Van Meegeren's Fake Vermeers
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The man in the back of this photograph, seated next to Dirk Hannema, the former director of Boijmans van Beuningen, is the restorer Hendrik Luitwieler. He was appointed restorer in 1909 in order to work with C.F.L. de Wild and H. Heijdenrijk on an extensive programme of restoration. From then on, Luitwieler was the permanent restorer of Boymans museum and restored many works for the museum, including The Wayfarer by Hieronymus Bosch and the Supper at Emmaus.
Abraham Bredius, from The Hague, who was an art expert and former director of the Maurits House, played an important role in the discovery of The Supper at Emmaus. Bredius was recognised as an expert on Rembrandt and, after the discovery of two Vermeers, was also considered an authority on this seventeenth-century artist. In 1889, Bredius discovered the painting The Allegory of Faith at an auction; it had been attributed to Eglon van der Neer, but was revealed to be a Vermeer. This painting currently hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Han van Meegeren had an intermediary show The Supper at Emmaus to Bredius for his approval. Now that he had the certificate of authenticity, he was able to offer the ‘Vermeer’ to the art trade. Bredius published his discovery in the renowned art publication The Burlington Magazine and dubbed his find the crowning masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer.
One of the soldiers on the photograph has been identified as James Rorimer (1905-1966). Rorimer was curator of Medieval Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1934 and was, together with Joseph Breck, the curator at the time, a driving force behind the museum’s subsidiary The Cloisters. He even became director of the New York museum in 1955, a position he held until his death. His career with the museum was interrupted by the Second World War. He joined the infantry and became head of the organisation whose aim was to confiscate the art that had been stolen by the Nazis. Rorimer was, for example, personally responsible for impounding the art collections of Goering, Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg.
Frederik Schmidt-Degener (1881 – 1941) became director of Boymans Museum in Rotterdam in 1908. In 1921, he was appointed director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Schmidt-Degener, just like his successor in Rotterdam Dirk Hannema, was determined to acquire important, aesthetic works. He acquired several paintings by Rembrandt for the Rijksmuseum. While Hannema was trying to finalise financing for The Supper in Emmaus, Schmidt-Degener tried to purchase the canvas for the Rijksmuseum. He even offered Hannema one of his Vermeers, probably The love letter, if he would allow the Rijksmuseum to buy The Supper at Emmaus. The exchange came to nothing, because thanks to a generous gift from the important harbour baron Willem van der Vorm, Hannema was able to obtain the financing.
In 1937, Dirk Hannema, the director of Boymans Museum, the later Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, purchased a newly discovered work by the seventeenth-century master Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675).
The painting, entitled The Supper at Emmaus, was praised throughout the world of Dutch art history. The person who discovered this painting, the renowned art historian Abraham Bredius, even called the painting Vermeer’s supreme masterpiece. After the war, it turned out the the The Supper at Emmaus was not from the hand of Vermeer, but from that of Han van Meegeren (1889-1947). This twentieth-century artist was arrested on suspicion of collaboration, because he had sold a painting to the German Chancellor Hermann Goering. In order to avoid punishment, Van Meegeren confessed that he himself had painted the canvas, Christ and the adulterous woman and several other ‘Vermeers’, including the famous Supper at Emmaus. During his trial, Han van Meegeren was able to present himself in such a way that he did not go down in history as a ‘swindler’, but rather as the misunderstood artist who had deceived the elite ‘art experts’ of the Netherlands.
The exhibition on this subject was on show from May 12- August 20 2010 in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.
Camera and editing: BoogieMen