“The painting in Goering’s hands is not, as you assume, a Vermeer of Delft, but a Van Meegeren”
Han van Meegeren was a genius artist but one who used his talents for forgery, rather than honestly. He perfected his technique of forging paintings by the great Dutch masters, including Vermeer and Frans Hals.
Van Meegeren was born on 10 October 1889 at Deventer, Overijssel, Holland, as Henricus Antonius van Meegeren. Raised a Catholic, he studied architecture at university because his father wanted him to but van Meegeren rebelled and became a painter. He began to adopt the styles of the Masters but critics lambasted his efforts, dashing his hopes. He decided he wanted revenge.
He would paint a “Master”, give it to a gallery and then wait for the critics to praise it before revealing his fraud. In 1936 he painted a “Vermeer”, entitled Christ And The Disciples At Emmaus and then artificially aged it. The critics declared the work genuine and van Meegeren was delighted. The Boymans Museum of Rotterdam bought the painting for 520,000 guilders. Van Meegeren was doubly pleased —he had painted the forgery to hit back at his critics but now he could make money from his work.
By the time the Second World War began, van Meegeren had a nice income from his illegal sideline. In the summer of 1938 he had moved to Nice and bought a 12-bedroom estate at Les Arenes de Cimiez.In 1943 he sold Christ And The Adulteress to a Nazi banker who then sold it on to Hermann Goering. It was a sale too far, one that would see him tried for collaborating at the end of the war.
On 29 May 1945 Han van Meegeren was arrested and charged with fraud and aiding and abetting the enemy. After three days in prison van Meegeren confessed that he had created the work of art. “The painting in Goering’s hands is not, as you assume, a Vermeer of Delft, but a Van Meegeren. I painted the picture.”
To prove it he painted Jesus Among The Doctors and was released in early 1946. Nevertheless, he went on trial for forgery and fraud on 29 October 1947 in Room 4 of the Amsterdam Regional Court. On 12 November he was found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail. A fortnight later, he suffered a heart attack and was taken to Amsterdam’s Valeriuskliniek hospital. He suffered a second coronary on 29 December and died at 5pm the next day, aged 58.