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The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century

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As riveting as a World War II thriller, The Forger's Spell is the true story of Johannes Vermeer and the small-time Dutch painter who dared to impersonate him centuries later. The con man's mark was Hermann Goering, one of the most reviled leaders of Nazi Germany and a fanatic collector of art. It was an almost perfect crime. For seven years a no-account painter named Han v As riveting as a World War II thriller, The Forger's Spell is the true story of Johannes Vermeer and the small-time Dutch painter who dared to impersonate him centuries later. The con man's mark was Hermann Goering, one of the most reviled leaders of Nazi Germany and a fanatic collector of art. It was an almost perfect crime. For seven years a no-account painter named Han van Meegeren managed to pass off his paintings as those of one of the most beloved and admired artists who ever lived. But, as Edward Dolnick reveals, the reason for the forger's success was not his artistic skill. Van Meegeren was a mediocre artist. His true genius lay in psychological manipulation, and he came within inches of fooling both the Nazis and the world. Instead, he landed in an Amsterdam court on trial for his life. ARTnews called Dolnick's previous book, the Edgar Award-winning The Rescue Artist, "the best book ever written on art crime." In The Forger's Spell, the stage is bigger, the stakes are higher, and the villains are blacker.


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As riveting as a World War II thriller, The Forger's Spell is the true story of Johannes Vermeer and the small-time Dutch painter who dared to impersonate him centuries later. The con man's mark was Hermann Goering, one of the most reviled leaders of Nazi Germany and a fanatic collector of art. It was an almost perfect crime. For seven years a no-account painter named Han v As riveting as a World War II thriller, The Forger's Spell is the true story of Johannes Vermeer and the small-time Dutch painter who dared to impersonate him centuries later. The con man's mark was Hermann Goering, one of the most reviled leaders of Nazi Germany and a fanatic collector of art. It was an almost perfect crime. For seven years a no-account painter named Han van Meegeren managed to pass off his paintings as those of one of the most beloved and admired artists who ever lived. But, as Edward Dolnick reveals, the reason for the forger's success was not his artistic skill. Van Meegeren was a mediocre artist. His true genius lay in psychological manipulation, and he came within inches of fooling both the Nazis and the world. Instead, he landed in an Amsterdam court on trial for his life. ARTnews called Dolnick's previous book, the Edgar Award-winning The Rescue Artist, "the best book ever written on art crime." In The Forger's Spell, the stage is bigger, the stakes are higher, and the villains are blacker.

