"Originality is the art of concealing your sources."

Benjamin Franklin (inventor)

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The Masterpiece That Wasn't

Shortly after WWII ended in 1945, allied soldiers came across something incredible: a trove of artworks ‘acquired’ and hidden by Hermann Göring, Hitler’s second-in-command, during the war.

One of the recovered canvases, Christ with the Adulteress, really intrigued investigators. Signed by Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer, it was a rare and valuable example of the artist’s work.

It was also the key to unraveling one of the greatest frauds in art history…

Han Van Meegeren, "Christ and the Adulteress", 1942, oil on canvas, 39.4 x 35.4 in, from the collection of the Fundatie Museum, via the Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency, Zwolle, Netherlands.
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Investigators learned that Göring had illegally purchased the painting from Han Van Meegeren, a middling Dutch artist / art dealer.

If investigators could prove that the sale had really happened, Van Meegeren would receive serious punishment—"possibly the death sentence"—for his crime.

Photograph of Han Van Meegeren's "The Last Supper I", a canvas painted in the style of Vermeer. 1939.
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But Van Meegeren was innocent. At least partially.

To save himself, he set the story straight: "Fools!" he roared, "You think I sold a priceless Vermeer to Göring? There was no Vermeer! I painted it myself."

To prove his claim, Van Meegeren provided a list of other fakes he'd successfully sold for millions to unsuspecting buyers (including museums)!

Photograph of Han Van Meegeren in Amsterdam.
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The Dutch public hailed Van Meegeren as a hero. After all, he’d fleeced a nazi. But the court didn’t buy his story. They demanded he demonstrate his forging abilities in front of a panel of experts.

Over the course of a lengthy trial in the late 1940s, the forger copied a Vermeer. He sourced a vintage canvas, mixed handmade pigments and mimicked Vermeer’s brushstrokes.

The forger’s demonstration saved him from the collaboration charge, but he didn’t walk free. By proving his skills, Van Meegeren also proved his guilt. The famous fraudster was convicted of forgery and given a year in prison, dying before he could serve out his sentence.

Photograph of Van Meegeren at work on "Jesus Among the Doctors", which he painted before a jury in order to prove his ability and innocence.
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Originality is the art of concealing your sources.
Benjamin Franklin (inventor)
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Han Van Meegeren, "The Procuress", a forgery inspired by the work of Dirck van Baburen, Courtauld Gallery, London.
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Jerome Anselme

Jerome Anselme


Gérard Marié

Professor of Art History


Jeu Concours

Which Italian Renaissance master created this sculpture of Moses?


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