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DUTCH ART SHOWS STIR INTEREST IN INFAMOUS FORGER.

Byline: Marlise Simons The New York Times

Harry Anderson, a U.S. Army captain, was taken aback that day at the end of World War II when he walked into the deserted country home of Hermann Goering, the Nazi leader. Anderson, an art historian in civilian life, had spotted an unknown painting bearing the signature of 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer.

Not long afterward, a Dutchman who had apparently earned a fortune selling the work to Goering was arrested and jailed in Amsterdam. Han van Meegeren, a painter, was charged with treason for selling part of the national patrimony to the enemy.

The elegant and high-strung van Meegeren confessed that he had sold ``Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery'' to Goering. But he was no traitor, he said; he had painted that Vermeer himself, and to prove that he could have done so, he painted another one in the manner of the master, under court supervision.

This spring, as Vermeer fever sweeps the Netherlands, which is filled with exhibits, concerts and debates related to the master, the Dutch also are re-examining the life and work of van Meegeren, one of this century's greatest art forgers, who died in 1947 after creating as many as two dozen ``Old Masters,'' including several passed off as works of Frans Hals and Pieter de Hooch. These were not copies, but his own compositions in the masters' style. Some found their way into prestigious private collections and leading museums.

The current Vermeer show at the Mauritshuis in The Hague, the same one that created such a sensation this winter in Washington, already has drawn more than 350,000 visitors from all over Western Europe. Related shows of works by Vermeer's contemporaries and of 17th-century furnishings, musical instruments and maps have opened in The Hague and Delft. The more peculiar events, though, are the two exhibits dealing with van Meegeren.

The man who hoodwinked so many Dutch and foreign art experts had long been pushed aside as an embarrassment. It was not only rich Rotterdam, Netherlands, shipowners who had bought his fakes, but also the Rijksmuseum, the country's leading temple of art, as well as the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam. But that generation of deceived collectors and museum directors has passed from the scene. Now, in catalogs and in the press, the Dutch are treating van Meegeren as a kind of anti-hero who earned his fame by mocking the cultural elite and swindling Goering.

A year ago, when the Kunsthal in Rotterdam advertised that it was looking for van Meegeren paintings, almost a hundred works poured in, said Wim Peibes, the curator. Some of his own pseudo-Impressionist works were so badly done that Peibes said he declined to show them. A dozen bogus 17th-century Old Masters were chosen for the Rotterdam exhibit, which has drawn thousands of visitors and prompted new discussions about the forger's life and motives.

Newspaper and magazine articles and television documentaries have portrayed him as a man yearning for wealth and recognition, wanting to vindicate himself before critics who failed to recognize the genius of his own works. Yet by the time he started making forgeries, in the 1920s, he was already a commercially successful portrait painter.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: ``Christ at Emmaus'' in The Hague is the most notori ous work of 1940s master forger Han van Meegeren.

The New York Times
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 19, 1996
Words:563
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