30 review for The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carmen

    "Yesterday this picture was worth millions of guilders, and experts and art lovers would come from all over the world and pay money to see it," he declared at his trial. "Today, it is worth nothing, and nobody would cross the street to see it for free. But the picture has not changed. What has?" Van Meegeren presumably had an unflattering answer in mind. The picture had not changed, but it had lost its glamour. Why? Because the "experts and art lovers" were as fake as it was. The world was full o "Yesterday this picture was worth millions of guilders, and experts and art lovers would come from all over the world and pay money to see it," he declared at his trial. "Today, it is worth nothing, and nobody would cross the street to see it for free. But the picture has not changed. What has?" Van Meegeren presumably had an unflattering answer in mind. The picture had not changed, but it had lost its glamour. Why? Because the "experts and art lovers" were as fake as it was. The world was full of people who thought of themselves as art lovers but were in fact merely snobs. Van Meegeren created more than half a dozen fake Vermeers and sold each for over a million dollars. He was creating the forgeries in his basement. Rejected as a painter in his own right, his forgeries were praised and exalted by art critics (who thought they were by Vermeer, not some guy down the street). This was Van Meegeren - a man embittered and angered by his rejection in the art world - taking his ultimate revenge on the art community, and getting filthy rich in the process. I can't completely write off this book. While I find art forgery and details about how art is made incredibly boring, there were interesting parts of this book. I learned a few things. What most fascinated me was a.) The parts about history. I loved learning more about World War II, about Hermann Goering, about Holland under Nazi rule, Spanish rule, French rule... Well, it turns out that history fascinates me. Who knew? I must hunt down some history books and learn more. :) b.) The psychology behind art critics, who were egomaniacs and snobs, deciding (seemingly arbitrarily) which paintings are real and which are forgeries. Then examining their utter despair, confusion and humiliation when - ten or so years later - it came out that Van Meegeren had painted them in his basement. What makes people believe that some art is worth billions of dollars and should hang in a museum, and some is trash to be sold at a discount in someone's estate sale? It's not really talent or beauty, as you'd initially think. Put forth the ugliest, most hideous and badly done painting you've ever seen - prove that Rembrandt painted it - and it's instantly in a museum, worth 5 million dollars, and highly praised. See what I mean? The book is well-written. This could have been very boring, but Dolnick is an engaging author. He really tries hard to draw us into the excitement and mysteries of the time. World War II, Nazis, art forgers, the Dutch starving in the streets... etc. etc. And for the most part it works. It certainly isn't the author's fault that I find discussions on how paintings age boring. Tl;dr - If you have no interest in detailed artwork analysis, or art forgery - you are not going to get much out of this book. The concept and premise are fascinating, but I think I would have been 10x happier reading a magazine article about it instead of a book. But as a surprising bonus, I found out I am fascinated by history and should probably get on that.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    My review is going to be choppy, like this book. Yes, at times it was a fascinating read, but I think the author tried to cram too much information into one book. It was extensively researched and annotated, but jumped from subject to subject without much continuity. It was part technical manual (forgery 101), biography, art history, art hoaxes, and WWII history (in particular the Nazi looting of Europe’s works of art). One good thing about this book was that it made me want to read several othe My review is going to be choppy, like this book. Yes, at times it was a fascinating read, but I think the author tried to cram too much information into one book. It was extensively researched and annotated, but jumped from subject to subject without much continuity. It was part technical manual (forgery 101), biography, art history, art hoaxes, and WWII history (in particular the Nazi looting of Europe’s works of art). One good thing about this book was that it made me want to read several others that deal with many of the different subjects it touched on. The basic outline told the story of art forger, Han Van Meegeren, and how he cheated Nazi Luftwaffe Commander, Hermann Goering, out of millions of dollars by selling him his own paintings that he claimed were never-before-discovered Vermeers. Van Meegeren also painted and sold fake works by Hals and De Hooch, but he is most (in)famous for wowing the art world with his fake Vermeer, titled Christ at Emmaus. How did he do it? Quite a few chapters were devoted to the way Van Meegeren, through much trial and error, perfected the creation of paints that would appear to match those used in the seventeenth-century. He also bought inexpensive paintings from that time period and scraped the old painting off of the canvas before painting his “Vermeer.” He would then bake the paintings so that they appeared fragile. After that he would crack them, varnish them, and pour India ink into the cracks to give the appearance of the dust that would have naturally accumulated with age. Van Meegeren also had the word of art experts who validated the authenticity of the paintings. Many, but not all, were in fact taken in and believed in the authenticity of the works. They also believed the stories behind how Van Meegeren had "acquired" the paintings. He would simply say that a Dutch family, who wished to remain anonymous, wanted to sell their painting in order to gain safe passage out of Holland before/during the Nazi occupation. Why did he do it? There were two reasons. One, obviously, was greed. The other was revenge on the art-world critics who he felt failed to recognize the “genius” of his own work. He definitely felt he had the last laugh when his Christ at Emmaus was revealed to be a fake. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s interesting to read about how he was finally caught. I want to end on one of my favorite quotes from the book: The Met’s Theodore Rousseau once remarked, “We should all realize that we can only talk about the bad forgeries, the ones that have been detected; the good ones are still hanging on the walls.” ****** Miscellaneous thoughts that don’t really fit anywhere in this review: 1. I learned a new word and I think I’m going to incorporate it into my everyday life: Craquelure. This is the delicate network of cracks that appear on old paintings. Art experts and forgers pay special attention to these cracks because they help validate the age and authenticity of a painting. I’ll use it in a sentence: Dang, I’ve got some serious craquelure going on around my eyes and I need botox! 2. Cool, this book has pictures! 3. This was before I finished reading the book. The pre-review: I'm not finished reading this yet, but I read an interesting quote last night. It is relevant to today's war, which is no doubt why it was included in the book. From G.M. Gilbert's interview with Hermann Goering at Nuremberg: Gilbert remarked that in democracy the people have a say in the decision to go to war. "Oh, that is all well and good," Goering replied, "but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    A big part of this narrative focused on the role psychology played in duping art experts; how Van Meegeren's forgeries seemed custom-made for the art experts that he fooled, as he appealed to "what they wanted to see" and thus could get away with painting mediocre works that still sold for millions. Similar thing with reviewing The Forger's Spell. I happen to be a sucker for art, history, psychology, and a yarn well spun, and so this book seemed custom-made for me. I know not everyone necessaril A big part of this narrative focused on the role psychology played in duping art experts; how Van Meegeren's forgeries seemed custom-made for the art experts that he fooled, as he appealed to "what they wanted to see" and thus could get away with painting mediocre works that still sold for millions. Similar thing with reviewing The Forger's Spell. I happen to be a sucker for art, history, psychology, and a yarn well spun, and so this book seemed custom-made for me. I know not everyone necessarily enjoyed this book as much as I did, but I certainly think anyone can learn a great deal from it. Some have complained about the "choppy" organization of the book, but for me, I thought the addition of extra information--about the politics and events of Vermeer's time, about Hermann Goering's eccentricities, about art experts in general–added to the context of Van Meegeren's story and showed just how interrelated everything was (and still is.) Like it says in the intro, everything about this story is "larger than life:" the ridiculous amounts of money that were passed around, the personalities of the people involved (Vermeer expert Abraham Bredius and his passion for hyperbole, for one), the scale of the war and tragedy and duplicitousness, and of course, the unrivaled talent of Vermeer himself. Add to that the "twist" at the end, dramatic as any novel, but of course completely true and meticulously documented. The story in itself, juxtaposing numerous inflated egos and conscience-deficient war prospectors with the calm and brilliant beauty of one of the greatest painters in art history puts on a gallery show of human glory and fallibility. (also, my version had recommendations on what sort of books to read next, if I wanted to pursue the subject! And indeed I do, it is extremely fascinating.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Scot

