Bravo to Frank Wynne for shining a light on Han van Meegeren!
Jun 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I don’t know how much of the truth was ever revealed by the man who fooled experts and collectors for decades, but it was a lively, engaging story. Han van Meegeren may have been placed into that perfect span of years when a person with certain skills and knowledge could effectively create paintings that the world accepted as 17th Century Dutch.

What follows is a synopsis of some of this book. I suppose that it could be considered a “spoiler”, but in this c
Tim Hulsizer
May 21, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art nerds
This enjoyable tale chronicles the life and times of Han van Meegeren, a Dutch art forger who taught himself to create authentic old style oil paints using "ingredients" they used in Vermeer's time. He also created his own ovens to help bake the paintings to produce the craquelure (cracked texture) of old paintings. He was so good that certain of his paintings are still believed to be genuine despite his protestations, and other acknowledged Vermeers are under suspicion despite his denials. He w ...more
May 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, nonfiction
I really oscillated between annoyance with this guy (he could be SUCH a pretentious, arrogant, selfish jackass!) and actually kind of admiring him. I think it's kind of funny that he was able to so successfully pull one over on all these art critics. Personally, I think that if he was THAT skilled, not just artistically, but technically as well, that his works are actually more impressive than the originals. I'm not saying Vermeer wasn't talented (I am quite fond of Girl with a Pearl Earring), b ...more
Visible Order
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shelfie
Van Meegeren didn't just forge Vermeers, he forged Vermeers really badly. Apparently very much on purpose. Look at the forgeries and decide for yourself. It looks like he intentionally set out to put egg on the faces of Europe's art world. The title could just as accurately have been, "I Hacked Europe's Art World and Lived Very High on the Hog While Getting Away With It". Anthropology at its finest. After you have read this book, you will be in a much better position to judge whether all those p ...more
Margaret Sankey
Another account of the forger who used Nazi greed and some clever home chemistry (making what was essentially melamine in an oven) to collect money from Goering's agents bent on hoarding good, Aryan art. What always amazes me about this case is how gullible the Nazis were to some Precious-Moments looking Jesus paintings and a con-man's salesmanship.
Aug 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A fascinating story -- easy to read about a forger who created "seventeenth century" Vermeers. Interesting science about how he tried to do it getting original seventeenth century canvasses and in the chaos of the war period critics believed they were genuine. A good book for anyone interested in art/art history/art process.
Carl Rollyson
Art history is a matter of provenance; art collecting an affair of prestige. Commerce in art is the ineluctable confluence of provenance and prestige. Han van Meegeren (1889–1947), a talented painter who despised the work of modernists such as Picasso, understood that he could only succeed as an artist by obliterating himself and becoming his 17th-century avatar, Vermeer.

To Han, as Frank Wynne calls him throughout this lively biography, "I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century'
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating story. Found it slow at the start, primarily due to the Dutch words and names with which I was unfamiliar, but once it founds its rhythm it was a very good read.
Nov 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 1945, in the waning days of the second World War, a cache of paintings was discovered in an abandoned salt mine in Austria. They were artworks that the occupying German forces plundered for the personal collection of the Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. One of them was a signed painting by Vermeer, a priceless work by one of the greatest Dutch painters of all time. The sale of this national treasure to the Nazis was traced to an obscure painter and art dealer named Han Van Meegeren, who was a ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I was Vermeer" tells a fascinating story entertainingly, albeit with a small but detectable admixture of sloppy writing.

The story is that of a Dutch painter who became an enormously successful forger. He made millions (whatever currency you're counting in). The climax of the book (if climax isn't too purple a word) sees our anti-hero facing comeuppance.

Frank Wynne focuses rather too much for my taste on giving us a flavour of the techniques Van Meegeren, the quasi-eponymous forger, used to pas
Joyce Wong
Apr 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Han van Meegeren's success was in seeing what people desire and being able to satisfy them.

Knowing that the world was hungry for a religious Vermeer that could fill the gap in the master's works, van Meegeren gave them exactly what they wanted. The book tells me all the troubles he went through to create Emmaus, which required mixed knowledge in science and history, drawing techniques, and of course loads of patience. I do not believe any followers could do such a good job as his.

He was also cl
Erik Moloney
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frank Wynne’s remarkable book tells the story of Han van Meegeren, a paranoid, drug-addicted, second-rate painter whose Vermeer forgeries made him a secret superstar of the art world—and along the way, it reveals the collusion and ego that, even today, allow art forgery to thrive.

During van Meegeren’s heyday as a forger of Vermeers, he earned 50 million dollars, the acclamation of the world’s press, and the satisfaction of swindling the Nazis. His canvases were so nearly authentic that they wou
May 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 boo ...more
Jan 17, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art lovers, anyone who loves a good attempt at a complicated hoax
Recommended to Sara by: Andrew
Shelves: nonfiction, history, art
This true story of Han van Meegeren, a Dutch forger creating and selling "genuine" Vermeers in the 1930s and 40s makes a great book jacket summary. That's what drew me in. The writing is good and there are glossy illustrations so readers can see Vermeers and van Meegerens side by side.

