Painter Vermeer was forged, new film


This video is called A Real Vermeer; Official Trailer, UK subs, 2016.

On 5 November 2016, I went to see the new Dutch film A Real Vermeer. The Internet Movie Database writes about it:

Young and talented Han van Meegeren is a rebel in the early 1920’s Amsterdam art scene.

This is incorrect. As the film shows correctly, Van Meegeren (1889-1947) was then in the The Hague art scene; not the Amsterdam one.

Van Meegeren was a technically able visual artist. He had a ‘reactionary’ dislike of avant garde artists like Picasso, much preferring art of long ago. He knew much about seventeenth century painters’ techniques, which would help him in forging ancient art. He was invited by quite some artistically conservative rich people to paint their portraits, making him well-off.

Because he paints in the style of his idols Rembrandt and Vermeer, critics find his work old-fashioned and they call him a copycat.

Just to prove a point, he produces a fake Vermeer and tries to pass it off as a real one. It works. Instead of revealing the truth and thereby embarrassing the art world, he continues to make money off his many forgeries. Soon he is caught in a web of lies and deceit, and his life spins out of control. Then one day, high-ranking Nazi Hermann Göring knocks on his door, looking for a Vermeer for his private collection.

Director Rudolf van den Berg has said that his movie ‘is not about the real Han van Meegeren’.

The film adds many fictional elements to the real story of Van Meegeren’s life. Eg, Van Meegeren did not meet Göring personally, as Van den Berg depicts; but sold his fake ‘Vermeer’ to the nazi bigwig via an intermediary.

When Van Meegeren was a teenager, his father did not want him to become an artist. As a punishment for his son’s artistic ambitions, the father made Han write again and again: ‘I am nothing, I know nothing, I am unable to do anything’. In the film, when bad things happen to Van Meegeren, he writes these self-humiliating lines all over his studio. Though it is improbable that the adult real Van Meegeren did that, the authoritarian education by his father probably did leave negative marks on Han’s personality.

The main theme of the film is a supposed conflict between Van Meegeren and prominent Dutch art expert Abraham Bredius (1855-1946) about Bredius‘ wife; and that Van Meegeren started counterfeiting Vermeer as a revenge on his rival in love. The only true part in the film here is that Van Meegeren hated Bredius. However, ancient art specialist Bredius never judged twentieth century artists like Van Meegeren, as far as we know. There is also no evidence of Bredius’ wife being a factor in Van Meegeren’s actions. Bredius, in fact, never married; he was gay. Jólanka Lakatos, Bredius’ wife in the film, is fictional.

Van Meegeren and Jólanka Lakatos, film poster

This film poster shows Van Meegeren and Jólanka Lakatos. The caption at the top of the poster says, translated: ‘Only his love for her is real’. However, as Ms Lakatos is fiction, that would make everything about Van Meegeren in this film not real.

Christ at Emmaus, by van Meegeren

The real Bredius was really fooled by a Van Meegeren forgery, Christ at Emmaus, in 1937; and claimed it was a real Vermeer. On the authority of Bredius and other art experts, the famous Rotterdam museum Boijmans Van Beuningen bought the painting for much money. Ironically, much earlier, in 1883, Bredius had established his fame as a Vermeer expert by pointing out that another ‘Vermeer’ painting was not really by the Delft artist. And he established his reputation as a Rembrandt scholar by claiming scores of ‘Rembrandts’ were not really by Rembrandt.

Then, the issue of Van Meegeren’s extreme right sympathies. In the film, the lead character is in Italy; without commenting on a Mussolini propaganda poster there. Later, he speaks to his financial adviser in a room with an Adolf Hitler portrait on the wall. Again, without commenting on that.

Still later, during the nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Van Meegeren uses the nazi term ‘degenerate art‘ for avant-garde artists like Picasso whom he hates.

During the real nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the real Van Meegeren joined the pro-nazi art organisation Kultuurkamer and became very rich.

In the film, the master forger dedicates (this seems to have happened really) a drawing to ‘my beloved Fuehrer’ Hitler. Hitler is now disliked as an artistically conservative artist by many people; like Van Meegeren was disliked by pro-avant garde critics.

In Dutch movie magazine De Filmkrant, November 2016, reviewer Erik Spaans wrote (translated):

In Rudolf van den Berg’s A Real Vermeer art forger Han van Meegeren is depicted as a tormented artist and a rascal hungry for revenge. In reality, Van Meegeren’s motives were rather profit and opportunism.

Spaans bases this view on what he calls the best biography of Van Meegeren: The Man Who Made Vermeers, by Jonathan Lopez. An English producer has bought the film rights to Lopez’ book. Spaans hopes this will result in a more historically correct film about Van Meegeren.

This 2009 video from the USA is called Jonathan Lopez on “The Man Who Made Vermeers” at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

After the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich, Dutch authorities arrested Van Meegeren, as they suspected him of selling real ancient Dutch art to nazi enemies; which meant treason. As penalties for forging art were much lower than for treason, Van Meegeren then confessed that his ‘Vermeers’ and other ‘ancient Dutch masters’ were really by himself. He confessed that first to police; not in a public session of a court of justice, as the film depicts it. It turned out that the confession was true, and Van Meegeren was sentenced to one year in prison for forgery, not to a much harsher penalty for treason.

In 1947, just before the prison sentence would begin, Han van Meegeren died of a heart attack in a hospital (so, not ‘in prison’ as Spaans writes).

Many people started to see Van Meegeren as a sort of anti-nazi hero, someone who had managed to fool the hated Hermann Göring. According to Spaans, that is undeserved; and Van den Berg’s film does not say much against that.

5 thoughts on “Painter Vermeer was forged, new film

  1. Pingback: Dutch painter Vermeer, new book | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Painter Vermeer, film reviewed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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