    As the title suggests, this book tells the story of the greatest art hoax of the 20th century, but it does more than that. In a choppy style (most chapters ran from 5 to 8 pages) we are introduced to a range of diverse areas of knowledge that indeed we should know something about to better appreciate the context and significance of this art hoax. There are several interesting asides along the way, popping in as footnotes--although for references to sources cited and direct quotes embedded in the As the title suggests, this book tells the story of the greatest art hoax of the 20th century, but it does more than that. In a choppy style (most chapters ran from 5 to 8 pages) we are introduced to a range of diverse areas of knowledge that indeed we should know something about to better appreciate the context and significance of this art hoax. There are several interesting asides along the way, popping in as footnotes--although for references to sources cited and direct quotes embedded in the text, you have to look up phrases in a reference section in the back matter, which is a bit troublesome--I would have preferred basic endnotes myself. After reading this book, you'll have a working knowledge of how to best commit art forgery, an appreciation for the works of Vermeer, and a rather extensive review of the history of art criticism on this seventeenth century Dutch painter. You'll also come away with an understanding of the process by which fine art is sold and its value is reckoned, a greater awareness of what life was like in Holland under the Nazi occupation, and fascinating bits of knowledge about Hitler's and Goering's obsessions with art. The details about Goering are particularly memorable, given that he was such a curious and flamboyant aesthete and a sociopathic monster at the same time. The book introduces several other distinctive European characters as well, not least of them the master forger himself, an unrepentant trickster named Han van Meegeren.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 3* of five Here we have a non-fictional account of the 20th century's most astoundingly, resoundingly, and undeservedly successful art forgery scam. In very, very brief, it's the story of a Dutch forger who cons Goering out of *boatloads* of cash for fake Vermeers. The book presents us with the fakes in a photo section. I simply cannot believe that anyone not completely blind and thus viewing these horribly hideous daubs in Braille could be taken in by them. There are quite a few characters Rating: 3* of five Here we have a non-fictional account of the 20th century's most astoundingly, resoundingly, and undeservedly successful art forgery scam. In very, very brief, it's the story of a Dutch forger who cons Goering out of *boatloads* of cash for fake Vermeers. The book presents us with the fakes in a photo section. I simply cannot believe that anyone not completely blind and thus viewing these horribly hideous daubs in Braille could be taken in by them. There are quite a few characters involved in this scam, and so Dolnick bounces around more than Roger Federer's practice balls, with equally nausea-inducing speed and ballistic-ness. (Ballisticity?) Chapters are short. Sentences aren't. Story is fascinating. Piecing it together isn't. Vermeers are gorgeous. Forgeries are so Gawdawful ugly it makes the viewer want to weep from outrage (sort of like the effect Dickens or Shakespeare has on the sensible modern reader, or cats have on the non-demon-possessed). Recommended...but what a lukewarm recommendation it is. I wish I'd been able to follow one thread through the book, instead of eight (by my count), and I wish I'd been given halftone illos in the text instead of, or prefereably in addition to, a photo insert because I would have liked to be able to see what Dolnick was talking about as he was talking about it. I felt that was a bad decision on the publisher's part. Left me sort of hanging there, unsure of what I was supposed to be seeing.... Well. Anyway. If you like art, and if you're a fan of puzzle stories with tidy endings, here it is.

