Han van Meegeren’s death mask (foto Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)
HAN VAN MEEGEREN AS PATRICIA HIGHSMITH’S MODEL FOR TOM RIPLEY
As a Research Scholar with several Papers written about Han van Meegeren, it was only in 2016 that I first came across the item that the American Novelist Patricia Highsmith had cited Han van Meegeren as the model for her character, the ‘depraved Sociopath‘ (not Highsmith’s characterization) Tom Ripley. (1) In the Ripley Series Tom is not an Art Forger himself like Van Meegeren but an Art Connoisseur and Seller of Forged Artwork, and an admirer (though fictional) of Van Meegeren as was his creator Patricia Highsmith.
To compare the personalities of two individuals, one Real and the other Fictional, I would have to treat the Fictional character as a Real person. That comes with the understanding that the Fictional character Tom Ripley is at a disadvantage having had only One True Observer, Patricia Highsmith, whereas Many Living People knew Han van Meegeren and left Statements about him that are On The Record. Since the start of the 20th Century many Psychologists of Personality have developed Taxonomies of Traits to help in determining an individual’s basic (and likely unchangeable) Personality. These Taxonomies range from just three distinct Categories to Multiple Lists of positive and Negative traits that number in the dozens. Such Taxonomies fell out of popular fashion to a certain degree while remaining in the Psychologist’s Armamentarium for Diagnostic Purposes. In referring to Tom Ripley, the General Literature uses both labels – Sociopath and Psychopath. At the outer extremes of each condition, the individual with this Personality Disorder can be a killer. It is impossible to use them interchangeably so perhaps it is easier to simply refer to Tom Ripley as a Sociopath who murders without guilt, with no qualms of conscience.
These Taxonomies of character traits resemble the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which I am not relying on since the DSM is best used by credentialed professionals. Had Tom Ripley been a real living person both he and Han van Meegeren could certainly have been scored by the psychiatrists’ DSM for Diagnostic and Forensic purposes. Both could be compared on any reasonable list of personality traits. The more recent Internet phenomenon of Online Dating sites probably brought back the renewed popularity of personality trait lists, and there they remain in popular use.
The other problem with observing Tom Ripley is that he doesn’t live a normal life span in Highsmith’s novels, that is, Tom starts his fictional life in his mid twenties, never reaches old age and Highsmith doesn’t kill him off at any point. Highsmith does provide Tom with a back story to round out his childhood and adolescence but without the richness of detail of a living person. Han van Meegeren’s childhood, adolescence, adulthood and death are known and documented. Han lived the life he wanted and died prematurely in middle age. We meet Tom first as a young man in The Talented Mr Ripley, and he appears in Highsmith’s Ripley Novels written over the next thirty seven years – enough years to have him reach middle age in the last novel, Ripley Under Water. Highsmith died four years after the last Ripley Novel was published, and it isn’t clear if she had any intentions to continue the Ripley saga. In Ripley Under Water, Tom is now a quiet, middle aged, cultured chap and a homebody – a gardener and amateur harpsichordist, and occasional murderer.
At the publication of her last Ripley Novel, Highsmith herself was beginning to sicken with a variety of ailments after a lifetime of disregard for her health, with heavy reliance on alcohol and cigarettes and a lifelong poor diet. Still, our last look at the older Tom Ripley brings back that earlier frisson when reading about a secret murderer whose personality we know well from the preceding four novels. Coincidentally, Han van Meegeren dies at age fifty eight while Tom Ripley seems to have just about reached that age in good health during those thirty seven fictional years of acquiring and selling forged art (…) and killing annoying people.
HAN VAN MEEGEREN (1889 – 1947)
In my search of Newspapers in a Dutch digitized Newspaper Database, Han van Meegeren received quite good coverage in the Newspapers of The Netherlands, beginning with a mention in Het Vaderland (15 November 1920), when he was thirty one years old, regarding a notable portrait he made that was displayed at the Hague Art Society (Haagse Kunstkring). (2) Through the 1920’s Van Meegeren received laudable mentions about his portraits, and in 1927 there were several reviews of an exhibition of his work. Gallery advertising included his name in their exhibits. From 1929 on Van Meegeren’s new art journal De Kemphaan was widely reviewed in Newspapers until the journal ended publication in 1931. There after Van Meegeren’s name appeared sparsely in Art and Culture Reviews until 1934. In 1932 Van Meegeren and his wife Jo Oerlemans left The Netherlands to live in the South of France where he renewed his study of Art Forgery Techniques, returning to The Netherlands in 1939 because of War Clouds over Europe.
