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Forger’s Justice

In response to:

Victims of Vermeermania from the November 6, 2008 issue

To the Editors:

I am grateful to James Fenton for fully and accurately summarizing my argument concerning Han Van Meegeren’s fascist leanings, and the consequent infusion of Van Meegeren’s biblical “Vermeers” with the sort of Volksgeist imagery promulgated by the Nazis [“Victims of Vermeermania,” NYR, November 6, 2008]. I simply wish to make it clear that mine is the first—and so far the only—book to present Van Meegeren’s late Vermeer forgeries in this revealing political light.

Second, I hope you will allow me to note an important piece of evidence presented in my book as support of my attribution of The Lace Maker (one of the Vermeer forgeries in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.) to Van Meegeren…. Specifically, a three-image spread included in the book (p. 63) suggests that the series of 1920s Vermeer forgeries to which The Lace Maker belongs displays striking similarities to the society portraits that Van Meegeren was painting under his own name at about the same time. Arthur Wheelock has stated that he finds my argument compelling, as has Albert Blankert. Although Mr. Fenton acknowledges that these works “may well be by [Van Meegeren’s] hand,” the omission of evidence seems to undermine the argument.

Finally, Mr. Fenton leaves the reader with the impression that I am a great admirer of an unattractive series of religious pictures that Van Meegeren painted during the 1920s…. In fact, my overall verdict on Van Meegeren’s biblical paintings is negative: “Although these pictures aspire to a great deal, they seldom rise above the level of mere illustration, establishing the characters and setting the story in motion but saying very little about either” (p. 79). I also criticize their “conceptual bombast and overwrought art-historical allusions” (p. 84). In remarking that these pictures are “exquisitely painted,” I was giving Van Meegeren his due as a technician, specifically referring to his daring color harmonies and buttery impastos—factors that cannot be judged on the basis of the small black-and-white illustrations provided in my book.

Jonathan Lopez
New York City

James Fenton replies:

Jonathan Lopez is a cleverer writer than would appear from this letter. May I say that if I have done an injustice to Van Meegeren’s “daring color harmonies and buttery impastos” I’ll eat my hat.

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