  6. 5 out of 5

    BreAnna

    Initial thoughts on completion: This was a really fascinating book. It combined several of my favorite subjects, and in some cases informed new interests - history in general, World War II, Nazis, art in general, Vermeer, Dutch painting, forensic analysis, psychological motivation, crime, and detective work. I feel like a much more rounded person having read this. It was fascinating to watch the story unfold and Dolnick did a great job of providing other examples and similar scenarios to explain Initial thoughts on completion: This was a really fascinating book. It combined several of my favorite subjects, and in some cases informed new interests - history in general, World War II, Nazis, art in general, Vermeer, Dutch painting, forensic analysis, psychological motivation, crime, and detective work. I feel like a much more rounded person having read this. It was fascinating to watch the story unfold and Dolnick did a great job of providing other examples and similar scenarios to explain and inform. One of my favorite quotes, that I feel really embodies the essence of the book (and my interest in it) comes from the 5th chapter: "We turn to science to free ourselves from the fallible judgments of human experts, and we find that the scientific tests themselves require human interpretation." I have a much better appreciation for the science that is the job of an art critic, and a better realization of the intricacy that is history. I like to think that I know the truth, or have the skills to discover it, but now realize that reality is subjective and largely up to our own perceptions and the lens through which we view it. Eventually the entire mess will be untangled, but until that happens, we must take the information we have and formulate our opinions and understandings. It is important to retain an open mind while doing this, however, because as new information surfaces, our opinions may need to be altered. Reasons to read: If you have any interest in art, art crime, or World War II, this is a great one. It's definitely different than most books out there (at least, that I've read to this point). The chapters are really short, which (let's face it) are a plus, especially if you are a busy person with limited time for recreational reading. It is very clear and the story is easy to follow. Even though you know how it ends - Hitler dies, they catch the forger (not a spoiler - the book would not exist if we still thought they were authentic Vermeers) - the twists and periodic change in focus keep it interesting. I found my sympathies shifting, first against and then for Van Meegeren and back again, hoping the Nazis find treasures, then hoping they fall for the fakes, then feeling bad for their gullibility. Overall, I'm glad I bought it. Cons: It makes you want to know so much more about all the smaller side scandals and historical points brought up, so it's going to be a huge time sucker if you follow all the new leads and questions it opens up. Favorite part: Probably when the actual process of forgery was explained. Who knew it took so much work to make something new appear so old? The tricks he used were ingenious, and it was described very well, which is commendable, as technical explanations and jargon can become laborious at times. In summary, a great book for many interests and worth the time it took to read it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    This is a fantastic book!!!! I haven't enjoyed a read this much in a long time. What we have here is the story of probably the world's most famous art forger who not only fooled the Nazi's who were grabbing up everything in sight, but he also tricked those who were known as great art "experts". His painter of choice was Vermeer, the Dutchman who painted with light (or at least I always thought it looked that way)......but his copies were not even close. They were flat, without life, and looked r This is a fantastic book!!!! I haven't enjoyed a read this much in a long time. What we have here is the story of probably the world's most famous art forger who not only fooled the Nazi's who were grabbing up everything in sight, but he also tricked those who were known as great art "experts". His painter of choice was Vermeer, the Dutchman who painted with light (or at least I always thought it looked that way)......but his copies were not even close. They were flat, without life, and looked rather amateurish. (This book includes several pictures). To the layman, they don't resemble a Vermeer but the forger, Hans van Meegeren, had a gift of gab that was hypnotizing and actually talked some of the most important art critics into believing that his paintings were Vermeers. As well, he had experimented until he could create paint that was almost identical to that used in the 15th century and would pass the tests used by examiners to verify the age of paint. He sold dozens of forgeries to museums and private art collectors for millions of dollars.He was rather a genius and became a hero in Holland, even after he was arrested when he got a little careless, because he completely fooled Hermann Goering who paid a fortune for one of his fakes. This book provides almost a primer about how to fake a painting.....of course, it is nothing that any of us could do (or at least I hope not) but it will keep the reader fascinated. The story of van Meegeren flows beautifully and is a joy to read. Highly recommended!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    The Forger's Spell is the true story of Han van Meegeren, a not-so-great painter living in Holland during the Nazi occupation. What van Meegeren lacked in artistic talent, he more than made up for in his skills of psychology deception. When his own paintings couldn't sell, he turned to forging those of Johannes Vermeer (the Dutch painter of Girl with the Pearl Earring fame). He swindled over $30 million dollars from investors, much of it from German war criminals. Dolnick's book is a perfect mix The Forger's Spell is the true story of Han van Meegeren, a not-so-great painter living in Holland during the Nazi occupation. What van Meegeren lacked in artistic talent, he more than made up for in his skills of psychology deception. When his own paintings couldn't sell, he turned to forging those of Johannes Vermeer (the Dutch painter of Girl with the Pearl Earring fame). He swindled over $30 million dollars from investors, much of it from German war criminals. Dolnick's book is a perfect mix - he gives the history of WWII and the Nazi's penchance for plundering great works of art - as well as the history of Holland and its place in the war. He tells the biographies of van Meegeren, noted art critics of the time, and the key buyers. He goes into detail about forgery techniques (telling anecdotes along the way of other forgeries) and presents an amazing story of how van Meegeren could pull off such a fantastic hoax. I found everything about this book so exciting. Unlike many of the suave criminals in heist movies, van Meegeren is not a very likeable character, but when matched against Hitler and snobby art collectors, you can't help but cheer for the guy. A must read for anyone who loves art and a good con.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    A choppy account of how Han van Meegeren duped art experts and Hermann Goering with his terrible Vermeer forgeries, this book would probably be more enjoyable for someone who doesn't know much about the Old Masters. The author approaches the topic in the form of article-like sections about occupied Holland, painting techniques used by forgers, the psychology of duping people into accepting forgeries, the biographies of the key figures, etc. The chronology becomes quite muddled and I also got the A choppy account of how Han van Meegeren duped art experts and Hermann Goering with his terrible Vermeer forgeries, this book would probably be more enjoyable for someone who doesn't know much about the Old Masters. The author approaches the topic in the form of article-like sections about occupied Holland, painting techniques used by forgers, the psychology of duping people into accepting forgeries, the biographies of the key figures, etc. The chronology becomes quite muddled and I also got the impression that the author was repeating the same points in different words in order to make the book longer. Since I studied the Old Masters in college a fair bit, some of the sections were old hat for me. If you enjoyed this book, I recommend the novel What's Bred in the Bone, which is very, very loosely related.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    "So primed are we to see what we want to see (and to reject what runs counter to our hopes and expectations) that psychologists and economists have coined an entire vocabulary to describe the ways we mislead ourselves. 'Conformation bias' is the broad heading. The idea is that we tell ourselves we are making decisions based on the evidence, though in fact we skew the results by grabbing up welcome news without a second glance while subjecting unpleasant facts to endless testing." "So primed are we to see what we want to see (and to reject what runs counter to our hopes and expectations) that psychologists and economists have coined an entire vocabulary to describe the ways we mislead ourselves. 'Conformation bias' is the broad heading. The idea is that we tell ourselves we are making decisions based on the evidence, though in fact we skew the results by grabbing up welcome news without a second glance while subjecting unpleasant facts to endless testing."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy

