Thursday, September 15, 2011

Van Meageren one of the greatest forgers of 20th Century

I wanted to bring to you a wonderful story I discovered just recently. It has to do with art forgery, one of my greatest interests is hearing about the great art fakes of the 20th Century.

There have been many of them, and this particular story is amusing to me because it features bakelite. You know that substance that preceded plastic, the stuff that telephones were made from in the early years of 20th Century.

And later wonderful invention of radio was made possible because of this stuff, aka phenol formaldehyde.

You're thinking what does the phone and radio have to do with fake art, well I'm getting to that.

Van Meageren was a Dutch artist born in the late 19th Century (1889 to be exact). He love art and prided himself on his skill. If you've ever been to the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam or are a lover of the Dutch Golden age; Vermeer, Rembrandt, Hals, Seghers, Avercamp and te Borch, you will know the style I am speaking of. 

This painting is by Vermeer, called Diana and her Nymphs, painted between the years 1653 and 1656. The style is renaissance and all the paintings from this era have a luminosity that has never been equalled since.

Van Meageren adored the colours of this period and modelled his artistic hand on the heros of the Golden Age. He was dreadfully hurt by condescending comment of art lovers and aficionados who found his own work tawdry. In an aggressive attempt to salvage, not his name in the art world, but prove his ability to paint a masterpiece van Meageren went about reproducing works of Vermeer and the artists mentioned above.

Van Meageren became a wizard with a paint brush, fooling the most prolific of art dealers and experts of his time into believing his paintings were the real deal. His most infamous forgery was Supper at Emmaus, by Caravaggio below.

During the 2nd World War many art pieces were taken from the Museums in Holland and hidden away from the Nazis hands. The occupation of Holland was an overt opportunity to take possession of the most valuable original masterpieces and the war saw this happening in Paris too. It was during in 1947 that a version of The Procuress, (originally by van Baburen, 1622) was given to a man who was responsible for the restitution of seized art by the Nazis. Found in van Meagerens house in France, this work was presumed to be a fake.

Van Meageren maintained it was purchased by his wife in Marseille, however later claimed it to be a fake he made.

Van Meageren used one particular technique to achieve the aged patina of a 300 year old painting ..... Bakelite, chemical name phenol formaldehyde. You see when the painters of the Golden Age painted their masterpieces, the actual pigments, milk, egg, oils, linseed and resins took literally 100 years to fully dry and create the effect they have, as we see today. Van Meageren achieved this look with bakelite in the mix and then put the canvas in an arger at 110 degrees centigrade for a couple of hours.

How do we know this, well the Corthauld Institute recently ran a foolproof test of the Procuress. What they did was delicately scrape off the uppermost surface dust from this canvas, carefully as van Meageren was known to paint over old canvasses as did the artists of the Golden age. No use destroying not only one painting, but another underneath. Anyway these deposits were tested to see if they contained phenol formaldehyde and or course they did.

Van Meageren during his lifetime frauded the art world of $30 million dollars by convincing the experts his paintings were real, genius or not his hand was a great one. He was the only forger to have used Bakelite, a resin to mimic aged oil paint. He deceived many collectors and the art establishment before coming to justice in a trial in Amsterdam. One of his works even got into the hands of Herman Goering.

Do you have any art forgery stories? I'd love to hear them.

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