Art: The Price of Forgery

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It was far too much money for an honest Dutchman to have made during the German occupation. But when Artist Hans van Meegeren was accused of collaborating and was asked to explain his quick fortune of $3,024,000, he had an answer ready. Said Van Meegeren: he had made his pile not by collaborating but by forging seven Vermeers and two Pieter de Hooches; one phony Vermeer he had patriotically palmed off on Göring (TIME, Sept. 10, 1945). To prove it, he painted still another "Vermeer," Jesus in the Temple (see cut), in his cell. It looked unlike Vermeer's cool, clean interiors, but did remind Dutch art experts of one of the master's few religious paintings: Christ with Mary and Martha.

The experts, some of whom had solemnly verified the forged Vermeers, were now at work with their biggest X-ray machines and subtlest chemicals to prove Van Meegeren a fraud when his case comes up next month (although The Netherlands Government's information service has already said that "there can be no doubt that this mad genius did paint the seven pictures attributed to Vermeer").

Last week Van Meegeren had been cleared of collaboration but not of forgery. He was out on bail, painting new pictures, signing his own name to them, and collecting heavily. Connoisseurs were beating a path to Van Meegeren's antiques-crammed mansion on an Amsterdam canal. His own paintings brought five times what they had before he confessed. Van Meegeren said he had an offer from a Manhattan gallery to come to the U.S. and paint portraits "in the 17th Century manner" at $6,000 a throw.