Tag Archives: Johannes Vermeer

Han van Meegeren: His Vermeers fooled everyone (part 2)

In May 1945 Dutch artist Han Van Meegeren found himself on top of the work. The war was over, the Nazis were gone, and he was a rich and famous man. He was about to take a steep tumble.

It started with a visit to his studio by members of the Allied Art Commission who were trying to track down the original owners of a painting by Johannes Vermeer titled Supper at Emmaus. It has been found in the collection of Hermann Göring, and because the Nazis kept very good records, Van Meegeren’s name appeared as one of the subsequent owners — the one who had sold it to Goring.

Who was the original owner? they asked. Van Meegeren refused to say.

He did so for a very good reason. The painting was a forgery, one that Van Meegeren had painted himself, had passed off as a genuine Vermeer in the 1930s, and had made a ton of money from when it was certified as the real thing by Abraham Bredius, a leading art historian of the day. After his “success” as passing off Supper at Emmaus as genuine, Van Meegeren painted six other “Vermeers” and became fabulously wealthy.

Despite the efforts of the Dutch to protect their artwork from the Germans, Supper at Emmaus ended up in the Göring collection and was exhibited prominently. Now it was coming back home, and Van Meergeren had a dilemma — a potentially deadly one. When he refused to reveal the owner of the painting, he was arrested and charged with collaboration and treason. A conviction would probably mean execution.

After six weeks in prison, Van Meegeren confessed. He was a forger, not a find of long-forgotten masterpieces.

But, by that time, no one believed him. They thought he was confessing just to save his own skin. In an attempt to convince people of his confession, Van Meegeren invited reporters to watch him paint a Vermeer. The demonstration was convincing, and the charges against him switched from treason to fraud.

At his trial, in yet another twist of this twisted tale, some of the art experts who had originally certified his paintings as genuine,  testified that they still believe they were — and that Van Meegeren was lying. Still, he was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail. He was freed and was living at home while awaiting the sentence to begin when he had a heart attack on Nov. 12, 1947. The next month, he died.

Frank Wynne, the author of I Was Vermeer: The Legend of the Forger Who Swindled the Nazis, says that Van Meeregen taught the art world a valuable less: doubt.

Han van Meegeren’s greatest gift to the art world is doubt. If forgers throughout the ages have taught us anything, it is to re-examine why we love what we love, to overcome our obsession with simple authenticity and appreciate the work for itself. Is a minor Rothko truly worth more than the finest Ellsworth Kelly? Are we captivated by the serenity and light of a Corot watercolour, or simply the signature? https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3654259/The-forger-who-fooled-the-world.html

You can explore more of the Van Meegeren story beginning at this website devoted to his life and work.

Above: Han Van Meegeren (from a photo taken at his trial), watercolor

Handel, down and out; ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ up and away; more Shakespeare and Vietnam: newsletter March 9, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,116), on Friday, March 9, 2018.


You may think that I am obsessed with William Shakespeare, that I just can’t leave him alone. Actually, it’s the other way around. He won’t leave me alone.

The last three newsletters have had items about The Bard, ending last week (I thought) with a grand finale about what he looked like. I was ready to move on the 18th century and tell you something about George Frederick Handel. But then Will popped up the news again this week. So what’s a Shakespeare lover like me to do?

Still, I am going to tell you something about Handel, and about what may be THE most beloved painting in the world today, and about Vietnam. Then there’s the grand giveaway you won’t want to miss. Anon, let the newsletter begin.

Important: The newsletter usually includes this:

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

But that, I am told, has confused some folks, so here’s the point: Make sure that the images in the newsletter are displayed. Some browsers and email programs will display them automatically. For others, you must click on a link to make that happen. However it’s done, please make sure that happens. That’s how we know that you have opened the newsletter, and that’s important. Thanks.

George Frederick Handel: finished, washed-up . . . but then . . .

You will have to work pretty hard during this month of March to avoid hearing some of the music of George Frederick Handel. Handel’s Messiah oratorio is standard fare during the Lenten and Easter season, and everyone knows that you are supposed to stand during the Hallelujah chorus (although no one knows exactly why).

