BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Hans van Meegeren

Elmyr de Hory was not one of kind because he was exceptionally talented at copying the works of other. Artists in the business of trying to defraud art buyers are a dime a dozen, however, he was one of kind because more of his works are probably out there, than any of his contemporizes and certainly number in the hundreds. Part of the story of his success is based on the fact that he would only use old canvases, old frames and old paper. He went to tremendous trouble to find the oldest materials available, while many of the more recent forgers only tried to make their painting look old. Some of de Hory’s original associates still abound, trying to make an illegal buck selling whatever they can to make an illegal buck. Hans van Meegeren did Vermeer’s as well as the artist himself did in his heyday. Van Meegeren was caught in Europe when World War II broke out. During that time, Hermann Goring, the chief honcho of Hitler’s Air force was assembling an enormous art collection by stealing works in all the countries that Germany conquered.

However, stealing them was not enough and when Goring was approached by van Meegeren with what looked to be “Vermeer” he literally bought it on the spot. After the War, Goring was tried and convicted by the Nuremburg War Tribunal. Moreover, everyone that had done business with him was also rounded up and van Meegeren was caught in the trap. He was put on trial for conspiring with the enemy as well as collaboration because of his Vermeer sale. The authorities now had the painting in their possession and they had determined that it was one of the best pictures ever created by Vermeer. Life was cheap during that time and war criminals were being executed at the “drop of a hat”. Van Meegeren not knowing what else to do told the inquisitors that the painting was a forgery and that he had painted it. In order to back of this apparently preposterous claim, Van Meegeren proceeded to execute another copy as brilliant as the first right before the court’s eyes. He then claimed that far from being a conspirator, he was patriot and should have gotten a medal for being able to swindle Goring the way he did.

Moreover, van Meegeren had the magic touch and could literally swindle anyone with his magic brush. Just read what art historian Abraham Bedius said about one of Vermeer forgeries when he first saw it 1937. “It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown paining by a great master, untouched, on the original canvas, and without any restoration, just as it left the painter’s studio! Moreover, what a picture! What we have here is a - I am inclined to say - ‘the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft.’” Van Meegeren died in 1947 shortly after the Nuremburg inquisition.

 

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