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The Man Who Fooled the Third Reich by Maggi Andersen

Mystery Thriller Week brought me into contact with all sorts of amazing authors, including the lovely Maggi Andersen. She’s the author of twenty-four novels and several short stories, written in the contemporary Mystery, Historical Romance and Romantic Suspense genres. She’s even contributed to a non-fiction book about castles, customs and kings in Scotland!

It is my pleasure to share her article about one of my favorite Dutch personalities, Han van Meegeren. Find out now why the Dutch love this art forger, still one of the most talked about historical figures in the Netherlands.


The Man Who Fooled the Third Reich

Han van Meegeren, painter and forger extraordinaire

One of the most intriguing figures of the 1930s art world was in fact, a convicted criminal. (Han) Henricus van Meegeren, a Dutch painter. Born on October 10, 1889 in a small Netherlands community just outside of Deventer, he was strictly discouraged from any creative pursuits by his father, a history teacher.  When his father caught his son drawing or exploring art, he’d force him to write “I know nothing, I am nothing, I am capable of nothing” hundreds of times on a sheet of paper. His father was determined that his son became an architect.

But during his student years, van Meegeren’s talents were recognized, and he received moral support from his educators. One of them, Bartus Korteling, deconstructed the work of Johannes Vermeer (one of the great painters of the Dutch Golden Age) and he showed van Meegeren how to “manufacture and mix colors” and emulate the aged style. Korteling also instilled in van Meegeren a belief that the modern Impressionist movement was “degenerate art” and that the masterworks were of unparalleled artistic quality.

Van Meegeren went on to win numerous prestigious awards and was recognized as one of the premier young artists in the country. By the mid-1920s, he had established himself in the Netherlands art scene, but critics soon noted his limitations, stating that he “has every virtue except originality.”

Van Meegeren took offense at these comments and published a series of defensive, hostile tirades against the modern art community in a self-published journal. He set out to prove that he could not only copy the style of the Dutch masters in his paintings but produce a work of art so magnificent that it would rival the works of master painters. He moved to the South of France, and devoted himself to improving his craft.

Next on van Meegeren’s agenda was to select a famous artist to forge. He contemplated many of the great Dutch painters (Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, and Gerard ter Borch), but ultimately settled on the most difficult to copy, Johannes Vermeer.

“If you can get away with Vermeer, that shows how terrific you are – and it’s where the money is,” commented Edward Dolnick, author of the Forger’s Spell.

Vermeer chose unique, expensive pigments (lapis lazuli and Indian yellow), and was renowned for his treatment of light. He had also only produced 35 verified paintings over his lifetime (most famously, Girl with the Pearl Earring; 1665).

Girl With A Pearl Earing (1665, Mauritiushuis, Den Haag) by Johannes Vermeer

During WWII, his forgeries sold well to wealthy buyers believing them to be originals which they were anxious to avoid falling into Hitler’s clutches. In fact, a (Vermeer) painted by van Meegeren was later found in the possession of Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring who was comprehensively fooled by the van Meegeren forgery. Van Meegeren had to confess to his crimes or he would have been tried as a collaborator as it was initially believed he had sold valuable Dutch property to the Nazis. If convicted he would have faced the death penalty. As a result, he was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 12 months jail. A sentence that was never served as he died at the age of 58 years from a heart attack.

Apart from his extraordinary skill as an artist, van Meegeren’s secret was mixing bakelite – the first synthetic plastic, with his oil paint to harden the paint and make it appear hundreds of years old.

Controversies and inquiries continued about the genuineness of paintings by the Dutch masters, right up until the present day. In 2011, the BBC program FAKE OR FORTUNE discovered that THE PROCURESS, a painting by Dirck van Baburen was, in fact, a forgery by van Meegeren, as bakelite was discovered to have been used in the painting. A substance not available until the 20th Century.

Van Meegeren became a very popular figure in the Netherlands and one popularity poll in 1947 placed him second only to the Prime Minister, and ahead of Prince Bernhardt. His forgeries became much sought after by collectors. He truly could be called a Dutch Master of Forgery.



About the Author

Multi-published, Amazon best-selling author in Regency and Suspense, Maggi Andersen, fell in love with the Georgian and Regency worlds after reading the books of Georgette Heyer and Victoria Holt. Maggi has raised three children and gained a BA and an MA in Creative Writing. She and her husband live in the beautiful Southern Highlands of Australia.

P.L. Travers lived in the house next door almost 100 years ago. Travers later wrote Mary Poppins and there’s a statue in her honor in the park.

Maggi’s free time is spent enjoying her garden and the local wildlife, reading, and movies. She keeps fit walking and swimming.

Apart from her Regency Series, The Baxendale Sisters and The Spies of Mayfair, and her stand alone historical novels, Maggi writes contemporary romantic suspense, mysteries and young adult novels. She supports the RSPCA.

Connect with Maggi via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


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Jennifer S. Alderson

Hello! I am the author of the Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mystery series, the Zelda Richardson Art Mystery series, and Adventures in Backpacking novels. I love to write and blog about travel, art, museums, expat life, and great books. Thanks for stopping by!

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Pamela Allegretto

    I agree with Robbie, this was a fascinating read. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Jennifer S. Alderson

      It is really a pleasure to share fascinating articles such as this written by such wonderful authors!

  2. Robbie Cheadle

    A fascinating article, Jennifer. It is super to learn about an famous article and excellent author both at the same time.

    1. Jennifer S. Alderson

      Yeah, right? I didn’t realize Maggi Andersen wrote in so many genres! And I do love her article’s topic 🙂

  3. Maggi Andersen

    Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Jennifer.

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