Reviewed by Monique Friloux
Author: Frank Wynne
Publish Date: Oct. 6, 2006 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Get it here: Barnes & Noble, Amazon
I have to admit my inspiration for finding and reading, “I Was Vermeer” by Frank Wynne started with Matt Bomer and his USA series, “White Collar.” Throw in my love and fascination with art and you have me finishing the 300-page “I Was Vermeer” in less than two weeks. People may assume a biography about an artist would be a snooze-fest. Think again.
“I Was Vermeer” is dedicated to Han van Meegeren, who is known as one of the best art forgers of the 20th Century. Not only that, he invented many of the forging techniques modern day forgers still use, like the use of phenol formaldehyde to give a painting an aged, dusty look. Wynne brings us through van Meegeren’s youth from his disapproving father to his being shunned by the art community. This inspired him to forge paintings by many great “old masters,” including his hero Johannes Vermeer. His forgeries led to his surprising prosecution and trial where the art world is turned upside down. Van Meegeren’s obsession with obtaining fame and fortune, coupled with nasty addictions to morphine and prostitutes, makes for a sad, yet riveting, story without a happy ending.
Wynne draws an interesting contradiction throughout the book: I found myself pitying and shaming van Meegeren for his holier-than-thou attitude and destructive vices, yet respecting his talent and sneering at the critics who said he had none. Despite being laced with art jargon, scientific processes and Dutch words, the writing is enjoyable and easy to follow. I actually ached for a little more of the science behind it all.
Wynne tells a well-researched account of Van Meegeren’s life. I found myself scanning his bibliography for my next book. There a lot of names and players introduced in the book, so keeping track of the Dutch art dealers, critics and experts is a little tough.
Van Meegeren’s life as a sly forger and Wynne’s presenting of the facts as he knows them left me wondering how many of Van Meegeren’s forgeries are actually out there. We’ll probably never know.