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The Masters

Written by Jim Hinckley

February 5, 2023

The team at Avant Print & Frame in Kingman, Arizona will transform your talent with a brush and canvas, or camera, into a work of art. Giclée fine art or photographic reproduction and museum quality archival framing are our specialties.

And then if you are looking to profit from your talents as an artist there is a huge market. It is estimated that the global art market was valued at 65.1 billion dollars in 2021.

With such a lucrative market it is not surprising that some artists apply their creative talents to the theft of ideas with forgery. What is surprising is the effort that goes into creating masterful forgeries. But the forgery of art is not always for monetary gain.

Han van Meegeren was a Dutch artist of the early 20th century. He developed a naturalistic and realistic style but this was at the dawning of the avant-garde movement. And so most of the famous art critics of the period did not favorably review his work.

Driven by the desire to humiliate those critics, van Meegeren turned a small profit with his orignal works but focused his talents on forgery. Johannes Vermeer, the revered artist, proved to be ideally suited for what Han van Meegeren had in mind as this “Old Master” had lived a life of relative obscurity. And there was a consensus in the art world that this artist had produced more masterpieces than were known.

A very patient man, Van Meegeren spent years in Nice, France practicing to emulate Vermeer. Meanwhile he built a stock of old paints, canvasses, wood panels, and frames. With painstaking care he reproduced a home-made brush identical to the one Vermeer used. Then he began experimenting with various processes to age forged works.

The occassional sale of a newly “discovered” Vermeer painting proved profitable. A crowning achievement came in 1937 when Abraham Bredius, a renowned collector and Vermeer expert declared a painting of the The Last Supper authentic. He even proclaimed it to be Vermeer’s masterpiece. As it was a forgery, Van Meegeren must have been gleeful.

With so many experts and critics declaring the paintings to be original, by the late 1930s few of his forgeries were analysed. And soon van Meegeren had a veritable treasure trove with an estimated value of $30 million!

If not for WWII there is the very real possibility that van Meegeren’s career as a forger would never have been discovered. After the war he was brought to trial by the Dutch government to face charges that he had conspired with the Nazis and sold Vermeer paintings that were deemed national treasures.

Forced to decide between being convicted of forgery or of being deemed a traitor, he chose the former. He confessed in court to the sales but insisted that the paintings were forgeries that he had painted. He also claimed that he had traded some forgeries for authentic Dutch artwork and prevented looting by the Nazis.

To verify his skills as a master forger, under court mandated supervision he painted a new Vermeer titled Jesus Among the Doctors. The charges of treason were dropped, and he was charged with forgery. But before he could begin serving his sentence, or be exonerated as a patriot that saved national treasures, he died of a heart attack within weeks of the trial.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America

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