Meet Notorious Art Forger Han Van Meegeren, Who Fooled the Nazis with His Counterfeit Vermeers

People love stories of successful criminals. They must possess some admirable qualities, we assume, some great daring or cunning or keen insight. Myths supplant reality, and we forget about the networks of enablers that help ruthless but not especially bright people succeed. But successful art forgers present us with another case entirely. “Forgers, by nature, prefer anonymity,” notes the site Essential Vermeer 3.0, “and therefore are rarely remembered.” Yet the evidence of their mastery lies incontrovertibly before us, fooling collectors, curators, and even art historians. Fakes, may be “the great art of our age.”

Or so claims the subtitle of 2013 book Forged, in which philosopher and conceptual artist Jonathon Keats surveys the careers of six notorious forgers, including Dutch artist Han van Meegeren, who “tricked the world—and the Nazis—with his counterfeit Vermeer paintings,” the TED-Ed lesson above tells us.

Van Meegeren’s biography seems almost scripted. Having failed to interest critics in his work as a young man, he became embittered and decided to revenge himself upon the art world with fakes. His choice of Vermeer was “ambitious” to say the least, given the Baroque painter’s reputation for a unique technical brilliance.

He worked for six years to re-create Vermeer’s materials and techniques and perfect an aging process for his canvases. The forensic science that would today detect such methods was not sufficiently advanced at the time. Yet “even today,” the lesson notes, authenticity is a matter of the “subjective judgment of specialists.” Van Meegeren used such dependence on authority against the experts by creating a work he knew would fill in a historical gap, an early religious period of Vermeer’s from which no works survived; also, conveniently, a period when the artist’s talents were less developed.

“In 1937,” Essential Vermeer writes, “Abraham Bredius… one of the most authoritative art historians,” who had “dedicated a great part of his life to the study of Vermeer” pronounced van Meegeren’s fake Vermeer, Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus (detail above), “a hitherto unknown painting by a great master, untouched, on the original canvas, and without any restoration, just as it left the painter’s studio.” His praise was so effusive it allowed no room for doubt. This was “the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft… every inch a Vermeer.”

Van Meegeren counterfeited works by several other Dutch masters and “was so good,” says the narrator of a Sotheby’s profile, above, “that he duped art experts, museums, and even Hitler’s right-hand man Hermann Göring.” And here, the usual admiration for art forgers—who can seem like heroic tricksters next to their greedy, overconfident marks—takes a patriotic turn. Tried for collaboration, the forger argued he was in fact a national hero for trading another counterfeit Vermeer, Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery (below), to Göring for 200 works of looted Dutch art.

Van Meegeren's defense depended on him convincing the court that he had made the painting. This took some doing. He had even forgone using models so there would be no witnesses. As Sotheby’s Director of Scientific Research James Martin and art historian Jonathan Lopez show us, van Meegeren’s work really was that convincing, its flaws nearly undetectable. He did serve two years for forgery and fraud, but in the end achieved his early desire for artistic fame and his later wish to be regarded as an outlaw hero. Perhaps more than most art world forgers, he is deserving of both reputations.

Related Content:

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How a Book Thief Forged a Rare Edition of Galileo’s Scientific Work, and Almost Pulled it Off

F for Fake: Orson Welles’ Short Film & Trailer That Was Never Released in America

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Classic Songs Re-Imagined as Vintage Book Covers During Our Troubled Times: “Under Pressure,” “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” “Shelter from the Storm” & More

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, how many of us sought solace from the turbulent 21st century in cultural artifacts of bygone eras? Our favorite records by the likes of the Beatles, Queen, David Bowie; our favorite novels by the likes of Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, Philip K. Dick: all of them now possess a solidity that seems lacking in much current popular culture. The work of all these creators has its own kind of artistic daring, and all of it, too, also came out of times troubled in their own way.

Hence the cultural resonance that has long outlasted their first burst of popularity — and that fuels the visual mash-ups of Todd Alcott. A professional screenwriter and graphic designer, Alcott takes mid-20th-century works of graphic design, most often paperback book covers, and reimagines them with the lyrics, themes, and even imagery of popular songs from a slightly later period. This project is easier shown than explained, but take a glance at his Etsy shop and you'll understand it at once.