No reports on Van Meegeren appear in the Newspaper Database after 1934 until 1941, the year following the German Invasion and Occupation of The Netherlands. While I have to assume that not every Dutch Newspaper appears in this Database, the coverage is wide enough to include most of the primary National News Outlets followed by many of the Regional Journals. We recall that under the German Occupation the imposition of new Press Regulations created chaos in Newpaper Publishing. Only approved Newspapers were permitted to publish, and as the War dragged on the Rationing of Newsprint and Ink was instituted.
In November 1941 Van Meegeren’s large exhibit received widespread news coverage, the most obvious reason for this publicity are his strong ties to the official Nazi art leadership in the now-occupied Netherlands. (3) Mentions of the artist and his work continue through 1942 but only one mention is found in 1943 and one in 1944. On 22 May 1945 World War II is over. Vermeer’s Christ and the Adulteress is discovered by an American army officer responsible for securing Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring’s art collection. In 1943, Van Meegeren sold this forged Vermeer to a Nazi-friendly art dealer, a German-born Dutchman Alois Miedl (1903-1990), who then sold it to no less a leading Nazi art collector than Hermann Göring in December 1943.
That second sale, priced at 1.65 million guilders, was paid for by Göring’s swap of about 200 Dutch art works seized by the Reichsmarshall at the start of the war. The work Christ and the Adulteress is traced through Miedl and then on to his seller-client Van Meegeren. My calculations for the conversion of the sale price follows the arithmetic of currency value closest to the sale date. Using the International Institute for Social History (Amsterdam) Value of the Guilder conversion calculator allows the worth of the 1943 guilders to be calculated in 2017 guilders which are then converted to current US dollars:
a) 1,650,000 fl in 1943 are worth 23,069,587 fl in 2017
b) 23,069,587 fl are worth US$11,113,966 in 2017. (4)
Therefore, the most reasonable estimate would indicate that in 1943 Van Meegeren received the 2017 equivalent in artworks of US$11,113,966 for the sale/swap of his forged Vermeer, Christ and the Adulteress. It is worth recalling that Van Meegeren began making money on art forgeries from 1920 until 1932 while working with Theo van Wijngaarden (1874-1952), a shady character who was an artist, art restorer and sometime art forger who first employed Van Meegeren in the Van Wijngaarden atelier to produce “Old Masters.” Van Wijngarden then peddled them to equally crooked art dealers for sale to unsuspecting buyers. Van Wijngaarden was merely one of numerous devious people in the art trade who carried on this deception for the money it brought in. Authentications were easily bought from so-called experts. It was a fairly rampant business both in Europe and North America. In short, wherever there was money, especially among the nouveau riche, there was art fraud.
On 29 May 1945, Van Meegeren is arrested on the accusation of collaboration for selling a work by Vermeer, a part of the Netherlands national art patrimony, to Göring. A great scandal develops and rivets the attention of the Dutch populace as well as most of Europe, wherever newspapers were back in production after the war’s end. Then in July 1945 there came a flurry of reports about the adulatory inscription to Der Führer signed by Van Meegeren in his book of drawings Teekeningen I, found in the bombed ruins of Hitler’s new Reich Chancellery in Berlin. (5) Discussion ensues in newspapers about the book’s poems by a Dutch Nazi, Martien Beversluis (1894-1966), and contributions from other Dutch Nazis and/or collaborators, many of these contributors going back to the days of working at Van Meegeren’s art journal De Kemphaan. Also continuing in these newspaper articles are the reports of forged art works attributed to Van Meegeren for which he was arrested.
In July 1945 a cornucopia of Dutch daily newspaper reports appear specifically about Van Meegeren. The Dutch public is single-minded in its daily reading, and the scandal is now developing swiftly. At the time of the first announcement of his arrest Van Meegeren is initially viewed in the narrowed eyes of the Dutch public as a traitor who sold off parts of the great Dutch art patrimony to Nazi art looters in order to line his own pockets. By the end of 1945, an article in an English journal called the story “the art sensation of the decade.” (6) By the time Van Meegeren dies, the story is on its way to being the art sensation of the 20th century. And there it has remained well into our own 21st century era. The discussions of “goed/fout” – right/wrong – sides of the Occupation and collaborationist politics and society in the Netherlands from 1940-1945 are waning although Van Meegeren’s name remains enmeshed in that era and the right/wrong debates are still the subject for scholarly research and a sensitive topic for those who lived through the era.
