The would-be Vermeer, fountain pens, and the sad end of a great writer: newsletter, April 12, 2019

April 15, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,841) on Friday, April 12, 2019.


It continues to be April, and, among many other things, that means it continues to be National Poetry Month. I wrote a bit about that in last week’s newsletter, but I bring it up again because it struck a chord with many of you — and also because I have had so much fun with it. More videos like the ones I linked to last week are on the way. And, please, continue to let me know about your favorite poets and poems.

The watercolor that was in last week’s newsletter provoked many kind words and compliments from you, and I am deeply appreciative. If anyone is interested, I have put that painting on, where you can order prints (framed or unframed) or a variety of other items with that image. All of the profits (after FAA takes their cut) will go to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (, an organization that does all the good it can everywhere it can.

April is also the month with the baseball season traditionally begins, and I have not said anything about that this year. And it wasn’t because the baseball season actually began in March. Lots of things have been going on, and eventually, I’ll get there.

Wherever you’re trying to get, I hope you have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,842 subscribers and had a 28.0 percent open rate; 6 people unsubscribed. A chart showing the percentage of newsletter recipients who opened the newsletter each week during 2019 is below the signature of this email.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Han van Meegeren: His Vermeers fooled everyone

Han van Meegeren was a con artist who couldn’t complete his con — until his life depended on it.

Van Meegeren (1889-1947) did not set out to be a con artist. He simply wanted to be an artist. Born in the provincial Dutch city of Deventer, he grew up with a love of art and an ability to draw and paint. He exhibited his paintings first in 1917 and by the 1920s had become famous throughout Holland. His Dutch heritage led him to paint in the style of the Old Masters, something that more and more displeased the art critics of the time. Critics saw his talent as imitation, not in breaking any new ground, and one wrote that he showed “every virtue except originality.”

Such reviews enraged van Meegeren, and he decided to use his talent for imitation and take his revenge.

His plan was to create a painting and pass it off as a work of the great Johannes Vermeer, whose known works included only about 35 paintings. This work took him six years. He studied not only the techniques of the painter but assiduously copied the materials Vermeer used.

His “masterpiece” was The Supper at Emmaus (shown here). In 1937 Van Meegeren let it be known that he had found a lost Vermeer. It was examined by an art expert and pronounced genuine, and then it was purchased by The Rembrandt Society and donated to a museum in Rotterdam. Van Meegeren’s plan was that once all of this had happened and once the critics raved about the work, he would announce that it was a forgery.

But he had second thoughts — which undoubtedly included the 520,000 florins (about $6 million in today’s cash) that he was paid for the work. He changed his plan. He began creating another “masterpiece” that would again fool the art world. In all, he painted six “Vermeers” that brought him $60 million during the next six years.

But that’s just the beginning of the story. NEXT WEEK: Van Meegeren’s ironic end.

The fountain pen – continuing to work against multiple assaults

The fountain pen refuses to die.

First, there was the rise of the cheap, disposable ball-point in the 1950s and 1960s. Then there was the keyboard that became pervasive in the 1990s. Then there was the movement to retire cursive writing entirely — and its backlash — in our own decade.

Through it all, the fountain pen has continued to stand and flow. Take a look at this New York Times article: Let the Fountain Pens Flow! – The New York Times

I have been a fountain pen user for three decades and love the feel of the pen and the lines they produce. There are many others who value those same sensations.

When I started turning wood and making pens, it didn’t take long for me to learn to make a fountain pen. I haven’t yet made the one I am most pleased with, but I continue to try.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

William Manchester: the sad end of a great writer

William Manchester was a magnificent writer and historian whose subjects were amazingly interesting. He made them more so.

Manchester is the author of the three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (referred to in a number of previous posts including here and here), The Last Lion.

Manchester reached the peak of prominence in the 1960s when he was designated by the Kennedy family to write about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. Manchester was given access to the Kennedy family to conduct his research, but once he wrote his manuscript, controversy ensued. Robert Kennedy did not like the way he portrayed Lyndon Johnson, and Jacqueline Kennedy objected to some of the passages about her. She sued to stop publication of the book.

Negotiations with the family led to Manchester’s cutting some passages of the book, and when Death of a President was published in 1967, it was a best-seller.

Manchester loved to write and could do so for days on end — literally. He once wrote for three days and nights, breaking briefly to eat small cups of yogurt from a refrigerator in his office. In all, he produced 18 books with a writing style noted for bringing a subject to life and imbuing a story with dramatic flares. His first two volumes of the Churchill biography were wildly popular and gained something a cult-like following.