    This book will interest those who love to read history and specifically those who are also keen on art. This non-fiction book describes the life of Van Meegeren, a mediocre artist living in the Netherlands who developed a method of faking paintings by Vermeer. Vermeer left very few paintings, only 36 exist in the world today, but art experts in Europe and in the US were taken in by the forger. Van Meegeren's main target was the Nazi Party as both Hitler and Guering fancied themselves as collecto This book will interest those who love to read history and specifically those who are also keen on art. This non-fiction book describes the life of Van Meegeren, a mediocre artist living in the Netherlands who developed a method of faking paintings by Vermeer. Vermeer left very few paintings, only 36 exist in the world today, but art experts in Europe and in the US were taken in by the forger. Van Meegeren's main target was the Nazi Party as both Hitler and Guering fancied themselves as collectors of art. Indeed the Nazis looted art galleries and private homes and hid the paintings in a salt mine when they began to realise that an Allied invasion would mean the loss of their collections. Dolnick's account of how van Meegeren managed to produce paintings which fooled the best art critics of the time is very interesting. The book contains colour plates of both Vermeer's work and that of the forger and I found myself referring to them constantly throughout the book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    R.F. Gammon

    Can we please have less waxing eloquent about Vermeer's critics and more about ya know the part where he fooled the NAZIS that's why I picked the book up sorely disappointed Can we please have less waxing eloquent about Vermeer's critics and more about ya know the part where he fooled the NAZIS that's why I picked the book up sorely disappointed

