Han van Meegeren

1889 - 1947

Dutch painter and master art forger. His talent for drawing and painting is discovered at a young age. In 1913 Van Meegeren establishes himself as a painter in The Hague, where he wins many commissions for portraits. Some of his drawings find their way to Dutch homes.

His first forgeries date to 1923 – two portraits in the style of Frans Hals. It is possible that financial gain form a major motive: Hals is very popular at the time. But Van Meegeren's use of modern materials is tell-tale, and the works are soon disclosed as forgeries. The identity of the painter remains a secret, however.

In publications Van Meegeren testifies to a preference for traditional figurative art and shows himself adverse to the 'moderns'. This results in a conflict with part of the art circle in The Hague and may have initiated his leaving for the South of France in the company of his then wife. In France Van Meegeren creates his most famous forgery – a version of the Men of Emmaus, attributed to Vermeer. The sale of this and other forgeries brings him millions of guilders.

In 1939 Van Meegeren returns to the Netherlands. During the Second World War he maintains relations with art dealers never discontinuing the trade. In 1943 one of his forgeries is sold to Hermann Goering. After the war investigations into the sales of Dutch cultural heritage and thus illegal trade finally lead to Van Meegeren. Now considered a traitor Van Meegeren decides to disclose the fact that he is the creator of this and many other paintings. To prove his point, Van Meegeren paints a 'Vermeer' from his cell.

A bit of hero now, Van Meegeren is sentenced to one year in prison in November 1947. He suffers a heart attack soon after hearing the verdict and dies in hospital, never serving his sentence.

work by Han van Meegeren