Han van Meegeren

In 1947 Han van Meegeren (1889-1947), a Dutch artist and art dealer, was arrested for collaborating with the Nazis. He was charged with selling a painting by Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) titled 'Christ and the Adulteress' to Reich Marshal Hermann Goering. This painting was considered a national treasure, making it a crime to sell it to the enemy.

Van Meegeren admitted selling the painting to Goering, but he defended himself by revealing that the painting was a forgery which he had painted himself. Surely it wasn't a crime to cheat the Nazis, he argued.

The authorities were reluctant to believe van Meegeren was talented enough to produce a work of such quality, so he proved it by painting another imitation Vermeer while in his prison cell.

It turned out that he had been churning out fakes for years, amassing a small fortune in the process. He owned 52 houses and numerous other properties. His most lucrative fake, Supper at Emmaus, painted in imitation of Vermeer, had sold in 1936 for 520,000 guilders.

He had turned to forgery both because it was highly lucrative and because he felt bitter that the art world had spurned his legitimate efforts.

He was convicted of forgery and sentenced to prison, but died of a heart attack before he served any time.


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