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The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren [Paperback]

Jonathan Lopez
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 15 2009
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 in mockery of the Nazis. And it's a story that's been believed ever since. Too bad it isn't true.

Jonathan Lopez has drawn on never-before-seen documents from dozens of archives to write a revelatory new biography of the world’s most famous forger. Neither unappreciated artist nor antifascist hero, Van Meegeren emerges as an ingenious, dyed-in-the-wool crook—a talented Mr. Ripley armed with a paintbrush. Lopez explores a network of illicit commerce that operated across Europe: Not only was Van Meegeren a key player in that high-stakes game in the 1920s and '30s, landing fakes with famous collectors such as Andrew Mellon, but he and his associates later 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.


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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this engaging study, art historian Lopez examines—as did Edward Dolnick's Forger's Spell, published in June—the fascinating case of Han van Meegeren, a notorious Dutch art forger. Van Meegeren, who sold Hermann Goering a fake Vermeer, was convicted of collaboration; he became a folk hero for duping the Nazi leader. But according to Lopez, van Meegeren was a successful forger long before WWII, and contrary to van Meegeren's claim that he was avenging himself on the art critics who had scorned his own work, Lopez says he was motivated by financial gain and Nazi sympathies: What is a forger if not a closeted Übermensch, an artist who secretly takes history itself for his canvas? Lopez asks provocatively. The author gives a vivid portrait of the 1920s Hague, a stylish place of mischief and artifice where van Meegeren learned his trade, and brilliantly examines the influence of Nazi Volksgeist imagery on van Meegeren's The Supper at Emmaus, part of his forged biblical Vermeer series. Lopez's writing is witty, crisp and vigorous, his research scrupulous and his pacing dynamic. 88 b&w photos. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE MAN WHO MADE VERMEERS "From the outrageous swindles he perpetrated in Vermeer's name to the nefarious dealings he had with the Nazis in occupied Holland, Han van Meegeren's is an unforgettable, almost unbelievable story. Witty, erudite, and utterly compelling, Jonathan Lopez's account of the twentieth century's most notorious art forger is a must-read--a book that makes Van Meegeren's fake Vermeers even more fascinating, I dare say, than the Delft master's originals."--Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Real Talented Mr. Ripley Oct. 20 2008
By Coach C TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This is the story of Han van Meegeren, a Dutch artist who made a living producing art as forgeries in the name of Vermeer during the interwar and World War II period. Writing this popular history is Jonathan Lopez, an art historian and writer by trade.

I never heard of van Meegeren before I picked up this book. The story seems so fantastical, about an obscure Dutch painter passing off his forgeries as Vermeer and fooling everyone doing it. Though mostly a biographical recount, the book is revisionist. Lopez dispels the myth that van Meegeren was a simple man who forged Vermeer as a way to avenge the critics who looked down on his own work and that he was not a Nazi collaborator because he tried to swindle one. Lopez argues rather that van Meegeren was a mastermind who made an elaborate career out of forgery and his Nazi connections went beyond simple collaboration including painting Nazi literature.

A couple of other interesting points that Lopez makes is that forgeries succeed not merely on their technical merits but on the "basis of its power to sway the contemporary mind" (p. 6). And van Meegeren's evil genius to pull off the greatest deceptions was not technical prowess as a visual artist but rather his "use and misuse of history" (p. 10).

Overall, the book is well-written and extremely well-researched including 50-plus pages worth of endnotes. Lopez's narrative is very fluid, easy to read and simply a joy to read. No prior art history knowledge is required to thoroughly enjoy this great text.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Supply and Demand June 24 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Have you ever wondered why, when the population of the world has skyrocketed and the overall wealth of the world has increased apace we never run out of antiques or ancient collectables? Art by old masters is a little more difficult to come by because the most valuable works are well-known and well documented. Lesser artists however can be rehabilitated, or 'rediscovered', works of student-assistants of popular artists can be reappraised or 'discovered' (reattributed) as works of the famous artist and suddenly have a value a hundred thousand or a million times the price the dealer paid. For me, who has read quite a bit about art history as it relates to dealers, auctioneers and the experts that validate the goods that they offer, the alarm bells definitely go off when a 'new' work of a famous artist is discovered, often in a 'style previously unknown' for that artist. Greed, optimism and the desire to obtain that which was previously unobtainable cause people with much money to throw caution to the wind. The great collections of famous wealthy people have in many cases been found to contain many or mostly fakes, and institutions are not invulnerable due to the fact they are spending other people's money and need star attractions, first to draw the crowds and secondly, to enhance their reputation in the world of art.
Many of these elements combined to make the Vermeer frauds possible, and not least the fact that there were virtually unlimited funds available during WWII to obtain works of art for the many museums that Hitler had planned for Germany.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  52 reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Engrossing Story of Painterly Intrigue July 31 2008
By David Brody - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and Authoritative Aug. 3 2008
By W. P. seeberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"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.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nazi sympathies laid bare Aug. 23 2008
By Acton Bell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Not only is "The Man Who Made Vermeers" a great introduction to Han Van Meegeren and his notorious Vermeer forgeries, it serves as an excellent window into Nazi-controlled Holland during the war. It is Lopez's examination of Van Meegeren's Nazi sympathies--and his deft analysis of how Van Meegeren's faux Vermeers sprang from the same 20th-century Nazi iconography as contemporary propaganda paintings--that really sets the book apart. A devasting reappraisal of the man who "fooled" Hermann Goering and a good read for anyone interested in art, World War II, or how the two intersected.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Scholarly Book That's Fun to Read Sept. 5 2008
By E. C. Mansfield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are a lot of fun books out there that use artworks as a sort of McGuffin for an elaborate or at least distracting plot. Books like The DaVinci Code or The Girl with the Pearl Earring, for instance, give the impression of being based on art historical research, but they take gross liberties with the historical record (or lack thereof). In a way, this ultimately devalues the artworks such books use as plot devices because readers come to see the art as mere accessories to a fantastical tale.

In The Man Who Made Vermeers, the artworks (or, rather, "artworks") remain at the center of a fascinating history. As objects of aesthetic pleasure, economic gain, or social status, the paintings at the heart of Lopez's story exert exactly the sort of power we have come to expect from art. Their status as fakes only complicates our understanding of the real value of art in society.

The Man Who Made Vermeers proves that it is possible to combine lively prose, an intriguing plot AND original research to create a wonderfully engaging yet scholarly narrative. Because the book's prose is so effortless, the painstaking archival research that the author must have undertaken is not as evident as it might be if the book were written in a more conventionally academic style.

Highly recommended!
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars really enjoyed it Aug. 22 2008
By Joseph Tarlo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I just finished reading this book and I really enjoyed it. It's a book that appeals to the general public -- not only those into art. I'm not especially interested in art myself, but I got so into the story and the characters that I read it in record time. Faster than I've read anything in a long time. The author clearly did a huge amount of research. But he turns it into a really easy read. I definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a really interesting true story.
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