You'll also take notice of a few mash-ups especially relevant to the present moment, one in which we all feel a bit "Under Pressure." The whole of "Planet Earth," after all, has found itself subject to the kind of deadly pandemic that only happens "Once in a Lifetime," if that often.

Increasingly many of us feel the need to "Call the Doctor," but increasingly often, the doctor has proven unavailable. Most of us can do no better than seeking "Shelter from the Storm" — and some of us have been forced by law to do so.

In some countries, all this has begun to feel like "Life During Wartime." Extended periods confined to our homes have rendered some of us "Comfortably Numb," and no few Americans have begun to say, "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A." Perhaps you've even heard from friends who describes themselves as in the process of "Losing My Religion." Some see humanity as plunging into "The Downward Spiral" that ultimately means "It's the End of the World as We Know It."

Others say "Don't Worry About the Government," expecting as they do a "Revolution" for which they've already begun to arm themselves with "Lawyers, Guns and Money." But how many of us can really say with confidence what a post-coronavirus world will look like, and how or whether it will be different from the one we've grown used to? Best to draw all we can from the wisdom of the past — whatever form it comes in — and bear in mind that, as a 20th-century sage once put it, "Tomorrow Never Knows." You can purchase copies of Todd Alcott's covers (which extends well beyond what appears here) at his Etsy shop.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Ingenious Improvised Recreations of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Using Materials Found Around the House

One can only tolerate so many educational videos in self-isolation before the brain begins to rebel.

Hands-on learning. That's what we're craving.

And ultimately, that's what the Getty provides with an addictive challenge to captive audiences on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram to re-create iconic artworks using three household objects.

Participants are encouraged to look at the Getty's downloadable, digitized collection and beyond for a piece that speaks to them, possibly because of their ability to match it by dint of hair color, physique or  perfect prop.)

Certain works quickly emerged as favorites, with Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665) the clear front runner.

The Mauritshuis, where Girl with a Pearl Earring is quarantined, along with other Hague-dwellers such as Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp and Fabritius' The Goldfinch, describes it thusly:

Girl with a Pearl Earring is Vermeer’s most famous painting. It is not a portrait, but a ‘tronie’ – a painting of an imaginary figure. Tronies depict a certain type or character; in this case a girl in exotic dress, wearing an oriental turban and an improbably large pearl in her ear.

Johannes Vermeer was the master of light. This is shown here in the softness of the girl’s face and the glimmers of light on her moist lips. And of course, the shining pearl.

Let's have a look, shall we?


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Vermeer's extraordinary application of light and shadow is a tall order for most amateurs, but it's wonderful to see how much careful consideration has been given to the original subject's expression, the cant of her head, the arrangement of her garments.

It seems the best way to study a work of art is to become that work of art... especially when one is trapped at home, seeking distraction, and forced to improvise with available objects.

Let us pray we'll be set loose long before Halloween, but also that the challenge takers won't forget how ingenious, easily sourced, and cost-effective their costumes were: a pillowcase, a button, an inverted party dress, the hem of a sibling's blue t-shirt, rescued from the rag bag still smelling faintly of vinegar from pre-coronavirus household cleaning.

That off-the-rack "sexy cat" won't stand a chance.


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No one's disqualified if the number of items used in service of these recreations exceeds the originally stiuplated 3. As long as the participants are having (educational!) fun, this is one of those challenges where everybody wins... especially the baby, the dog, the guy with the mustache and the lady with the turkey on her head, even though the baby and the guy with the mustache forgot their earrings.


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Some tips for participants accompany a handful of memorable entries on the Getty's behind-the-scenes blog, The Iris. We've got links to a number of world class museums' and libraries' digital collections here  and can't wait to see what you come up with.

Meanwhile, enjoy even more recreations by searching for #gettychallenge or having a look at the Instagram of Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine, whose attempt to conjure Girl With A Pearl Earring using a placemat, a towel and a garlic bulb, launched the project that prompted the Getty and the Rijksmuseum to follow suit.

Extra points if you accept the #neckruffchallenge inspired by our history-loving artist friend, Tyler Gunther's take on the #gettychallenge, below.


