The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren Paperback – Jul 15 2009
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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.)
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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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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