Han van Meegeren
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Henricus Antonius “Han” van Meegeren (Dutch pronunciation: [ɦɛnˈrikɵs ɑnˈtoːniɵs ˈɦɑn vɑn ˈmeːɣərə(n)]; 10 October 1889 – 30 December 1947) was a Dutch painter and portraitist, considered to be one of the most ingenious art forgers of the 20th century. Despite his life of crime, van Meegeren became a national hero after World War II when it was revealed that he had sold a forged painting to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
As a child, van Meegeren developed an enthusiasm for the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, and he set out to become an artist. Art critics, however, decried his work as tired and derivative, and van Meegeren felt that they had destroyed his career. He decided to prove his talent by forging paintings by famous artists including Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, Gerard ter Borch and Johannes Vermeer. He so well replicated their styles that the best art critics and experts of the time accepted the paintings as genuine and sometimes exquisite. His most successful forgery was Supper at Emmaus, created in 1937 while he was living in the south of France; the painting was hailed as a real Vermeer by experts such as Abraham Bredius.
During World War II, Göring traded 137 paintings for one of van Meegeren’s false Vermeers, and it became one of his most prized possessions. Following the war, van Meegeren was arrested, as officials believed that he had sold Dutch cultural property to the Nazis. Facing a possible death penalty, van Meegeren confessed to the less serious charge of forgery. He was convicted on falsification and fraud charges on 12 November 1947, after a brief but highly publicised trial, and was sentenced to one year in prison. He did not serve out his sentence, however; he died 30 December 1947 in the Valerius Clinic in Amsterdam, after two heart attacks. It is estimated that van Meegeren duped buyers out of the equivalent of more than US$30 million in 1967’s money, including the government of the Netherlands