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She has been crowdsourcing art in isolation, most recently a hastily assembled tribute to the classic 60s social line dance, The Madison. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Customize Your Zoom Virtual Background with Free Works of Art

Limitations stimulate creativity. While that phrasing is credited to business-management scholar Henry Mintzberg, the idea itself has a long history. We know we work more fruitfully when we work within boundaries, and we've known ever since our capabilities were limited in ways barely imaginable today. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic having temporarily redrawn the boundaries of our lives, many of us have already begun to rediscover our own creativity. Some have even done it on Zoom, the teleconferencing software used by businesses and institutions to keep their meetings and classes going even in a time of social distancing.

Instead of their bedrooms or offices, students and office workers have started appearing in settings like a 1970s disco, the Taj Mahal, and the starship Enterprise. The technology making this possible is the "virtual background," explained in the official Zoom instructional video down below.

Word of the virtual background's possibilities has spread through institutions everywhere. It certainly has at the Getty, whose digital editor Caitlin Shamberg notes that "the Getty’s Open Content program includes over 100,000 images that are free and downloadable. This means they’re also fair game to use as your own custom background."

From the Getty's digital collection Shamberg offers such works suitable for Zoom as Van Gogh's Irises, Turner's Van Tromp, going about to please his Masters, Ships a Sea, getting a Good Wetting, and other canvasses of such reliably pleasing settings as 18th-century Venice and a 16th-century forest with a rabbit. The Verge's Natt Garun recently rounded up a few resources where you can find more promising virtual-background material, from bingo cards to beaches to "pop culture homes" including "Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment from Sex and the City, your favorite Friends lofts, Seinfeld living rooms, and more."

Here at Open Culture, we'll point you to the thirty world-class museums that have put two million works of art online, many of which institutions have made them available for download. In this post appears, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Katsushika Hokusai's Under the Wave off Kanagawa (whose evolution to the status of an iconic ukiyo-e print we've previously covered); from the Getty, an 18th-century room "originally used as a bedroom or large cabinet in a private Parisian home at number 18 place Vendôme"; and from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, George Bellows' The Coming Storm.

That last work, pictured above, has a certain metaphorical resonance with the situation the world now finds itself in, hoping though we are that the storm of COVID-19 is now passing rather than still coming. But while we're sheltering from it — and continuing to carry on business as usual as best we can — we might as well get take every opportunity to get artistic. Find many more artistic images to download here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

What the Iconic Painting, “The Two Fridas,” Actually Tells Us About Frida Kahlo

I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality. —Frida Kahlo

You may be forgiven for assuming you already know everything there is to know about Frida Kahlo.

The subject of a high profile bio-pic, a bilingual opera, and numerous books for children and adults, her image is nearly as ubiquitous as Marilyn Monroe’s, though Frida exercised a great deal of control over hers by painting dozens of unsmiling self-portraits in which her unplucked unibrow and her traditional Tehuana garb feature prominently.

(Whether she would appreciate having her image splashed across shower curtainslight switch coversyoga mats, and t-shirts is another matter, and one even a force as formidable as she would be hard pressed to control from beyond the grave. Her immediately recognizable countenance powers every souvenir stall in Mexico City’s Coyoacán neighborhood, where Casa Azul, the home in which she both was born and died, attracts some 25,000 visitors monthly.)

A recent episode of PBS’ digital series The Art Assignment, above, examines the duality at Frida’s core by using her double self-portrait, The Two Fridas (Las Dos Fridas), as a jumping off place.

Kahlo herself explained that the traditionally dressed figure on the right is the one her just-divorced ex-husband, muralist Diego Rivera had loved, while the unloved one on the left fails to keep the untethered vein uniting them from soiling her Victorian wedding gown. (The vein, originates on the right, rising from a small childhood portrait of Rivera, that was among Kahlo’s personal effects when she died.)

It’s an expression of loneliness and yet, the twin-like figures are depicted tenderly clasping each other’s hands:

Bereft but comforted

Fractured but intact

Lonely but not isolated

Broken but beautiful

Humiliated but proud

Kahlo's boundaries, it suggests, are highly permeable, in life, as in art, drawing from such influences as Bronzino, El Greco, Modigliani, Surrealism, and Catholic iconography in both European religious painting and Mexican folk art.

As for the new thing learned, this writer was unaware that when Kahlo married Riveraher elder by 22 yearsin a 1929 civil ceremony, she did so in skirt and blouse borrowed from her indigenous maid... a fact which speaks to the end of her popularity in certain quarters.

