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I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Forger Hardcover – October 3, 2006

33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this intriguing if dry biography, Wynne recounts how Dutch forger Han van Meegeren successfully passed off more than a dozen bogus works—including, most famously, The Supper at Emmaus in 1937—as authentic Vermeers, Halses and de Hooches. Van Meegeren, who favored the style of the old Dutch masters just as modernism was hitting its stride, decided to embarrass his forward-looking critics by creating and selling his own "Vermeer." He continued his charade until he was forced to admit his crimes in 1947 while defending himself against a separate charge of treason. Wynne takes great care in explaining just how the increasingly paranoid and drug-addicted van Meegeren managed to fool the international art community, including a technical breakdown of how van Meegeren employed plastic to create the antique look of cracked craquelure in his canvases. Wynne also ruminates on how the arrogance of the art world—of critics like Abraham Bredius who were so confident in their ability to spot fakes that they brushed aside X-rays and other modern tests, as well as collectors desperate for authenticity—fuels the market for forgeries. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The police tracked down Han van Meegeren in 1945 after learning of his connection to a "Vermeer" stashed in the loot of Hermann Goring. Bursting with malevolent pride, van Meegeren made the astonishing admission that he, not Johannes Vermeer van Delft, was the painter--and one of the great art-world scandals was off and running. Wynne's account of van Meegeren's fraud, the first book-length account in English in four decades, contains insights into the mind of a forger as well as narrative verve about van Meegeren's methods of foisting his deceptions upon the Dutch art-history elite. Born in 1889, the youthful van Meegeren began a painting career and received accolades, but his Old Masters style was considered passe. Expert in seventeenth-century technique, Van Meegeren cunningly plotted vengeance by exploiting critics' belief that Christ-themed Vermeers awaited discovery; mirabile dictu, the theorized "Vermeers" turned up in the 1930s and 1940s. An astutely rendered and delicious tale of an infamous forger. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (October 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582345937
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345932
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,165,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In 1938 in Rotterdam there was a museum exhibition of masterpieces headlined by _The Supper at Emmaus_, a recently discovered painting by Jan Vermeer who had died over two hundred years before. It was being hailed as the masterwork of the famous artist, and the exhibit was a sensation. One man returned to view the painting repeatedly, day after day, standing before it and insisting he was not one of the awestruck viewers reverentially taking it in: "I can't believe they paid half a million guilders for this," he would declare. "It's obviously a fake." The other viewers, if they replied, would attempt to contradict him, but he could not be swayed. He was right, though, and he knew he was right, because he himself had painted the picture. _I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century's Greatest Forger_ (Bloomsbury) by journalist Frank Wynne tells the astonishing story of Han van Meegeren, a complicated saga of art forgery that came to light merely because van Meegeren had to confess to the forgeries to avoid being convicted of collusion with the Nazis. Even then, some didn't believe his confession.

Van Meegeren was an artist outside of his time. "Peering into Han's studio," Wynne writes, "it was as though a century of artistic revolution never happened." He could not make his realistic paintings pay. He was angry at the critics, and he was broke, and he determined he would do something about both. He would make a name for himself by painting pictures that would be praised as lost masterpieces of famous past artists, and eventually he would let the world know how he had fooled the so-called experts. Han determined that he would paint a Vermeer, and in order to be sure that his forgery was accepted, he set technical demands for himself.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By jeffsdate on December 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I am a huge Vermeer fan and already knew quite a bit about Van Meegeren before reading this. I agree with the reviewer who says that the author invents conversations or claims to know what Van Meegeren thought on a specific occasion, which is impossible -- but I think much of the book is based on fact, and it's a fabulous read. As far as I know, there are not many other places where Van M's works are reproduced in color, either - and I like it that the book includes appendices listing the whereabouts of all extant works by Vermeer and Van M.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By kaimac on September 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The life of the scheming fraudster is by its very nature more interesting than that of the natural genius. Everyone loves an underdog, and Han van Meegeren was that most unusual of underdogs: a winner.

Wynne's book, described last weekend by [English Newspaper] The Observer as 'gripping and psychologically fascinating', seeks to do more than simply recount this most interesting of stories. It gets inside van Meegeren's head, and in doing so sheds new light on one of the most intriguing characters the art world has ever seen.

This is just a fascinating story, brilliantly told. Very highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Steven C. Schoen on February 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book gives a graphic represenation of the false values people place on the value of "art." A painting thought to be a Vermeer is highly valued until it is discovered that it is a forgery. Do we value the art or the created super-star aspect of the false values created by so called experts of taste. Is a painting more valuable because someone signs his or her name? In this case Goering acquires a Vermeer which is to be the superstar of his collection to rival Hitler and his collection. Most of these paintings are stolen from Jews and conquered museums, another book THE RAPE OF EUROPA also should be read. It is an adventure story of greed and corruption and the depravity of man under the guise of created tastes and the frality of man. It reemphasizes the importance of creating your own taste and value system while observing the actions of the trend setters of society. It also demonstrates the importance of ART to society..
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Chicago on December 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Usually when I find a book with as many factual and editorial errors as this one, I stop reading. However, the subject matter was interesting enough to keep me going until the end.

Clearly the book lacked a competent editor. Unwarranted and sloppy shift changes within a single sentence or paragraph weren't uncommon. Compound words broken in two also were a common occurrence. I know that there are British conventions (such as the closed quotation mark with punctuation outside, or the usage of a single one where we Yanks would use doubles) but the text therein exhibited poor usage in any form. Picture names were also spotty--the cover art, "Woman Reading a Letter," became "A Woman Reading Music" on the inside color plate section (and later, "A Young Woman Reading"). Finally, there was reference to a class offered at "Huntingdon University, Pennsylvania." There is no such place; there is a Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA, and a Huntingdon College in Alabama.

For a journalist who has written for the esteemed publications claimed on the jacket (Sunday Times, Independent, Irish Times), I'd expect him to have paid a lot more attention to such details. However, as the story is so compelling, I have to give it two and a half stars--a pity, as better attention to detail would have earned it double that in my review.
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