The drumbeat of suspicion heats up about Vermeers in Dutch museums, about the treason of Van Meegeren, about anything that inflames the Dutch temperament after five years of a horrifyingly brutal German Occupation. The Occupation expropriated Dutch food products, a variety of machinery, personal goods and other valuable assets and sent them to Germany. The German Occupation devastated the Netherlands and destroyed countless lives, interned suspect Dutch intellectuals and potential resisters, deported many thousands of Dutch and refugee Jews to die in Nazi concentration camps and, in the final year of the Occupation, subjected the innocent population to a “hunger winter” during which about 20,000 Dutch men, women and children starved to death. News photos of Axis leaders appear alongside photos of Van Meegeren making him visually as guilty as they. Then the news reports tell of the swap. They reveal the entire story – that Van Meegeren made a deal with an agent for a Nazi bigwig in which one of Van Meegeren’s forged art works is exchanged for about 200 stolen Dutch art works – original Dutch art done in centuries past by known Dutch artists. As it turned out in later investigations, much of the art was taken by Reichsmarschall Göring as part of the theft from the Goudstikker family of art merchants and connoisseurs.
Van Meegeren paints another “Vermeer” before the eyes of the court’s experts to prove his ability to forge the works that fooled the art experts. Hoorah for Van Meegeren cries the Dutch public. Van Meegeren fooled and swindled the fiercely hated Göring and got back their unique and precious art. The formerly despised forger Van Meegeren becomes a national folk hero. And he goes home after his arrest since he is no longer guilty of selling real Vermeers – or De Hooghs or a Frans Hal, among the many Old Masters he had forged and sold for very large amounts. Incidentally, it was never mentioned in my reading or research what Van Meegeren planned to do with these 200 authenticated Dutch artworks. There is no historical evidence found that spoke of Van Meegeren’s real intentions about keeping or disposing of the 200 rescued canvases. They were, after all, his payment in kind for the “Vermeer.” (7) But, Miedl and Göring – and basically Göring – decided on the disposition of the Goudstikker paintings taken from the family’s gallery. The connivance of Miedl pushed Van Meegeren to one side. (8)
In 1946 the Dutch celebrate the New Year as a free people once more, and Van Meegeren is celebrated as well. However, Dutch government bureaucrats and the judiciary catch up with the famous forger for taxes owed on all of those forged art sales – many millions of guilders. Van Meegeren’s criminal trial for treason is abandoned; now he faces a civil trial for back taxes. Newspapers report in 1946 that Van Meegeren is ill. (9) They also report that the scandal reached foreign newspapers fairly soon after the sordid affair broke open in the Netherlands. Reports of the scandal reach headlines all over Europe, North and South America and the Dutch colonies. Experts are retained by various ministries after l’Affaire Van Meegeren to re-authenticate the holdings of Dutch museums in order to weed out the fakes from the real. That search makes it into the newspapers as well. Also popular are articles about Van Meegeren’s psychology – trying to tease out the real “why” now that the Dutch knew the “how” of his forgery enterprise. In the USA, the leading national newsweekly TIME magazine reported the ongoing story in its Art pages in 1946 and 1947.
The October-November 1947 tax trial of Van Meegeren takes place against the backdrop of the artist’s repeated heart attacks. At his sentencing he is a sick and broken man; at only age fifty-eight he has seemingly lost his reputation and soon what remaining wealth still exists in his own name. Van Meegeren had earlier transferred the bulk of his fortune and holdings to his wife Jo Oerlemans as part of their divorce settlement – a sham procedure – while they continued to live together. That transfer protected Jo’s ownership of the recently acquired assets belonging to Van Meegeren. All that was left in his own name was now exposed to tax liability by the court’s decision. The verdict: all back taxes to be paid with fines, and a sentence to one year in prison. There is a brief interlude between sentencing and the date at which Van Meegeren is to report to prison. Not long after Van Meegeren’s death two books about him were published; a novel from a woman friend who was a writer (and may have visited him in prison) and another novel about the forger by a journalist friend. (10) This is the start of countless books and articles published about real Vermeers, forged Vermeers, Van Meegeren, the art world and its experts, and so on. Questions are being asked.
“A newspaper poll conducted at the beginning of 1947 found that Van Meegeren was the second most popular man in the realm: he came in just behind the newly elected prime minister and just ahead of Prince Bernhard.” (11) Van Meegeren suddenly dies in an Amsterdam clinic on 30 December 1947 before he can start his sentence. His last victory – if one can call it that – was to deny the State he defrauded of imprisoning him to serve his punishment.
Van Meegeren’s funeral – he was cremated – is a small family scandal all by itself as reported long after by a self-proclaimed distant relative who had, he said, access to Van Meegeren’s direct and collateral descendants. (12) On 5-6 September 1950, Van Meegeren’s household possessions are auctioned in his elegant house at the notable address of Keizersgracht 321 in Amsterdam – a forced sale by court order to pay back income taxes and make restitution to purchasers of his faked artworks. News of the estate sale made it across the Atlantic into the pages of TIME magazine. (13)
PATRICIA HIGHSMITH (1921-1995)
In the mid-1940s Texas-born Patricia Highsmith was a young writer with quite well-developed artistic talent in pen/pencil and paper and watercolor, living and working in New York City. From her earliest childhood days she was an exceptionally avid reader, and from high school and college she was reading widely in fiction and non-fiction. She became an accomplished scholar of ancient and modern literature. She was also writing, in her diary as well as short stories. She was a daily newspaper, and throughout her writing life one biography affirms that she did research, made notes and kept newspaper clippings of articles and items that interested her. (14) Highsmith graduated from Barnard College in New York City in 1942 and remained in Manhattan to work and write.