Related Content: 

A Brief Animated Introduction to the Life and Work of Frida Kahlo

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Visit the Largest Collection of Frida Kahlo’s Work Ever Assembled: 800 Artifacts from 33 Museums, All Free Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Japanese Artist Has Drawn Every Meal He’s Eaten for 32 Years: Behold the Delicious Illustrations of Itsuo Kobayashi

Since the 1980s, Itsuo Kobayashi has drawn a picture of every single meal he eats. However notable we find this practice now, it would surely have struck us as downright eccentric back then. Kobayashi began drawing his food before the arrival of inexpensive digital cameras and cellphones, and well before the smartphone combined the two into the single package we now keep close at hand. We all know people who take camera-phone pictures of their meals, some of them with the regularity and solemnity of prayer, but how many of them could produce lifelike renderings of the food placed before them with only pen and paper?

"The Japanese outsider artist and professional cook, born in 1962, first began keeping food diaries as a teenager," Artnet's Sarah Cascone writes of Kobayashi. "In his 20s, he began adding illustrations of the dishes he made at work, and those he ate while dining out." When, at the age of 46, a "debilitating neurological disorder made it difficult for him to walk, leaving him largely confined to his home," Kobayashi began to focus on his food diaries even more intensely.

His subjects are now mostly "food deliveries — sometimes from restaurants, sometimes from his mother. And though his day-to-day existence rarely varies, he’s been pushing his practice in a new direction, creating a new series of pop-up paintings."

After 32 years of making increasingly detailed and realistic overhead drawings of his every meal — including such information as names, prices, flavor notes, and faithfully replicated restaurant logos — Kobayashi's work has caught the attention of the American art world. The Fukuyama-based gallery Kushino Terrace "gave Kobayashi his US debut in January, at New York’s Outsider Art Fair," Cascone writes. "His works sell for between $500 and $3,000." That makes for quite a step up in prestige from his old job cooking at a soba restaurant, though his copious experience with that dish shows whenever it appears in his diary.

But then, after decade upon decade of daily practice, everything Kobayashi draws looks good enough to eat, from bowls of ramen to plates of curry to bento boxes filled with all manner of delights from land and sea. Though hardly fancy, especially by the advanced standards of Japanese food culture, these are the kind of meals you want to savor, the ones to which you feel you should pay appreciative attention rather than just scarfing down. Or at least they look that way under Kobayashi's gaze, which even the most ardent 21st-century food-photographing hobbyist must envy. Many of us wish to eat more consciously, and the work of this cook-turned-artist shows us how: put down the phone, and pick up the sketchbook.

via Artnet

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Free Online Drawing Lessons for Kids, Led by Favorite Artists & Illustrators

When I became the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence, I didn’t realize the most impactful word in that title would be "Residence." —illustrator Mo Willems

Even as schools regroup and online instruction gathers steam, the scramble continues to keep cooped-up kids engaged and happy.

These COVID-19-prompted online drawing lessons and activities might not hold much appeal for the single-minded sports nut or the junior Feynman who scoffs at the transformative properties of art, but for the art-y kid, or fans of certain children’s illustrators, these are an excellent diversion.

Mo Willems, author of Knuffle Bunny and the Kennedy Center’s first Education Artist-in-Residence, is opening his home studio every weekday at 1pm EST for approximately twenty minutes worth of LUNCHDOODLES. Episode 5, finds him using a fat marker to doodle a Candyland-ish game board (sans treacle).

Once the design is complete, he rolls the dice to advance both his piece and that of his home viewer. A 5 lands him on the crowd-pleasing directive “fart.” Clearly the online instructor enjoys certain liberties the classroom teacher would be ill-advised to attempt.

Check out the full playlist on the Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel and download activity pages for each episode here.


If the daily LUNCHDOODLES leaves ‘em wanting more, there’s just enough time for a quick pee and snack break before Lunch Lady’s Jarrett J. Krosoczka takes over with Draw Everyday with JJK, a basic illustration lesson every weekday at 2pm EST. These are a bit more nitty gritty, as JJK, the kid who loved to draw and grew up to be an artist, shares practical tips on penciling, inking, and drawing faces. Pro tip: resistant Star Wars fans will likely be hooked by the first episode’s Yoda, a character Krosoczka is well versed in as the author and illustrator of the Star Wars Jedi Academy series.

Find the complete playlist here.