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    "The Forger's Spell" by Edward Dolnick is a well told story about one of the most infamous art forgery cases of the 20th century. Han van Meegeren spent the duration of WW2 painting Vermeers; and what makes this case so fascinating - besides the big name artist he picked - was the way the critics fell head over heels for these forgeries, calling them Vermeer's best work. And if that wasn't enough, the story is made more intriguing by the fact that Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe and "The Forger's Spell" by Edward Dolnick is a well told story about one of the most infamous art forgery cases of the 20th century. Han van Meegeren spent the duration of WW2 painting Vermeers; and what makes this case so fascinating - besides the big name artist he picked - was the way the critics fell head over heels for these forgeries, calling them Vermeer's best work. And if that wasn't enough, the story is made more intriguing by the fact that Hermann Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe and one of the most charismatic and sociopathic of all the Nazis was also fooled, trading 137 genuine paintings for one of van Meegeren's Vermeers. Being such an compelling story, it has had other treatments in book form, and while I haven't read any of these previous books, I can say that this one does a splendid job of getting into the motivations and machinations of a forgery of this magnitude. Han van Meegeren was a small-time Dutch artist who had been rejected by the art community. His paintings were deemed "sentimental and shallow", however he did have some monetary success painting portraits for rich clients, and also found success through some of his pencil drawings. Yet van Meegeren felt slighted by the art community and believed himself to be much more talented than the critics allowed. Thus he formulated a plan to fool the art world by painting forgeries of Vermeers and De Hoochs. And what van Meegeren lacked in artistic capability he more than made up for in his abilities as a master forger. He found ingenious ways to fool the experts: using plastic in his paints to harden them faster, using India ink to act as an ersatz grime to fill the craquelure, tearing the finished canvass and sloppily repairing it. Even his stylistic choices were inspired. After trying - and failing - to pass off a Vermeer based on an original painting, he decided to base his next painting on a Caravaggio, who was thought to be an influence on Vermeer. This was the painting that fooled the art world. "Christ at Emmaus" was said to be Vermeer's very best work, one of his most important paintings, as it bridged the thematic gap between his early and later career. Van Meegeren had struck gold. Because so little was known about Vermeer's life and because so few genuine Vermeers were known to exist, van Meegeren was able to spin a vague story about a family in dire financial straits, who wanted to remain anonymous, but who possesed some Dutch masterpieces they would like to sell. A few experts did indeed claim "Christ at Emmaus" to be a fake, however Holland was so desperate to keep Dutch masterpieces within their mesuems that a museum director quickly raised the money to purchase the painting - without testing its authenticity - before any deep-pocketed Americans took it off the market. It was here that van Meegeren really found his biggest gift in WW2. Because the Nazis were systematically looting Europe of her artistic treasures, it was much easier for van Meegeren to pass off his subsequent "Vermeers". The critics found these new forgeries to be similar in style to "Christ at Emmaus" and thus above reproach. And Goering, in the midst of all his looting (which the Nazis went through great pains to give it the appearance of purchasing) found out about a new Vermeer which was one of van Meegeren's fakes. If Goering never would have bought this forgery, van Meegeren might have not been found out in his lifetime; however, it was his connection with a Nazi that started the Dutch authorities to investigate van Meegeren's dealings during WW2. The investigation and trial were very unique in that after WW2 there wasn't a traditional Dutch police force to investigate these matters. For awhile van Meegeren was LIVING with the investigator. I won't say what happened at the trial, but I will say that "Christ at Emmaus" is still in Holland and the museum director very much bemoans the fact that it is one of their most popular paintings, despite their best efforts to make it otherwise. "The Forger's Spell" is a quick read and tells an almost unbelievable story; it also allows you to meditate on the nature of art and forgery and what made all those critics believe that a second rate forgery was Vermeer's best work. The book reproduces many of the paintings it mentions and Vermeer's genuine paintings are VISIBLY better than van Meegeren's forgeries. Yet many of the critics were blinded by the name Vermeer, desperate to make a once-in-a-lifetime discovery and desperate to keep Vermeers in the country. And a small, dapper artist was desperate for revenge, desperate for approval, and in the end both critics and artist got what they wanted: at least for a moment.

  14. 5 out of 5

    J.

    Art theft and Art forgery go hand in glove, and both have always been of interest to me for some reason. Maybe it's the inherent sleight-of-hand in all the arts -- can you really paint a woman's face without daVinci coming to mind, can you really write a tragic play without thinking of the greeks ? For the moderns, this legerdemain was taken in stride, exalted even, by the time of say, Duchamp & Pablo P. But there was theft for art's sake and theft for theft's sake, and therein lies the tale. Dol Art theft and Art forgery go hand in glove, and both have always been of interest to me for some reason. Maybe it's the inherent sleight-of-hand in all the arts -- can you really paint a woman's face without daVinci coming to mind, can you really write a tragic play without thinking of the greeks ? For the moderns, this legerdemain was taken in stride, exalted even, by the time of say, Duchamp & Pablo P. But there was theft for art's sake and theft for theft's sake, and therein lies the tale. Dolnick's basic plot lines--- the Real Events ---- are magic; he does a fair amount with what he's got, but it would take a ridiculously bad writer to foul up this particular story. There's a well-characterized forger, one who stands in the classic position of having his serious work shunned by the 'serious' art-world. He's the right man (a prosperous commercial artist) in the right place (Holland of the Dutch Masters), with the right science and skills (adequate painter and highly imaginative psychological warrior) and he just happens to be in the right Time, as well...... Without giving away the two or three oddities in this otherwise-conventional Forgery-Theft-&-Apprehension-By-The-Law, it's worth noting that conditions in continental Europe just before the War were astoundingly ripe for some artistic fudging of the artistic facts, and our protagonist van Meegeren played it beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that come his trial --and I don't want to give away why---- his entire defense was consumed by proving that he was guilty of the forgery in question, beyond any shadow of a doubt. An art forger tale with a twist. Couple of nice chapters on the radical ingeniousness of not copying the Master too comprehensively.... kind of a be-careful-for-the-scrutiny-you-wish-for scenario .... Only the Master would take certain detours, a forger would only copy what was already done..... Oh, and here's a brief side-anecdote, one that speaks to the integrity aspects of the artworld denizens. Here's a collector / curator named Hannema..... He roamed Europe in search of bargains, poking into tiny galleries and wooing prospective donors. Hannema's taste was eclectic--tribal artifacts from New Guinea, old masters, Japandese swords. He pursued art wherever the trail led. In Paris one day, where he had been invited to look at a Georges de La Tour, he found a family in mourning. Perhaps it would be better to come back tomorrow ? No, monsieur, please. Today would be best; the funeral will be tomorrow. "I did not feel good about it," Hannema recalled, "but La Tour was just beginning to draw attention, and maybe I could pick it up for a reasonable price." The black-clad family pushed Hannema into a candle-lit room. The painting hung on the wall above an old, emaciated woman, lying dead in her bed. "Please, monsieur. Just look." Hannema took off his shoes, borrowed a flashlight, and climbed onto the bed. The old woman's body shifted a bit as Hannema studied the painting from different angles. It was a pleasant picture, he announced when he turned off the flashlight, but unfortunately, a fake. Well told, and moves along. Recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    This is a fascinating story, both because of the events and because of the treatment. Each of the many chapters could be read on its own, because each gives one aspect of the subject in depth while also reflecting the subject as a whole. The first impression might be that the author repeats himself a lot; but it is probably better to see this as a fractile approach, exploring each facet in relation to the others. I was especially struck by the author's contention that contemporary forgeries tend t This is a fascinating story, both because of the events and because of the treatment. Each of the many chapters could be read on its own, because each gives one aspect of the subject in depth while also reflecting the subject as a whole. The first impression might be that the author repeats himself a lot; but it is probably better to see this as a fractile approach, exploring each facet in relation to the others. I was especially struck by the author's contention that contemporary forgeries tend to be more accessible than original art, because the forger partakes of the viewer's world. In the case of Vermeer, the forger's work shows the huge eyes favored by his own contemporaries in the 1930's, making the "newly discovered" Vermeers all the more appealing to buyers at that time. One implication may be that an original masterwork stands the test of time, while the forgeries become glaring when fashions change. In the short term, however, we may be taken in. We probably ARE taken in, if even critics cannot agree.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Peter F

