Monday, December 16, 2019
 

Books On Master Forger Han van Meegeren (UPDATED)


In this week’s The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl reviews two books on the notorious forger of Old Masters, Han van Meegeren: “The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century,” by the science journalist Edward Dolnick, and “The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren,” by the writer and artist Jonathan Lopez.

Art forgery is among the least despised of crimes, except by its victims–the identity of those victims being more than exculpatory, for many people. Art is unique among universally esteemed creative fields in its aloofness from a public audience. Its economic base is a club of the wealthy, who share power to impose or repress value with professional and academic élites. Lopez’s muckraking of van Meegeren scants a fact that Dolnick merrily exploits: the forger gratifies class resentment precisely because he is a pariah. Unlike the subversive gestures of a Marcel Duchamp, say, his outrages will not become educational boilerplate in museums and universities. They are impeccably destructive, tarring not only pretensions to taste but the credibility of taste in general. The spectre of forgery chills the receptiveness–the will to believe–without which the experience of art cannot occur. Faith in authorship matters.

James Fenton’s review of these two books, Victims of Vermeermania, appears in the most recent New York Review of Books (unfortunately the review is only accessible by subscription).

 

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