The Hans Van Meegeren Forgeries

 

The forgeries perpetrated by Hans van Meegeren are probably some of the most famous in the art world.  Van Meegeren did not copy a great painting and try to pass it off as an original but created new originals of his own.  He faked 6 Vermeer's in all, these were put onto the market as new discoveries.  

 

Discovery

Hans Van MeegerenVan Meegeren hated the art establishment and a greater embarrassment he could not have hoped to cause them.  The frauds went undetected for ten years until in 1945 Van Meegeren was arrested as a collaborator of the Germans.  He then confessed to having faked the Vermeer's and was instead charged with fraud.  He was sentenced to a term of one year but died before he could serve it.

 

The Forgeries

"Christ at Emmaus" Van Meegeren forgery

The picture on the left Christ at Emmaus was considered by Van Meegeren to be his "masterpiece".  He obtained a genuine 17th century canvas with its original stretcher.  He removed the original composition and cut down the canvas retaining a piece of it.  He then painted his creation on to the authentic canvass.

 

Other forgeries include The Washing of Christ's Feet, Christ and the Adulteress and Lady and Gentleman at a Spinet.

Van Meegeren invented an ageing process which was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.  He ground his pigments in oil of lilacs and then mixed them with a special medium.  This was phenol formaldehyde resin dissolved in either benzene or turpentine.  The painting was then baked for several hours at a temperature over 100C.  The result was a paint film which had all the characteristics of a genuine 17th century painting.

 

Scientific Analysis

Once Van Meegeren had confessed to the fakes a series of chemical and physical tests were carried out.  This was done by Dr P.B. Coremans the director of the central laboratory of Belgian museums.  A dozen paintings and various materials found at Van Meegeren's studio were examined.  

The paints were all found to contain traces of phenol formaldehyde resin and traces of cobalt blue were also found in two of the paintings.  Cobalt blue is an artificial pigment not manufactured until the 19th century. 

X-rays showed original 17th century pieces under the paintings.

The piece of canvass kept from Christ in Emmaus was also found and matched to the canvass used for the painting.

 

 

Genuine Vermeer's

Mistress and Maid shown on the right is a genuine Vermeer.  The paintings by Van Meegeren are now considered to be vastly inferior.  Van Meegeren could not accurately depict anatomy or materials and was not nearly so accomplished a painter as he was a forger.