    This is the brilliantly ironic true story of a WWII-era art forger who could not paint. The title is a bit misguiding; the focus on the Nazis and World War II wanes in comparison to its emphasis on the tactics of art forgeries, the reality of peer pressure, the faux-credibility of connoisseurs and the story of Van Meegeren (the book's lovable Vermeer forger). Dolnick has an interesting way of piecing the story together, with chronology not necessarily the glue holding it together. It reads like This is the brilliantly ironic true story of a WWII-era art forger who could not paint. The title is a bit misguiding; the focus on the Nazis and World War II wanes in comparison to its emphasis on the tactics of art forgeries, the reality of peer pressure, the faux-credibility of connoisseurs and the story of Van Meegeren (the book's lovable Vermeer forger). Dolnick has an interesting way of piecing the story together, with chronology not necessarily the glue holding it together. It reads like a novel that is happily married to a history lesson with a science textbook for a mistress. A fantastically fun read that piques your interest towards a multitude of side stories loosely associated with the Van Meegeren case or those Dolnick interviews to give the book a bit more meat.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Suzy

    I did not like this as much as I was hoping to. While billed as something of an adventure, I found the story itself to be bogged down with too many names, places, art history and psychological details that were disruptive to a smooth-flowing narrative. While the art hoax itself was great - including technical specifics about how one goes about forging 300-year old paintings - it really didn't come into play until the last 1/4 of the book. In my opinion, a much shorter book - or even a lengthy ma I did not like this as much as I was hoping to. While billed as something of an adventure, I found the story itself to be bogged down with too many names, places, art history and psychological details that were disruptive to a smooth-flowing narrative. While the art hoax itself was great - including technical specifics about how one goes about forging 300-year old paintings - it really didn't come into play until the last 1/4 of the book. In my opinion, a much shorter book - or even a lengthy magazine article - could have done this hoax justice.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    All the back history to the scam was interesting and informative, but Dolnick adds all this material about how the scam actually works on the psyche of the victims and it just goes on forever and seems to repeat itself.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    Famous art, a wily forger, nasty Nazis. What more could you want? LA Time gave this a very good review. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/... Famous art, a wily forger, nasty Nazis. What more could you want? LA Time gave this a very good review. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

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  21. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Metz

    My book group read this one and was evenly divided between the do like/don't like. I found it quite interesting. My book group read this one and was evenly divided between the do like/don't like. I found it quite interesting.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike Barnett

    A great story: Nazis, Vermeer, and forgery all tied together! Excellent!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Harrison-jewell

    Great topic, so it was quite disappointing to me how difficult it was to slog through the writing.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    The story deserves 4 stars...but, I was disappointed in Mr. Dolnick's style of writing, (it was a struggle to finish this book!). The story deserves 4 stars...but, I was disappointed in Mr. Dolnick's style of writing, (it was a struggle to finish this book!).