Handel was born in Germany in 1685, studied music is several places including Italy, and came to London in 1710 to seek his musical fortune. London had a thriving and avid musical audience, and Handel — one of the great organists of the day as well as a composer — quickly became the toast of the town with his keyboard genius and his mastery of the highly popular Italian-style opera. During the next 25 years he achieved great success and made plenty of money.

By 1741, however, things weren’t so good. London’s musical tastes had changed — Italian opera was no longer the in thing — and Handel’s productions met with repeated failures. He was facing bankruptcy, and his health was increasingly fragile. Critics descended, and even the Church of England pounced, criticizing his secular productions.

Handel, everyone said, was finished, washed-up.

Then in August, 1741 — just when Handel wondered if he could ever mount another production — his friend Charles Jennens, a poet, handed him a libretto for an oratorio about the life of Christ.

What happened after that showed that Handel was no one-tune keyboard tickler. You can read about it in this post on JPROF.com,

What’s your favorite piece by Handel? Lots of people would name the Hallelujah chorus, but there is much to choose from: Royal Water MusicRoyal Fireworks Music, etc. Personally, I like the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel’s oratorio Solomon. You can hear that one and the Hallelujah chorus in my post about Handel on JPROF.com.

The Roosevelts and radio

The item last week about the mastery of radio by both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt drew this response from a newsletter reader:

Fred F.: President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanore was the “First Family” of Radio. Then we had President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife Jackie were the “First Family of TV. What a rich history we had due to the electronic marvels of Radio and TV.

Vietnam, Robert McNamara, Daniel Ellsberg, and the Pentagon Papers

The New York Times this week has an interesting article by Rick Goldsmith about the origin of the Pentagon Papers. It begins with the story of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense, and Daniel Ellsberg, then a State Department official, being on the same flight from Saigon to Washington in October, 1966. McNamara and Ellsberg spoke to each other during the flight, and in the conversation, McNamara expressed doubts that the strategy the U.S. was then pursuing in Vietnam was working.

When the flight landed in Washington, McNamara was met by reporters as soon as he got off the plane and was asked about his trip and the American strategy. He told the reporters exactly the opposite of what he had said to Ellsberg: that what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam was working and that they were making progress in defeating the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

The article is well worth reading.

I have written a reaction to the information in the article and posted it on JPROF.com, in case anyone is interested.

More on Shakespeare’s sources

An independent Shakespeare researcher in Great Britain, according to a recent article in The Guardian, thinks he may have found a sample of Shakespeare’s actual handwriting. John Casson says he was looking through François de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques, a 1576 French text many believe to be a source for Shakespeare’s plays, when he noticed some hand-written notations on the pages of a story of a Danish prince whose father was murdered by the prince’s uncle.

This recalls an item we discussed a couple of weeks ago about a new book identifying possible sources for Shakespeare’s writing.

There’s a problem with John Casson, however. He doesn’t believe Shakespeare wrote the plays that are attributed to him. He thinks it was Sir Henry Neville, a courtier of Elizabeth I.

Correction from last week: I said that Shakespeare’s birth is celebrated on April 26. Wrong! A sharp-eyed reader informs me it April 23. I stand corrected — and I thank the reader: Jean T.

Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’

Few of the world’s great works of art — even Leonardo’s Mona Lisa — can match Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring for admirers and adherents. A best-selling novel and stage play have been written about this enigmatic painting from the great Dutch master.

The painting was created in about 1665, but for the first two hundred years of its life, few people knew of its existence. Where it was all that time is also a mystery. Today it is the star of the show in the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, Holland, where the gallery is conducting a close — really close — look at the painting.

Read more about all this to-do in this post on JPROF.com.


Dictionaries — still the one, after all these years

Last week’s item about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (read the JPROF.com post here) brought in these interesting tidbits:

Helen P.: Dictionary response. When my husband joined a French company in late 90’s, management was given French classes at work. I loaned him my mother’s french/english dictionary from when she took college French prior to WWII. One week after he turned in his assignment he was called on the carpet, threatened with harassment charges. Yes, the teacher was young female and very upset at what she said was incredibly filthy. She did not relent until he brought the book in and showed the phrase he used. Yes, language changes, and not always for the better.