Illustrator Carson Ellis eschews video lessons to host a Quarantine Art Club on her Instagram page. Her most recent assignment is cartography based challenge, with helpful tips for creating an “impactful page turn” for those who wish to share their creations on Instagram:

DRAW A MAP: When we think of treasure maps, we think of sea monsters, islands with palm trees, pirate ships, anthropomorphic clouds blowing gales upon white-capped seas. YOUR map can be of anywhere: an enchanted wood, a dystopian suburb, your backyard, your apartment that has never felt so small, all of the above, none of the above. Or your map can be a traditional treasure map leading to a pirate’s hoard. It’s totally up to you. Three things that you MUST include are: a compass rose (very important—look this up if you don’t know what it is), the name of the place you are mapping, and a red X.

DRAW THE TREASURE: The first part of this assignment is to draw a map with a red X to mark the location of hidden treasure. The second part of this assignment is to draw the treasure. I don’t know what the treasure is. Only you know what the treasure is. Draw it on a separate piece of paper from the map.

BONUS POINTS: If you’re going to post this on instagram, I recommend formatting it with two images. Post the map first, then the treasure which the viewer will swipe to see. This will create what we in the kids book world call AN IMPACTFUL PAGE TURN. That’s the thing that happens when you’re reading a picture book and you turn the page to discover something funny or surprising. It’s kind of hard to explain, but you know a good page turn when you’ve experienced one.


Wendy McNaughton, who specializes in drawn journalism, also likes the Instagram platform, hosting a live Draw Together session every school day, from 10-10.30 am PST. Her approach is a bit more freeform, with impromptu dance parties, special guests, and field trips to the backyard.

Her How to Watch Draw Together highlight is a hilarious crash course in Instagram Live, scrawled in magic marker by someone who’s possibly only now just getting a grip on the platform. Don’t see it? Maybe it’s the weekend, or “maybe ask a millennial for help?”


And bless E.B. Goodale, an illustrator, first time author and mother of a young son, who having counteracted the heartbreak of a cancelled book tour with a hastily launched week of daily Instagram Live Toddler Drawing Club meetings, made the decision to scale back to just Tuesdays and Thursdays:

It was fun doing it everyday but turned out to be a bit too much to handle given our family’s new schedule. We’re all figuring it out, right? I hope you will continue to join me in our unchartered territory next week as we draw to stay sane. Tune in live to make requests or watch it later and follow along at home.

(Her How to Draw a Cat tutorial, above, was likely intended for in-person bookstore events relating to her just published Under the Lilacs…)


Our personal favorite is Stickies Art School, whose online children’s classes are led not by multi-disciplinary artist Nina Katchadourian, whose Facebook page serves as the online institution's home, but rather her senior tuxedo cat, Stickies.

Stickies, who comes to the gig with an impressive command of English, honed no doubt by frequent appearances on Katchadourian’s Instagram page, affects a diffident air to dole out assignments, the latest of which is above.

He allows his students ample time to complete their tasksthus far all portraits of himself. The next one, to render Stickies in a costume of the artist’s choice, is due Wednesday by 9am, Berlin time.

Stickies also offers positive feedback on submitted work in delightful follow up videos, a responsibility that Katchadourian takes seriously:

There have been so many conversations at NYU Gallatin where I'm on the faculty about online teaching, how to do it, how to think of a studio course in this new form, etc, and I think perhaps that crossed over with the desire to cheer up some people with kids, many of whom are already Stickies fans, or so I have been told. 

His child proteges are no doubt unaware that Stickies looked ready to leave the planet several weeks ago, a fact whose import will resonate with many pet owners in these dark days:

Maybe a third element was just being so glad he is still around, that having him actively "out there" feels good and life-affirming at the moment.

Stickies Art School is marvelous fun for adults to audit from afar, via Katchadourian’s public Facebook posts. If you are a parent whose child would like to participate, send her a friend request and mention that you’re doing so on behalf of your child artist.

Searching on the hashtag #artteachersofinstagram will yield many more resources.

Art of Education University has singled out 12 accounts to get you started, as well as lots of helpful information for classroom art teachers who are figuring out how to teach effectively online.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Given the cancellation of everything, she’s taken to Instagram to document her social distance strolls through New York City’s Central Park, using the hashtag #queenoftheapeswalk  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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