The art forgeries of Han van Meegeren

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The Unmasking

Han van Meegeren painting Jesus Amongst the Doctors

At the end of World War 2, the Dutch Field Security began hunting for those citizens of Holland who had collaborated with the Nazis during the Occupation. A search was made through records relating to the sale of a painting, The Woman Taken in Adultery, by the 17th-century Dutch artist Vermeer, to Hermann Goering. The trail led back to Henricus Antonius (Han) van Meegeren, himself an artist and an occasional art dealer. In May 1945 Van Meegeren was arrested, charged with collaborating with the enemy and imprisoned. After six weeks in jail he announced, to general amazement and disbelief, that The Woman Taken in Adultery was not a Vermeer but a forgery by his own hand. Not only that, but he claimed to have painted five other so-called Vermeers, as well as two presumed Pieter de Hooghs. It was arranged that, under police guard, Van Meegeren would paint another "Vermeer", Jesus Among the Doctors , using the special paints and techniques he claimed to have used for the alleged forgeries. This he did, until he learned that he was to be charged with forgery rather than collaboration. He then refused to finish the picture and, in particular, to "age" it.

Some months later, in June 1946, the Coremans Commission, under Dr. P.B. Coremans, Director of the Central Laboratory of Belgian Museums, was sworn in and carried out intensive physical and chemical tests on some dozen paintings and various materials found at Van Meegeren's studio. Van Meegeren cooperated with the Commission, divulging many details of his methods and techniques. In September 1947 the Commission reported that all the paintings under examination, including eight pictures (six "Vermeers" and two "De Hooghs") which had been sold, were forgeries by Van Meegeren. At the end of October he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to one year's imprisonment. He became a national hero - the man who had duped Goering! But years of drink and drug abuse had undermined his health. He was by now a very sick man and in November he was admitted to a clinic. Han van Meegeren died on 30th December 1947, before he could serve his sentence.

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