Cheating Hermann Goering

Hermann Goering was the number two in Nazi Germany after Adolf Hitler. Apart from being an arch Nazi, he was an avid if incompetent collector of art stolen at his behest all over Europe. But sometimes he bought art and paid for it with equally stolen money. One of the pictures he bought was a forgery. It was so cunningly falsified it almost cost its creator his head after the war. 

In 1938, Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen revealed a major sensation that rocked the art world: They had been able to acquire the newly rediscovered painting Christ And The Disciples In Emmaus by Jan Vermeer (1632 to 1675). Vermeer is one of the best known painters of the Dutch Baroque period; one of his best known paintings is The Girl With A Pearl Earring. Before the announcement, only 37 paintings by Vermeer had been authenticated; with this new discovery that all changed drastically. 

When Abraham Bredius verified the painting as one of Vermeer’s masterpieces, the name and the fortune of art dealer Han van Meegeren were made. Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen entered into a bidding war with the Rijksmusem and paid the then staggering sum of 540,000 Dutch Guilders for the painting. And Han van Meegeren went in search of more lost masterpieces of Vermeer. 

In 1942, he sold Vermeer's Christ And The Adulteress to Hermann Goering for the sum of 1.65 million Dutch Guilders. When fortune turned on the Germans, Goering had his art collection brought to a secure place where it was later seized by the Americans. The Vermeer proved to be an easy lead to the collaborator who had sold it, and Han van Meegeren was brought to court for it. 

The accused didn't share the attorney's opinion of himself and claimed in his defense that he had painted the Vermeer himself. This was stretching the court’s credulity to the brink, but the judge allowed van Meegeren to prove his claim. In front of court, press, and the public, he painted his last Vermeer masterpiece Christ In The Temple. The court and the attorney were amused and cleared him of being a collaborator; he received a one year prison sentence for fraud, though, the minimum Dutch law would allow the judge to go down to.


Van Meegeren was born in Amsterdam in 1889 and died there in 1947. He worked as a painter, restorer, and art dealer. His own paintings were a complete flop, and he turned to the more lucrative enterprise of falsifying historical art. Vermeer had by no means been his only success. He had successfully made paintings attributed to Terborgh and Pieter de Hooch. As early as 1923, the leading expert on Frans Hals, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, had verified a van Meegeren fraud as genuine and attributed it to Frans Hals: The Laughing Cavalier. 

Van Meegeren had combined his knowledge as a restorer with his obvious talent as a painter to produce his masterpieces. He added the newly discovered Bakelite to his colors produced on old recipes; this allowed him to bake his paintings in an oven to produce the telltale defects and fissures of aged paint. By scraping off minor period paintings from period canvas, he produced the perfect antique look back and front. Experts always advise you to look at the back of a painting to see if it is from the period claimed; I don’t think I need to comment on that.

Further reading
Awkward: Gestapo Burial in Berlin Jewish Cemetery
Assassinate Hitler: Maurice Bavaud
The Life of Irmingard Princess of Bavaria