I recently read I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Forger, by Frank Wynne. The story of Han van Meegeren is fascinating. This Dutch artist created a worldwide stir after it came out that he had been forging paintings by Dutch Golden Age Old Masters, including Johannes Vermeer. He confessed after one of his paintings was sold to Nazi Hermann Göring, and he was arrested as a collaborator to the Nazi war effort.
During the war, there was a lot of concern about Dutch treasures falling into the hands of the Nazis. Selling a painting from a renowned Old Master like Vermeer to Göring and the Nazis was considered treason, punishable by death. After being held in prison for a while, remaining silent about his involvement, he finally came forward and confessed that the painting was a forgery. While treason was a death sentence, the lesser crime he confessed to only had the potential for a two-year prison sentence.
The book dives deeply into van Meegeren’s entire life, beginning with his childhood, intrigued by drawing. It explores his ego, his relationship with his father, his tendencies as a spendthrift and his numerous affairs. Speculation varies on his motives for forgery; some assume it was strictly a money making venture while others believe that his motive was the fame and ego that came from creating the “perfect” Old Dutch Master painting. It was probably both.
The book is well written and well researched, with lots of information on van Meegeren’s personal life, his methods of painting and the trial at the end of his life. A worthy read.