Sunday, August 17, 2008

Forger's Spell

The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century
by Edward Dolnick

This art history book reads not like a textbook but like a novel. It tells the story of Han van Meegeren, a mediocre artist from the 1930's, who paints a handful of forgeries and convinces the art world that they are authentic paintings by the Dutch master Vermeer from the 17th century. The book jumps around from a chapter on van Meegeren's background, to a chapter on Hitler, to a chapter on Vermeer, back to a chapter on van Meegeren's technique, to a chapter on a revered art connoisseur. Somehow it all comes together and makes for an engaging story. The author explains exactly how van Meegeren was able to make the paintings look "old" and pass simple scientific tests, why the art critics were taken in by the fakes, and how the entire hoax eventually unraveled. The color insert in the book allows you to compare authentic Vermeers to the forgeries painted by van Meegeren.

5 out of 5

Today there are only 36 recognized Vermeer paintings in the world. Eleven of them are housed in museums in the United States, four of them at the National Gallery of Art in DC. I took a quick trip to visit them this afternoon, and I must say that it was an afternoon well-spent. Perhaps "Girl With a Pearl Earring" starring Colin "Mr. Darcy" Firth deserves another viewing as well.

Woman Holding a Balance
, Johannes Vermeer, National Gallery of Art

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