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Han van Meegeren: From an average painter to the most famous counterfeiter

Eva Ledecká
29.Jul 2017
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2 minutes
The Supper at Emaus

Let’s look back together at the life of the stranger who loved beautiful women and luxury and succeeded in faking the paintings of the famous masters.

The fact that he was the most elaborate counterfeiter of the paintings and also a very talented artist was discovered after the Second World War when Americans found Vermeer’s picture of Christ and the Adulterer at Göring’s place. Because the experts suspected that the Nazi head had obtained it directly from Holland, which at that time was forbidden, the search for the painting began. The trail led to Han van Meegeren. 

Selfportrait of Meegeren
Painting which was considered the original. It wasn't!
Is it real Vermeer or not?

Discovering a genius painter

Han van Meegeren lived in a luxurious house in Amsterdam. He made his living as an antique dealer and a painter, owned several estates in the Netherlands and France, loved luxury and women, and was addicted to both alcohol and drugs.

When the investigators found him he admitted that the picture was not Vermeer’s, but that he had painted it himself. And to prove this, he was forced to repaint another of Vermeer’s paintings in a prison cell. Everybody was shocked.

Luxusní vila na prodej Praha Západ - 255m
Luxusní vila na prodej Praha Západ - 255m, Okolí Prahy

Life before fakes

Han van Meegeren was born in 1889 in the Netherlands. He studied architecture and painting at The Hague Academy. He had never had any relationship with modern art, but he was trying to copy the style of the old painters’ masterpieces. Subsequently he devoted himself to painting perfect portraits on the Cote d’Azur where he had settled.

He longed for the glory and admiration that he had not attained and he decided to establish a counterfeit workshop and rubbed his hands thinking about the critics admiring the works of Vermeer that had been painted by his own hand.

How are paintings faked?

Han van Meergen had the entire perfection process at his fingertips. He was buying old paintings in antique shops, removing the original painting, using badgers’ hair brushes for painting, was mixing only natural colours and then adding Bakelite to them so that after drying they hardened and crackled as did the luxurious paintings of the old masters.

Owning a Meegeren is a prestigious thing

Thanks to his fakes of Vermeer and of other painters Han van Meegeren quickly became rich. Göring, for example, bought the fake painting for 1,650,000 guldens, which now would be worth USD 7 million! Currently owning a Meegeren is a very luxury experience. In the Rotterdam Museum, for example, his painting of Christ with the Disciples in Emmaus is exhibited as representing the most famous fake.

Han van Meegern died in prison in 1947 at the age of 58 years. 

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