The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren
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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--tracking down primary sources in four countries and five languages to tell for the first time the real story of the world's most famous forger. Neither unappreciated artist nor antifascist hero, Van Meegeren emerges in The Man Who Made Vermeers as an ingenious, dyed-in-the-wool crook--a talented Mr. Ripley armed with a paintbrush, who worked virtually his entire adult life making and selling fake Old Masters. Drawing upon extensive interviews with descendents of Van Meegeren's partners in crime, Lopez also explores the networks of illicit commerce that operated across Europe between the wars. Not only was Van Meegeren a key player in that high-stakes game during the 1920s, landing fakes with powerful dealers and famous collectors such as Andrew Mellon (including two pseudo-Vermeers that Mellon donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.), but the forger and his associates later offered a case study in wartime opportunism as they cashed in on the Nazi occupation.

The Man Who Made Vermeers is a long-overdue unvarnishing of Van Meegeren's legend and a deliciously detailed story of deceit in the art world.

Customer Reviews:

  • Fascinating forgeries
    Seventy years later it is difficult to understand that almost everybody in the art business considered Van Meegeren's forgeries as real paintings by Vermeer. After reading this study by Jonathan Lopez you not only understand that so many people were trapped, but also why Han van Meegeren did what he did.
    As an American and probably not Dutch speaking Lopez gives a good portrait of the art world in the Netherlands on both sides of World War II. Only in some minor details there could be some criticism on this part of the book. The way he writes on Van Meegeren and his nazi sympathies is an eye-opener for every reader thinking that this painter made his forgeries out of frustration of being neglected by the arts-officials of his day.
    ...more info
  • what a story
    This is one of those true stories that seems like fiction. An art forger, who was not just a fascist sympathizer but an out and out collaborator during the second World War, accidentally ends up selling a fake Vermeer to Herman Goering and then, after the war, ends up a hero. I don't know which part is more interesting. The fact that the guy passed off so many fakes to so many people, or the fact that everyone around the world believed his story, which was as fake as his paintings.

    The author did a tremendous amount of research. I don't think I've ever read a book with so many notes in the back.

    The book is very readable. I'm not a fast reader but I got so caught up in the story that I sat down and read it in just a couple of days.

    You get a great sense of what it was like in Holland during and after the German occupation. I got a little bogged down in some of the Dutch names. I gave up trying to figure out how they're pronounced.

    It's really a fascinating story, and an impressive author. I recommend the book to anyone interested in swindles and cons and how they work....more info
  • Elegant and Authoritative
    "The Man Who Made Vermeers" tells the story of Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren in greater detail, with deeper insight, and providing a more compelling sense of historical context than any other treatment I have seen of this subject. The author, Jonathan Lopez, is an elegant prose stylist, and he manages to synthesize an extraordinary amount of original research into a tight and extremely entertaining narrative that combines elements of a real-life mystery story with a wide range of thought-provoking ideas.

    At the heart of "The Man Who Made Vermeers" is the notion that forgeries are always in some way "about" the way the present looks at the past. In the case of Van Meegeren, who was an ardent fascist sympathizer, it seems that the forger incorporated, either consciously or unconsciously, the visual repertoire of Nazi culture into the fake Vermeers that he created from 1936 onwards, after his visit to the Berlin summer Olympics. (He had faked other Vermeers in a more 1920s-influenced style before that.) In particular Lopez's discussion of the effect of Nazi Volksgeist painting on these post-1936 "Vermeers" is a tour de force - completely riveting to read and extremely convincing. The way that he ties Van Meegeren's practice as a forger to larger questions of fascist ideology is also quite impressive.

    In general, the author's understanding of the historical and culture trends of the era is very solid, as is his knowledge of Dutch art history and of the history of Holland in general (According to the information in the back of the book, he apparently also writes in Dutch, so maybe he is of partly Dutch background.)

    As a work of narrative story telling, "The Man Who Vermeers" holds together beautifully. The straightforward structure, swift pacing, and reader-friendly, non-academic tone make for a pleasurable experience from beginning to end. Personally, I found the descriptions of life in Nazi-occupied Holland particularly gripping and really well done. This is an excellent book, highly recommended for readers with an interest in art, criminal enterprises, or World War II history. It is likely to be the definitive book on the subject for many years to come....more info
  • Punctual delivery, excellent condition...
    The book arrived in the condition that it was advertised, and as punctually as it could possibly been.

    Thank you....more info
  • Quirky, interesting, very readable
    This is one of the stranger stories out there. It's dark but sometimes very funny, like if one of the Bourne movies had somehow got mixed up with "Revenge of The Pink Panther". I thought the writing was overall very good and disagree with some of the other reviewers that said they thought the style was dry. The main character, Van Meegeren, is truly unforgettable, a combination of charm and evil. Some of the side characters could have been better developed, in particular Van Meegeren's two wives. Wife number one is a saint, wife two a tramp, and that's really all that we learn about them. But in most other ways the book offers a lot of depth and detail, especially about history, politics, art, etc. The idea that Van Meegeren's forgeries were directly influenced by his Nazi beliefs seemed to me the spookiest part of the story and very convincing. The wartime chapters made me think of spy movies and thrillers that I have seen, and I agree with the others who said that this was the best part of the book. Not a subject that seems too appealing at first glance - a Nazi art forger - but this is actually a fascinating book. I learned a lot from it and would recommend it to others....more info
  • An Engrossing Story of Painterly Intrigue
    Jonathan Lopez has written a stunning book that sweeps the reader up into the peculiar world of Han Van Meegeren, who spent years creating supposedly "missing" masterpieces by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Van Meegeren managed to dupe not only wealthy financiers, such as Andrew Mellon, and important political figures like Hermann Goering, but also major museums, such as the National Gallery in Washington DC. Remarkably Mellon's faux Vermeers hung in Washington until the 1960s, when their questionable and more modern provenance came to the fore. Lopez has deftly managed to write a page turner that also provides the reader with copious amounts of original research. Especially fascinating is the portrait he gives of life in Holland under the Nazi occupation. As Lopez traces out the forger's odd and extravagant life, he also provides insightful conclusions, including the connections he makes between Van Meegeren's strange wartime fake Vermeers and the forger's sinister fascist beliefs. I loved this book and recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in art or history. It's a great read....more info
  • Terrific book
    It's got everthing: a great story, fascinating characters, fluent writing, the grand sweep of history, and even a moral at the end. I read it in two sittings and was completely gripped by it. I thought one issue that the author could have explored more was Van Meegeren's anti-Semitism. We get plenty about his love for the Nazis, but I thought that there could have been more about the Holocaust and the situation of the Jews in Holland during the war. The evidence of him writing to Hitler is certainly compelling and puts his life and career in a very different light than one might expect considering that he became mostly known as "the man who swindled Goering." Five stars for research and organization; four stars for writing; five stars for originality and depth; four stars for the number and selection of illustrations; two for the cheap black and white printing; five again for the sense of atmosphere and period details....more info