Saturday, January 3, 2009
The Man Who Made Vermeers
I just finished reading The Man Who Made Vermeers by Jonathan Lopez, which is yet another book on master forger Han van Meegeren. Han van Meegeren was the Dutch artist who successfully forged Vermeer paintings at the time of World War II. There is another recent book on van Meegeren, The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick. I reviewed The Forger's Spell here back in November.
The Man Who Made Vermeers and The Forger's Spell tell the same basic story.
The Forger's Spell provides a panaramic view of World War II history, art forgery, art history, and van Meegeren. It is an easy read and paints Han van Meegeren in a sympathetic light.
The Man Who Made Vermeers, on the other hand, focuses more on the forger himself and provides a scholarly treatment of the subject. Lopez portrays van Meegeren as a Nazi collaborator who didn't swindle the Nazis as a political statement, but rather swindled them because he was a forger and forgers are in the business of swindling their customers. According to Lopez, the myth of Han van Meegeren as heroic forger has persisted for so long because much of the evidence against him is in Nazi artifacts that are hidden from public view, either by law in Germany or by good taste in other Western countries. The evidence against him simply wasn't accessible. Lopez also makes interesting observations around the psychology of forgery. By today's norms, the forged Vermeers are very bad and are obviously fake. Lopez shows examples of Nazi art and shows how the fakes borrowed elements from Nazi art. This appealed to Nazi buyers on a subconscious level. In general, forgers make their forgeries appeal to the modern eye in some way. As time passes and culture and norms change, the fakes become obvious because viewers are no longer immersed in the culture of the forger's day.
I recommend this book. It is not as easy a read as The Forger's Spell, but is probably more truthful.