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    Great Book; now want to visit museums and see Vermeer's work. Great Book; now want to visit museums and see Vermeer's work.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    I find it hilarious that art experts think a bad painting is great just because it has a famous artist's name attached to it, but as soon as they find out it's a fake, they find so much wrong with it. People believe what they want to believe, and paying escalating millions of dollars for paintings is similar to when the Dutch lost their minds and paid fortunes for tulip bulbs. I really liked the 46th chapter of this book, because it explored the psychology behind experts being duped. "We see wha I find it hilarious that art experts think a bad painting is great just because it has a famous artist's name attached to it, but as soon as they find out it's a fake, they find so much wrong with it. People believe what they want to believe, and paying escalating millions of dollars for paintings is similar to when the Dutch lost their minds and paid fortunes for tulip bulbs. I really liked the 46th chapter of this book, because it explored the psychology behind experts being duped. "We see what we look for...not what we look at." The forger, Van Meegeren, was himself amazed that he could keep painting ever more sloppy "Vermeers", and the critics bought it hook, line, and sinker. So many people believed his lies that he had a hard time convincing people that he really had painted the fakes, and had to produce another one while under guard to convince them. One glance at the "Christ of Emmaus" forgery that had once been hailed as Vermeer's greatest work, and even I could say that it was no Vermeer, and further, that is an ugly painting. But the critics who though Van Meergeren's work was dreadful when he signed his own name to it, virtually swooned when they thought his work was done by a master. This is the third book I've read by Dolnick, and I've given 5 stars to each. I will look for his others!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elly Sands

    What can I say? I devoured this book and was fascinated by everything about it. Of course it helps if you are interested in the subject matter. It is a truly educational and fun read. I may be in the minority but I liked the forger Han van Meegeren. He was one determined scoundrel and brilliant at his "art". And he pulled it off! One of the biggest scams in the art world creating a Vermeer masterpiece! "Christ at Emmaus" fooled all top art critics, connoisseurs including Herman Goering the egoce What can I say? I devoured this book and was fascinated by everything about it. Of course it helps if you are interested in the subject matter. It is a truly educational and fun read. I may be in the minority but I liked the forger Han van Meegeren. He was one determined scoundrel and brilliant at his "art". And he pulled it off! One of the biggest scams in the art world creating a Vermeer masterpiece! "Christ at Emmaus" fooled all top art critics, connoisseurs including Herman Goering the egocentric art collector and Nazi leader. The psycology of "We see what we want to see" is a lesson brought strongly to the reader. If we are told it's a masterpiece well then we are idiots if we disagree. The descriptions of how Meegeren aged his forgeries is exquisite. I learned a new word "Craguelure" referring to the cracks that appear in century old paintings. He was a true master in all aspects of the aging process. The accompanying photos are essential and I also had my large Vermeer art book alongside as a reference.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shane Fritz

    Unlike a book that I read about the theft of some valuable paintings in Ireland, this book was vey interesting. It is the story of several paintings that were forged: that is, they were entirely the creation of a scorned artist, who signed with the name of 2 famous Dutch painters. Amazingly, they sold for millions of dollars, and one or two even made it into the collection of Hitler's right hand man Goering. How did a contemporary painter manage to pass off brand new works as undiscovered pieces Unlike a book that I read about the theft of some valuable paintings in Ireland, this book was vey interesting. It is the story of several paintings that were forged: that is, they were entirely the creation of a scorned artist, who signed with the name of 2 famous Dutch painters. Amazingly, they sold for millions of dollars, and one or two even made it into the collection of Hitler's right hand man Goering. How did a contemporary painter manage to pass off brand new works as undiscovered pieces from three centuries prior? All that is explained. The chapters are very short, but include so many interesting tidbits, that the book seldom dragged. The reader learned a great deal along the way, about the art world. greedy collectors [American and Nazi], the Netherlands during WWII, and more.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary Beth

    Dolnick's detail is exhaustive as he explains the art world of the time giving us the connoisseurs, the collectors, the museum directors & the two most notorious Nazis- Hitler and Goering. He gives us Van Meegeren's step by step technical processes that went into his forgeries. The kicker, though, is Dolnick's insight into the various thought processes, the mania, that allowed Van Meegeren to dupe the entire world. Stunning. Dolnick's detail is exhaustive as he explains the art world of the time giving us the connoisseurs, the collectors, the museum directors & the two most notorious Nazis- Hitler and Goering. He gives us Van Meegeren's step by step technical processes that went into his forgeries. The kicker, though, is Dolnick's insight into the various thought processes, the mania, that allowed Van Meegeren to dupe the entire world. Stunning.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Hans van Meegeren's amazing story of art forgery makes me wonder exactly what I am admiring when I visit an art museum. Years ago, after reading Clifford Irving's book "Fake" about the art forger Elmyr De Hory, I wondered how so many art collectors could fall for a fake done in the style of a well-known painter. Van Meegeren went one further by creating "Vermeers" that were totally unlike any other Vermeer and yet he still managed to fool the so-called connoisseurs and art experts. Hans van Meegeren's amazing story of art forgery makes me wonder exactly what I am admiring when I visit an art museum. Years ago, after reading Clifford Irving's book "Fake" about the art forger Elmyr De Hory, I wondered how so many art collectors could fall for a fake done in the style of a well-known painter. Van Meegeren went one further by creating "Vermeers" that were totally unlike any other Vermeer and yet he still managed to fool the so-called connoisseurs and art experts.

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