Art: 20th-Century Vermeer

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When one Hans van Meegeren, a little-known Dutch Nazi painter, owned to forging seven recently "discovered" Vermeers (TIME, July 30), art experts laughed him off as a nut. They had reason to: the masterpieces had been painstakingly authenticated by them, by chemical, X-ray and infra-red tests.

Last week, while awaiting trial in an Amsterdam jail (for collaboration with the Nazis), van Meegeren was under close watch by the art experts themselves, whose own prestige was involved. To their amusement, then to their stupefaction, he was painting another "Vermeer."

The Netherlands Government's official information service described the scene: "He called for brushes, paints and canvas. —Working with the consummate skill of a master, a painting in the very spirit of the famous 17th-Century artist slowly began to materialize. There can be no doubt that this mad genius did paint the seven pictures attributed to Vermeer."

As a final proof, said the Dutch, the faked Vermeer Christ and the Disciples in Boyman's Museum at Rotterdam shows Christ seated in a chair which was copied from a chair in van Meegeren's studio.

The 56-year-old "mad genius," slight and nervous looking, who preferred riches (his forgeries earned him $3,024,000) to fame, had avoided detection by meticulous adherence to 17th-Century materials and techniques. Some of his paints were purchased in London, others he made himself, grinding up genuine lapis lazuli for his blues, and cochineal for his reds.

Van Meegeren had been suspected of faking as far back as 1937 (a "Frans Hals," sold to a U.S. buyer, proved to have been fastened to its stretcher with modern thumbtacks). He really hit his stride when the Nazis came in; he sent the Führer a portfolio of reproductions of his work, obsequiously dedicated, and slyly passed off a phony on Goring. From the profits of his "discovered Vermeers" he moved into an Amsterdam mansion.