Sunny S.: As with many things in life, I wish the English language, and therefore the dictionaries which catalog the meanings of all those delightful words, would stay the same! I, too, still have the (Webster’s Collegiate) dictionary and thesaurus given to me in high school. The thesaurus is especially well-used and loved!


Art of the Arcane: Ides of March Mystery, Thriller, and Crime Giveaway. Once again, I have teamed up with a number of excellent writers to put together a truly fine selection of books to give away to our email lists and newsletter reades. This one has some great titles in it (including, of course, Kill the Quarterback), and you have an excellent chance of finding a great weekend read. Head on over there right away and see what’s available: https://artofthearcane.com/march-mystery-giveaway/…

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/HCqRcAvQK0Pr9IpLcGT4Addictive Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway. This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.

A name for this newsletter?

We had one late entry in the name-the-newsletter sweepstakes last week — this one from my good friend Dan C. in Las Vegas: Seventh Inning Stretch.

Any reactions?

I like this one but still tend to favor the Hot Stove League. Seventh Inning Stretch might be good for something else I have in mind, which I will reveal when it’s developed a bit more.

I’d still like to hear from anyone who has an opinion or a suggestion.

Author! Author!

From time to time, I mention authors and books I think newsletter readers might be interested in. If you are a newsletter reader and have written a book you’d like for me to highlight, I am glad to do so. Send me an email. A description or blurb and an Amazon link would also be helpful.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: George Frederick Handel

Handel’s musical genius was widely recognized during his life, but by all accounts he was an affable, generous man — even though the performers he hired for his operas could drive him into fits of rage. He was also a workaholic who pursued his musical ideas into exhaustion and eventually ill health.

Best quote of the week:

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin, naturalist and author (1809-1882) 

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. Add to these those devastated by the California wildfires — and now floods. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution 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 newsletterShakespeare’s appearance, Eleanor’s mastery, and Cronkite’s broadcast – plus a new book giveaway: newsletter, March 2, 2018

Girl With the Pearl Earring

A really close look at ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ – really close

Girl With a Pearl Earring,” the 1665 painting by Johannes Vermeer, probably ranks as the second most recognizable painting in the world, behind the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci.

People like the “Mona Lisa,” but people love “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

Girl With the Pearl Earring

Girl With the Pearl Earring

What makes this painting so magnetic, so inviting, so alluring?

No single answer or set of answers to that question suffices. But we keep looking.

The folks at the  Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, Holland, where the painting resides are taking a really close look these days. They have called in experts from around the world and marshaled all of the technology and machinery they can muster to look as closely — non-invasively — at the painting as they can.

The efforts of these folks are described in a recent article in the New York Times: Uncovering the Secrets of the ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ – The New York Times.

They’re not likely to come up with an answer to what makes the painting so magical, but they are trying to discover what techniques Vermeer used to bring that painting to life. Vermeer’s approach has always been a mystery to art critics and historians.

Little was known about the painting — even its exact location — for the first two hundred years of its life. In 1881, it was listed at an auction and was purchased by Arnoldus Andries des Tombe, a Dutch army officer and art collector who knew of Vermeer’s works and wanted to prevent them from leaving Holland. The price was less than $50. Des Tombe donated it to the Mauritshuis in 1902.

The painting remained in obscurity for most of the 20th century.

In 1999 author Tracy Chevalier published a historical novel with the title of the painting and with a fictional story of how the painting came about. The novel inspired a feature film in 2003 and a stage play in 2008.

Beginning in 2012, the painting was part of a two-year worldwide tour that had the painting on display in Italy, Japan, and the United States. Its fame grew, and its charm was multi-cultural.

And yet, in essence, it is still a mystery.


If you want to know more about Vermeer and the painting, here are a couple of places to look:

The videos series Exhibition on Screen is a multi-part, multi-season series on artworks and artists. It is available on Amazon here; if you’re a prime member it’s free. The first season has a show on Vermeer; the second season has a show devoted mostly to the Girl With the Pearl Earring.

Take a look, too, at Laura Snyder‘s Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoer, and the Reinvention of Seeing.