The book jacket summary sketches out the arc of the story, but for me, the actual text didn't really match up. The agonizing decision to admit to forgery seemed to come pretty easily and things wrapped up pretty q
Ann Frost
This was a fascinating account of how to forge 17th century art. This forger was meticulous in his operation and managed to bring several "lost" Vermeers to light. And by "several" paintings, I mean enough to make him millions of dollars. Of course he could never deposit the money in the bank and so part of what I enjoyed was reading about where he ended up stashing his money - in real estate and in land - not only the assets, but literally IN the houses and ON the property (as in buried in the ...more
Jan 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't think it would hold my interest but it did. I found the technical aspects fascinating, how he was able to achieve the pigments that were the same as Vermeer used. The challenge of ageing the canvas so it defied the swabbing test it would be subjected to. Han spent a lot of research developing the niche his Vermeers would fill as well as finding appropriate old canvases to use to work on. What I find surprising is to me I agree with Han's son, his religious paintings have elongated heads ...more
May 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book - usually I don't go for non-fiction in specialized subject matter, but this was a great read. Wynne has really done his research, and he includes many factoids on forgery along with the major narrative of Van Meergeren's life. His writing is fast-paced but never sacrifices detail. It's interesting to consider how subjective art really is, and how hypocritical the art world can be - I went to the Natl Gallery to look at the 5 Vermeers displayed there, and I couldn't stop thinking abou ...more
V. Briceland
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wynne's fast-moving account of Han van Meegeren, the Dutch forger who made a fortune forging Vermeer paintings, is paced like a thriller and steeped in art world lore. Despite the book's briskness, Wynne manages to address a good many questions about the nature of art itself, the 'reality' of its authorship, and the emotional ways in which its owners and admirers become attached. The book could've done with a few plates of the works in question, but that omission doesn't detract from a fun, inte ...more
Apr 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An easy to read book about the life of a painter who was rebuffed by his peers and turned to forgery. I found it a great insight into the world of art and painting although there was a lot less about the Second World War than I had hoped -given the tag line of my version of the book was 'the forger who swindled the Nazis'. Overall an interesting read about an interesting character. I did find the last chapter about the trial to be somewhat difficult to digest with lots of names of witnesses etc.
Oct 31, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredible story that also offers obscure insights into the art market. E.g., a fake is a copy, a forgery is intentionally misattribution; forgeries are prevalent in the art market; experts and brokers are victim to the insidious incentive to misrepresent the prevalence of forgeries to preserve reputation and for financial gain; certain forensic technicals are susceptible to false positives (hypothesis is genuine). But for convolution of chronology, I would have given the book 4 stars.
Feb 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the rather phony title, it's a remarkably good book. (Perhaps the distance in time helps, though it's not that significant.) Han van Meegeren's person, emerging from the narrative, would be best described as "well-rounded", were the book a work of fiction. Wynne portrays Han as part resentful artist, part childlish visionary, part delusional liar and a man ruled by his urges, but most importantly - a skillful observer. I didn't expect to find this character sympathetic. And yet.
Self-promoting and a bragging tone spoil much of the book, but I loved it when he sold fakes to the Nazis.


Oh, no!! According to "The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger" - I completely fell for the myth that Han van Meegeren sold a painting to Goering as a way to mock the Nazis. He was a complete con man, unable to tell the truth even in his autobiographical details that were supposedly tell-all.
Aug 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting and true tale of an artist who was not appreciated. Unlike Hitler, who became very angry, Han van Meergeren, decided to make money by making forgeries, very good forgeries. He was eventually arrested and tried, but not before Goering "bought" some of his paintings! Fascinating!
Aug 13, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I've nearly finished this and feel quite bored of it, despite initially finding the subject matter fascinating. Like Han, I have lost enthusiasm for spending time on his forgeries. Update - never bothered with the last ten pages. The author is very talented at making something interesting seem so dull.
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Ah, loved it! Such an entertaining read. I personally loved the detailed descriptions of van Meegeren's methods. The author has a sly sense of humor I appreciate. An example can be found in the title of one of the appendices, "Where to Find Your Nearest Vermeer," which helpfully is footnoted with "assuming it is still genuine."
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Frank Wynne was born in 1962 and grew up in Strandhill, Co. Sligo. His father - with T R Henn and others - was among the founding members of the Yeats Summer School in Sligo in 1959, and was President of the school until his death. Through the Summer School, Wynne was introduced to literary figures (whose lectures he recorded with a tape recorder), among them Richard Ellmann and Seamus Heaney
He wa
More about Frank Wynne...

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“We should all realize that we can only talk about the bad forgeries, the ones that have been detected; the good ones are still hanging on the walls” 1 likes
“Forgeries are an ever-changing portrait of human desires. Each society, each generation, fakes the things it covets most” 1 likes
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