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

4.0 out of 5 stars 34 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 (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,138,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Han van Meegeren was a talented artist -yet recognition did not come his way. So he began to forge copies of old masters, in particular Vermeer. His reproductions sold for thousands, they were authenticated by leading experts, and he was laughing behind his hand. Of course it all blew up, but in a strange and revealing way. Frank Wynne -a Brit- writes a terse and vibrant narrative,
keeps you engrossed throughout..and you learn a lot about the Art Establishment of Europe both before and after World War Two.
A really fine job.
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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The narrative was interesting but did not make for an exciting read. I didn't think this fascinating mans' life was really made into a good read until the last third of the book. His relationships were not developed and the 'story' did not flow.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting and well-written account of the "great" (if that word can be applied to a crook!) art forger Han van Meegeren, who during and before WWII made himself about $100,000,000 (in today's money) by painting and selling fake paintings by Vermeer and other Dutch Masters. The story is well-known in art history circles, but author Frank Wynne has made it accessible and entertaining to the general reader, and has brought it up to date as of 2004, with the famous (or infamous) Sotheby's sale, for $30,000,000, of a questionable Vermeer.

Even people who don't know a Vermeer from a Picasso are likely to be captivated by this story of high finance and low cunning. Hans van Meegeren was such an audacious rogue (artist, forger, con man, ladies' man, alcoholic) that he seems almost larger than life, especially in Wynne's witty and pointed retelling.

The book's appendices include a useful bibliography, list of websites, and summary of the present locations and status of Vermeer paintings and forgeries.
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