One of Highsmith’s first post-college jobs was as an editorial assistant to Ben-Zion Goldberg (1895-1972), noted journalist, writer, and teacher, at FFF Publishers, a publishing house which supplied copy to various Jewish journals and newspapers. Highsmith wound up being in close contact with the Jewish press and writing for it. She wasn’t happy doing it despite the fact that Goldberg admired her, hired her instantly from a pool of 200 candidates at a better salary, and gave her a raise, without her asking for it, just weeks after her hiring. (15) Her next was a job as a comic book writer. Later in life, she even credited comic book writing in teaching her lessons in story construction. These weren’t the most satisfactory jobs but the pay was good. Sometime later Highsmith asked her ex-employer Ben-Zion Goldberg to read a manuscript she’d just written. Goldberg greatly admired Highsmith’s work on her 1947 novel Strangers on a Train, and he helped her writing career by providing literary contacts. That novel was turned into a highly successful film that enhanced Highsmith’s reputation.
All the while Highsmith read – books, articles and newspapers. She started her life as an avid reader and short story writer and ended her life as a reader, diarist, researcher, and renowned novelist. Her very decent treatment by Goldberg in providing his help, and his admiration for her talent, seemed to matter little in softening her attitude toward Jews. She was dismissive of the man who did so much to assist her as a young writer yet they remained on friendly terms. One wonders if Goldberg was aware of Highsmith’s anti-Semitism and the fact that she may have been using him. But, then, Highsmith may have liked the admiration and help from a prominent intellectual with important contacts despite his being Jewish. Highsmith’s biographers both note her lifelong passionate Jew hatred.
In 1955, Patricia Highsmith published a crime novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. The book won her an immediate following especially because of her lead character, that strange, quirky, attractive-repulsive fellow Tom Ripley. In October 1968, Highsmith was working on notes for Ripley Under Ground, her second novel about her now-famous character Tom Ripley. She told an interviewer that her inspiration for the new novel was Han van Meegeren. “I like the way he stood up for himself,” said Highsmith. (16) Aside from her novels (and possibly her notebooks – cahiers she called them), Highsmith did write a bit more about her character Tom Ripley. Highsmith has Ripley saying things adnout Van Meegeren that Highsmith herself found quite acceptable. Here are two quotes from Ripley Under Ground:
Tom was determined to keep the conversation on the subject, because he did not want to abandon all hope. He brought up van Meegeren, with whose career Murchison was acquainted. Van Meegeren’s forgeries of Vermeer had finally achieved some value of their own. Van Meegeren may have stated it first in self-defense, in bravado, but aesthetically there was no doubt that Van Meegeren’s inventions of “new” Vermeers had given pleasure to the people who bought them.
How had van Meegeren put it (or had Tom himself put it that way in one of his notebooks)? “An artist does things naturally, without effort. Some power guides his hand. A forger struggles, and if he succeeds, it is a genuine achievement.” Tom realized it was his own paraphrase. (17)
In a meeting Highsmith had with an Australian film critic he reports:
I once met Highsmith and she told me how she loved writing about Ripley because she could let him get away with just about anything including murder. Her readers wanted it that way and she was happy to oblige. It satisfied a lot of her own darker impulses to be able to write about a character with so many unredeeming features, make him attractive and allow him to manipulate other people’s propensities towards illegality when tested. (18)
Whether or not Highsmith’s use of Han van Meegeren as a model for Tom Ripley vindicates Van Meegeren is irrelevant. She transforms a real-life art forger with an unhappy childhood and resulting unstable personality into the literary exemplar of a corrupt, murderous sociopathic man who any sane person would want to avoid. One major and very important difference is that Han van Meegeren is not known to have ever been personally involved in a murder, whether as the actual perpetrator or as an accomplice. He didn’t seem to have that sort of brutality as part of his personality. In her five Ripley novels Highsmith’s Tom Ripley directly murders ten men and indirectly cause the deaths of four men and one woman. Van Meegeren wasn’t a man of action; he was a man of ideas and ideals however extreme or mushy, an artist, a joyful carouser often to excess, a pursuer of life’s luxuries, and someone in need of punishing those who ignored or belittled his talent. A real-life murderer? No. Van Meegeren’s opportunistic collaboration with the Nazis was, in a far greater sense, his unthinking contribution to their holding onto power and committing the ghastly crimes against the people in the countries the Germans fought in and occupied. Those countries were France, where Van Meegeren lived for seven years before the outbreak of war, and the Netherlands, Van Meegeren’s home country whose German Occupation Van Meegeren lived through without suffering the privations, beatings, arrests, deportations and starvation visited on other Dutch men and women.
