Reviews for Forger's Spell : A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century

Book News Reviews
Han van Meegeren's story is one of the footnotes to history. Before and during the Second World War, the Dutch painter sold a number of paintings by Vermeer to high Nazi officials, especially Herman Goering. The Dutch people considered him a collaborator. Then, after the war, it was discovered that the "Vermeers" were actually the work of van Meegeren. The man who had duped Goering became a national hero. Dolnick tells the story in an engaging manner, sympathetic to the artist and the art critics who were also fooled. He explains the genius of van Meegeren's choice of Vermeer and how he convinced the Nazis the works were genuine. This is a well-referenced work accessible to the general reader. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Booklist Reviews 2008 May #1
How we love stories of audacious con artists, and doesn't Dolnick love to tell the tales. His art-theft chronicle, The Rescue Artist (2005), won an Edgar Award, and now he vividly portrays a staggeringly successful Dutch art forger. Han van Meegeren was a "dreadful" painter, and yet he managed to fake Vermeer, the most sublime of artists. Between 1938 and 1945, when Van Meegeren was caught, his Christ at Emmaus was "the most famous and the most admired Vermeer in the world." Van Meegeren's "Vermeers" are actually hideous and trite, yet this dapper, cunning, and patient man bamboozled top critics and museum directors and swindled the world's most monstrous collector, the Nazi Hermann Göring. How to explain this mass delusion, the "forger's spell"? Dolnick covers it all, from Van Meegeren's technical brilliance to his shrewd choice of subject matter to his extraordinary manipulation of egos and perceptions. Dolnick's zesty, incisive, and entertaining inquiry illuminates the hidden dimensions and explicates the far-reaching implications of this fascinating and provocative collision of art and ambition, deception and war. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 May #2
Mesmerizing account of an amateur artist who made millions selling forged paintings to art-obsessed Nazis and business tycoons.Veteran science journalist Dolnick (The Rescue Artist: The True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece, 2005, etc.) brings his expertise in art theft, criminal psychology and military history to a scintillating portrait of Dutch painter Han van Meegeren (1889-1947). Humiliated by critics who dismissed his work as lackluster, Van Meegeren turned to cunningly crafting paintings that he peddled during the 1930s and '40s as the work of revered 17th-century master Johannes Vermeer. The polished, fast-paced narrative captures the surreal mood in Nazi-occupied Holland. As German forces killed more than 70 percent of the Jewish population, the highest toll in Europe, Hitler and his leading aide, Hermann Goering, pillaged museums and private homes for paintings, sculpture and jewelry. In a rivalry Dolnick likens to a perverse schoolyard competition, the men also vied for treasures from art dealers enticed by the Nazis' looted cash. Enter Van Meegeren, a disaffected artist who watched with glee as the same critics who had ridiculed his original work swooned over the technically competent but off-kilter compositions he sold for princely sums as "lost Vermeers." In compelling prose, Dolnick details the doctored canvases, phony paint and fake bills of sale Van Meegeren painstakingly created to achieve his grand deceit. In addition to Nazis and wealthy Europeans, the author notes, he also duped affluent Americans such as Andrew Mellon. After a high-profile 1947 trial during which the con artist demonstrated his techniques, the Dutch government found Van Meegeren guilty of forgery and fraud. He died less than two months later, before serving his one-year prison sentence. Energetic and authoritative. Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2008 July #1

In 1945, just after the end of World War II in Europe, a Dutch detective looking for artwork looted by the Nazis and for Nazi collaborators questioned a high-living Dutch artist named Han van Meegeren. Had van Meegeren, the detective inquired, been involved in the sale to Hermann Gring of a priceless Vermeer painting? Upon further questioning, van Meegeren confessed that he had painted this Vermeer himself, along with other Vermeers then in the collections of several major Dutch art museums, and so began the unraveling of "the greatest art hoax of the twentieth century." While other books--including Frank Wynne's I Was Vermeer and Lord Kilbracken's Van Meegeren: Master Forger --have covered this intriguing case of forgery, greed, and detection, this account by Dolnick, author of the Edgar Award-winning The Rescue Artist , is especially strong in plot development and characterization. It also has a unique point of view: that van Meegeren was not a genius and master forger but rather his "true distinction was [that] he is perhaps the only forger whose most famous works a layman would immediately identify as fake." Recommended for public and academic library art and true-crime collections. (Illustrations not seen.)--Marcia Welsh, Dartmouth Coll. Libs., Hanover, NH

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 April #4

Edgar-winner Dolnick (The Rescue Artist ) delves into the extraordinary story of Han van Meegeren (1889-1947), who made a fortune in German-occupied Holland by forging paintings of the 17th-century Dutch painter Vermeer. The discovery of a "new" Vermeer was just what the beleaguered Dutch needed to lift their spirits, and van Meegeren's Christ at Emmaus had already been bought by the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam in 1937 for $2.6 million. Collectors, critics and the public were blind to the clumsiness of this work and five other "Vermeers" done by van Meegeren. Dolnick asks how everyone could have been fooled, and he answers with a fascinating analysis of the forger's technique and a perceptive discussion of van Meegeren's genius at manipulating people. Van Meegeren was unmasked in 1945 by one of his clients, Hermann Goering. Later accused of treason for collaboration, he saved himself from execution and even became a hero for having swindled Goering. Dolnick's compelling look at how a forger worked his magic leads to one sad conclusion: there will always be eager victims waiting to be duped. Illus. not seen by PW . (June 24)

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