While writing the third, however, Manchester suffered the death of his wife in 1998 and then two debilitating strokes. In 2001, he announced that he would be unable to finish the third volume. The New York Times article about this announcement, quoted below, tells the sad story.

Most frustrating, he says, is the loss of his subject: the grand and tumultuous figure of Winston Churchill, whose life and times Mr. Manchester brought into dramatic focus, has slipped away without a proper finish. For the 20-plus years that the pairing lasted, Mr. Manchester and Churchill seemed a nearly perfect fit: the eminent, enthusiastic biographer chasing the brilliant and relentless wartime leader. Source: Ailing Churchill Biographer Says He Can’t Finish Trilogy – The New York Times

Manchester finally asked Paul Reid, a friend and writer in Florida, to finish the last volume. Manchester died at the age of 82 in 2004.


Lots of good folks responded to various items in last week’s newsletter. Here’s some of the correspondence I received.

Angie L.: First, I have to say that the watercolor this week is absolutely my favorite to date.

Second, I love poetry, I wrote a lot of poems in both high school and college, it is a great way to get out feelings that others suppress, it doesn’t have to be great, it doesn’t have to make sense but it is an outlet that many don’t use. I found that it helps with depression, as I said an outlet, write it down keep it close and read it when you need it, add to it change it rewrite it. It works.

Third, the beloved bees, I watched the video last year and had to watch more, it is fascinating to watch, collecting the honey even more so. May your honey pot overflow this year.

A.J.N.: Thank you, again, for an excellent and noteworthy newsletter!

I LOVED your watercolor and reading of Annabel Lee … you are so talented!

Poe was one of my favorites as a child (although, being a “tomboy” who wore jeans & rode horses, I preferred The Raven to Annabel Lee) … my mother had a little slipcovered set of small red-bound poetry books that included both Poe and Longfellow; she and I would sometimes sit and read to each other, alternating voices. If I remember any poetry at all, it is due to her influence. I hope I still have that set of books, along with her collection of Zane Grey novels and all the other wonderful books I grew up with.

Even my dad loved these … his favorites were Betty Zane and Riders of the Purple Sage. The only one I ever read was Wildfire, because it was about a horse … but the horse died in the end, which upset me (I was maybe 8 years old at the time) and I never wanted to read the rest of them. If I ever find them, in all the boxes of my mother’s books, perhaps I should try at least a few.

Thank you, too, for the information about Handel. Classical music was another of my mother’s loves, and she was partial to religious themes; I always particularly enjoyed The Messiah.

Kitty G.: I have loved Lewis Carroll and Henry Longfellow since I was a young child. Then, as a teen, I added Edgar Poe. There are so many, many poems that I memorized as a child and youth. Here I am 70 and even though I can’t remember all of them, I can some of them. I have even written a few myself. Have a blessed weekend. My husband enjoyed the bee video.

Scott D.: I’ve long enjoyed and too-frequently performed a fun poem titled Finnigan to Flannigan, that is by Strickland Gillilan. I have no sure way of knowing if anybody else enjoyed my orations…but I always had a great time!

I look forward to your newsletter each time. The broad topics of your commentary and the nifty watercolors are a refreshing change from your Kindle-marketing brethren. . . . Thanks for your efforts and your cheerful and benevolent nature,
Curtis D.: Favorite poems: Charge of The Light Brigade. Also, The House By The Side Of The Road

Jane B.: Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is my favorite classical music piece! I’d heard it earlier in life, but only learned its title & composer when Four Weddings and a Funeral came out, as it’s prominently featured in one of the weddings. I own several versions by different orchestras, and I always get an extra bounce when I hear it on the radio. Richmond, Virginia just got its first dual over-the-air NPR stations, one devoted to talk and the other to music, and I switch between the two all day. I also have SiriusXM, which has two superb classical stations, so I’m covered from every angle!

Thanks also for the heads-up on National Poetry Month. I signed up for Poem-A-Day and downloaded a PDF of the poster to print at FedEx and hang in my office.
I always enjoy your emails and look forward to them.

Jean T.:

Went to an exhibition and saw this quote: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero
I think I agree

Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink: Gorgas Library, University of Alabama

Best quote of the week:

In case you missed it from Jean T. above:

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. Marcus Tullius Cicero

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Handel, National Poetry Month, Andrew Carnegie and all things library: newsletter, April 5, 2019







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