For all of Tom Ripley’s fictional cleverness in the sale of art forgeries, thanks to Highsmith, he was far outside Van Meegeren’s league as a dealer and art forger. Tom Ripley made a moderate amount of money in the phony art trade, stole Dickie Greenleaf’s inheritance, had some money coming from a small gallery, and, by the final Ripley novel, was married to a woman from a wealthy family which provided her with an allowance. From his corrupt dealings Han van Meegeren gained millions of guilders and lived the high life complete with prostitutes, booze, and drugs. He bought real estate and may even have invested in night clubs. His house at Keizersgracht 321 was filled with expensive furnishings and became his playground for fun and folly. Obviously, Highsmith’s model for Tom Ripley didn’t involve a complete takeover of the life style of Van Meegeren. Ripley was a smooth sophisticate who talked and killed his way to a decent amount of money whereas Van Meegeren over many years invented art forgery techniques that allowed him to paint his way into the hearts, heads and wallets of so-called experts, connoisseurs, and Nazi bigwigs – and he made an absolute fortune at it.
The question of Van Meegeren’s own committed Nazi identity is still an open one. There is no evidence that Van Meegeren joined the Dutch Nazi Party (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, popularly referred to as the NSB). While never seeking official party membership, one can still be a ‘fellow traveler’ – a label for those maintaining allegiance to a party or its ideology without signing on as a member. Van Meegeren seems actually to make the choice of fellow traveler as a place that provides the cover of deniability and a measure of protection. He registered with the German Occupation’s Kultuurkamer, in the Ed Gerdes-directed art guild, so that he could exhibit his art. (See footnote 3.) Van Meegeren and the writers for his art publication De Kemphaan wrote undisguised extreme right-wing fascist rhetoric back in the late 1920s and early 1930s. To collaborate politically is to give one’s acquiescence to the actions of the preferred movement. That is an inescapable logic although if one is doing it under severe duress, it may become a mitigating factor. No one forced Van Meegeren to forge art and then cleverly seek the channels of contact with big Nazis that would increase his fortune. His collaboration was a willing one to enhance his ego and his bank account. If the earlier fascist rhetoric of the 1920s and 1930s from De Kemphaan is credited, Van Meegeren became a fellow traveler of fascism and its German exponent early on. He abetted his Nazi contacts and partners during and at the end of their art sale transactions; they all became part of a greater murderous network that indelibly stained the 20th century.
Was Patricia Highsmith aware of Van Meegeren’s partners and clients? If she knew as much about Van Meegeren as she said, how could she not have known about his Nazi connections? She was the newspaper reader par excellence with an impressive clipping file. Did the Nazi connection matter to Highsmith? Did those millions of murders leave any impression on her? Or, was she so single-minded a writer that having found her model, nothing else mattered about Han van Meegeren so long as she could use him to create Tom Ripley. Highsmith referred to the Holocaust as the “semicaust” because it only exterminated one-half of the Jews. And she did not say it in jest. (19)
The René Clement-directed film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley was first released in France in 1959 as Plein Soleil with Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, and then released in 1961 in the Netherlands. Highsmith thought that Delon was the perfect Tom Ripley, and she was quite satisfied with the film. Plein Soleil received notable reviews in the Dutch press, as it did everywhere it was shown, but no mention in the reviews was found linking art forger Han van Meegeren to the seller of forged art Tom Ripley. A second showing of the film in 1965 in the Netherlands again found no mention in reviews of any link between Tom Ripley and Van Meegeren. Van Meegeren’s art forgery seems to have slipped from Dutch public consciousness by this time, a generation later.
Highsmith’s novels were welcomed in the Netherlands where her books were sold in Dutch and English, and were well reviewed. Even if Highsmith’s own first mention of Van Meegeren as a model for Ripley came later in 1968, many of the Dutch, with their remarkable history of great art and artists, may have been able to recognize the shared character traits the two, Han van Meegeren and Tom Ripley, one real and the other fictional, in appreciating the value of forged art. Twenty years after the war’s end that connection may have been too far a reach for the reading and movie-going publics, especially for the younger generation who remembered little of the 1940s or were born after the war. Despite her past popularity as a crime novelist of a higher literary order and the success of the movies made from three of her Ripley novels, Highsmith received scant coverage almost everywhere at the time of her death. She died alone 4 February 1995 in Switzerland and was cremated two days later, according to her instructions. About a dozen mourners showed up. She passed from the scene quietly in a way than Han van Meegeren never did. (20)
HAN VAN MEEGEREN’S FUNERAL
If Patricia Highsmith followed the events of Han van Meegeren’s trials and sentencing, she may have read some highly selective news reports about his death. The news articles and obituaries usually touched upon the shocking events of Van Meegeren’s life as an art forger, the life of a man who did indeed collaborate with the German Occupation and leading Dutch and German Nazis to enrich himself. The most complete telling of Van Meegeren’s funeral found to date was written long after the artist’s death by Dutch writer René ten Dam. And there are gaps and absences in this funeral story that require explanation. (21)
“The funeral” section below is part of the much longer memorial written by Ten Dam. At the end of this section are my explanatory edits which appear labeled with capital letters inserted in the text. This information was added to make the excerpt accessible to readers unfamiliar with Dutch history or personalities. The original is in Dutch.
Han van Meegeren was laid out in his house on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. The coffin was surrounded by flowers and in the background was the painting Jo with the dove. (A) His daughter Viola made a death mask of the face of her deceased father. (B) While cleaning the face after making the plaster mask, she discovered scars on it that indicated that an autopsy had been done on the body. Much to the amazement of the family. They learned from queries of the Valerius Clinic that indeed an autopsy was done, but the Clinic did not give the reason. This fueled rumors that Van Meegeren had not died a natural death. But the most likely cause is that Van Meegeren had stopped taking his heart pills because he so disliked his solitary confinement, and as a result he died. (C)
The funeral of Han van Meegeren attracted many people. (D) In a long procession relatives and interested people followed the coffin from the Keizersgracht to the Driehuis-Westerveld crematorium in Velsen. Jo played the role of a widow although strictly speaking she was not; veiled in black with a big hat she took her place in the first vehicle of the funeral cortege. The great hall of the crematorium was the last place to be occupied by friends, diplomats, artists and performers. Of course, the press was also present in large numbers. Several people spoke: Bob Wallagh, journalist and author of The Real Van Meegeren; his biographer Marie Louise Doudart de la Grée; his old friend Guus van Genderen Stort and his brother-in-law Wim. (E). Wim finally spoke to Jacques barely a word of thanks. (F) Fien de la Mar laid flowers to display on the coffin before it disappeared into the depths [meaning into the crematorium oven] to the Largo from Handel. (G1, G2)
After the cremation, Jo demanded the urn to scatter the ashes, but since she had no formal relationship with Han van Meegeren [after the sham divorce] the urn was transferred to daughter Inez. (H) She gave the urn to Jacques, himself a painter, who set it between his paints and brushes. Later he brought the urn to Deventer, where Han’s sister Guusje had bought a grave at the general cemetery and where the urn was buried (grave no. 948). (I) Jacques had designed a tomb for his father. An austere stone in the shape of a Gothic arch. (J)
After his death a tumult continued the legacy of Han van Meegeren. His ex-wife Jo even tried to blackmail Jacques with a painting of himself, hoping to get the urn in her possession. Jacques did not succumb.” (K) (22)
KEY TO FUNERAL TEXT
A. Johanna (Jo) Oerlemans de Boer (1886-1977), Han van Meegeren’s second wife, was a popular actress three years older than Han. Her stage name was Jo van Walraven. They finally marry in 1928 after a long affair during her marriage to her first husband, art critic Carel H. de Boer (1879-1949). Jo and Han agree to a divorce 18 December 1943 in order to transfer the bulk of his wealth and holdings to her to forestall any expropriation should the Germans lose the war.
B. Viola Hermine Lambertine de Boer (1910-?) joined the Van Meegeren family as a stepdaughter when her mother Jo married Han in 1928. Her biological father, Carel de Boer, was still living at the time of Han van Meegeren’s funeral; there is no evidence that Han van Meegeren legally adopted his stepdaughter, if it was even permitted by Dutch law at that time. It is unclear if the reference in Ten Dam’s obituary is to Viola, Han’s stepdaughter, or to Inez (named Pauline at her birth), Han’s biological daughter. Han van Meegeren’s death mask, said to have been made by his daughter Viola, (actually his stepdaughter if she was the one who made the death mask) was acquired by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, in an announcement at its web site on 23 May 2014. The plaster mask was painted bronze and mounted on a bronze-painted palette with brushes supposedly having been Han van Meegeren’s. According to the newspaper The Independent, 27 May 2014, the mask was bought for €300 (US$409) at an auction in Rotterdam. No mention is made of the seller’s name. See the image of the mask above.
C. Van Meegeren was placed in temporary solitary confinement by prison administrators as the result of some misbehavior of his; he was not sentenced to permanent solitary confinement. Van Meegeren had several heart attacks before his death which was probably caused by a fatal heart attack, and that is what the autopsy claimed. He had a history of alcoholism, addiction to sleep medications and possibly other drugs, and was a heavy smoker. Early photos of Van Meegeren often show him with a cigarette dangling from his lips. If it is true that he stopped his heart medication by choice then was that an act of suicide? Surely he realized the implications of stopping the medication that probably kept him alive. Was the upcoming one-year prison sentence too much for him to contemplate? By court order, he would be substantially without the money amd homes he acquired over many years. Who would he have to rely on to take care of him? He had struggled hard throughout his life to be independent with plenty of money only to see it now swept away by impoverishment and prison. No authoritative person has yet provided unimpeachable evidence that Han van Meegeren stopped his medication. Still, he had the choice. Did he choose it?
D. In the hundreds, according to the Haarlems Dagblad, 5 January 1948; two hundred cited at http://zonderwoord.com/article/han-van-meegeren.
E. Bob (Gerrit Hartog) Wallagh (1907-1967), from an assimilated Dutch-Jewish family, was a friend and journalist who wrote a friendly book about Van Meegeren, De echte Van Meegeren (Amsterdam: Strengholt, 1947). Van Meegeren’s friend, Marie-Louise Doudart de la Grée (1907- or 1909-1981), a lesbian writer who may have visited Van Meegeren in prison; his old friend Guus van Genderen Stort was Elise August van Genderen Stort (1883-1967), a contributor to Van Meegeren’s art journal De Kemphaan. Van Genderen Stort also wrote the biographical essay foreword of Van Meegeren in Teekeningen I. Van Meegeren painted Van Genderen Stort’s portrait. Not mentioned in this obituary as present at the funeral was Eduard Verkade (1878-1961), an eminent Dutch actor and director. However, graphic artist and author of art books Adam Haag (Jacob Pieter Haag, 1893-1971) recalled in a brief eulogy the few hours in which he had met and appreciated the painter. Willem or Wim Polman Tuin (1892-1966), Han’s brother-in-law, married Van Meegeren’s sister Augusta (Guusje), as mentioned in a news report, Haarlems Dagblad, 5 January 1948. See also (I). Nowhere is it mentioned if Willem’s son Pim Polman Tuin (ca. 1929-) was also present at the funeral. Many years later Pim was interviewed by the BBC TV series FAKE OR FORTUNE, broadcast 3 July 2011. The only transcript of the interview, done in English and Dutch, was found online in Norwegian, after the program was aired on Norwegian NRK TV, 23 February 2012. Pim Polman Tuin says that his uncle painted his portrait in two hours.
F. Jacques van Meegeren (1912-1977), Han’s son, an illustrator and painter. Jacques forged his father’s work. He died alone and poverty-stricken.
G.1 Johanna (Fien) de la Mar (born Klopper, her mother’s name, and an unknown father; 1898-1965) was a Dutch stage and film actress, cabaret singer and comedian who became a beloved Dutch film star in the 1930s. Unlike Van Meegeren, in the early years of the German Occupation she refused to register with the Kultuurkamer thus bringing her career to a halt until after the war. Han van Meegeren was attracted to actresses and entertainers.
G.2 “After the coffin had dropped a dark sober song of Schubert was heard throughout the auditorium, Mr. J. Van Meegeren, the son of the deceased, in a muffled voice offered thanks for the great interest and said that what his father wanted, others will need to continue.” The Schubert song was the only music reported by the Haarlems Dagblad, 5 January 1948, p.3. It is possible that both composers were heard.
H. Inez: born Pauline Hermine van Meegeren (1915-1985).
I. Guusje: Augusta Johanna Maria Jurriana van Meegeren Polman Tuin (1899-1986).
J. Recalling the Gothic arches of Van Meegeren’s watercolor of the interior of Rotterdam’s 17th century St. Laurens Church, his entry in a 1913 student drawing competition which won him first prize and a gold medal.
K. It is unclear what the reference to blackmail meant.
OTHER KNOWLEDGEABLE PERSONS
Han van Meegeren’s nephew Pim Polman Tuin was in contact with Professor Frederik Kreuger (1928-2015) after the war; Kreuger was a native resident of Deventer. After his retirement from a notable academic career, Prof. Kreuger, who intimated a relationship to the Van Meegeren and/or Polman Tuin families, became an independent researcher into the life and work of Han van Meegeren. Kreuger published several books about the artist and maintained a popular web site on Van Meegeren (http://www.meegeren.net). Kreuger refused to say what relationships he had to Van Meegeren family members and descendants, direct or collateral, if any, or where any artwork of Han van Meegeren remained in the possession of any family member or other persons he claimed knowledge of. This silence was evident in an exchange of emails between Prof. Kreuger and this author. Pim Polman Tuin married Griete Löwenhardt (1935-2003), from a highly assimilated non-religious Jewish family, and as of this writing Pim Polman Tuin is believed to be living in Deventer. (23)
ANTI-SEMITISM IN PATRICIA HIGHSMITH AND HAN VAN MEEGEREN
Both her biographers, Andrew Wilson and Joan Schenkar, take note of Highsmith’s persistent indeed virulent anti-Semitism. Highsmith was raised in Fort Worth, Texas, until age six when her parents moved her to Manhattan in New York City, and then they returned to Texas when Patricia was eight. Patricia attended early elementary school in the racist and strictly segregated South. Then the family moved back to New York to settle in the borough of Queens when Patricia was nine. She now experienced a city full of ethnic and racial diversity. They moved Patricia back to Texas when she was about twelve to live with her grandparents. Patricia was back in New York at age thirteeen where she started high school in the midst of a melting pot of students from immigrant families that left her feeling like an outsider. Her parents’ marriage was a rocky one, and the constant shifting of homes was disastrous for Patricia’s emotional stability.
After high school she enrolled in the all-female prestigious Barnard College in New York City which many daughters of Jewish families attended and many notable Jewish alumnae are recognized. Highsmith undoubtedly knew directly or indirectly of Jewish classmates at Barnard. To make Highsmith’s anti-Semitism even odder are the facts of the important help she got from her first employer Ben-Zion Goldberg. And then there were her passionate relationships with her Jewish lesbian lovers, a few of whom she yearned for years after their relationships had ended. Highsmith struggled with many demons, some of which she recognized and some of which, like her racism, intense dislike of other nationalities and ethnicities, and her anti-Semitism, were knee-jerk unthinking responses welling up from deep in her fractured psyche.
Highsmith’s knowledge of Van Meegeren undoubtedly derived from her daily and wide newspaper reading, a habit started in her young school days. She was a kind of news addict in the era of print. (See footnote 13.) In the published news reports of Van Meegeren’s arrest, detention and trial nothing is said of any anti-Semitism on his part while there is much made of his Nazi collaboration and tricking Nazi art collectors into buying his forgeries. Van Meegeren’s deceit against Hermann Göring for a vast sum of money truly tickled the Dutch who hated the Nazis and the horrific German Occupation and utterly despised and abhorred Göring. That a Dutchman, even one as dodgy as Van Meegeren, got the best of that notorious Reichsmarschall was unalloyed satisfaction for the Dutch people in the months following their liberation.
Highsmith may well have kept up to date on l’Affaire Van Meegeren but unless she read the interrogation of Van Meegeren and spoke to his close friends (which she obviously did not and could not) she would have had no idea of the world that Han van Meegeren inhabited as a seller of forged Old Masters to Nazis in high places. On other hand, Van Meegeren’s private and personal world involved at least one Dutch Jew from as early as 1915, and other Dutch Jews like Bob Wallagh. Joseph “Jopie” Breemer (1875-1957) was a sweet and friendly bohemian – an artist and a poet of amusing Dutch rhymes – who maintained a very ragged Amsterdam salon which attracted young artists, writers, poets and other intellectuals. The young Han van Meegeren is said to have once visited the Jopie-hol – Jopie’s cave – where he would have found Jopie himself and the idea of a bohemian hangout much to his liking. Van Meegeren made four portraits of Jopie from 1915 to about 1941. Jopie Breemer and Han van Meegeren traveled around Europe together several times in the 1920s, sometimes in the company of other friends. In 1942 Jopie went into hiding in The Hague where he lived, having left Amsterdam around 1914. He chose hiding rather than fulfilling his obligation to report himself to the German Occupation census of Dutch Jews. That infamous census became the arrest and deportation list for most of the Jews in the Netherlands, except for ones who like Jopie went into hiding. Jopie’s non-Jewish wife continued to run their dancing school in The Hague – they had opened it together before the war – while keeping her hidden husband alive until the liberation. (24) There was no known contact between Han and Jopie before Jopie went into hiding or after the war ended.
While Highsmith referred to herself as “Pat H, alias Ripley” it isn’t clear that she imparted her anti-Semitism to Tom Ripley. In The Talented Mr. Ripley it appears that Herbert Greenleaf, the father of Dickie Greenleaf, may be Jewish if only by his name, but that ethnic label isn’t directly applied by Highsmith. “Greenleaf” is found with many differing name origins. Gruenblatt is a common family name, which translates into Greenleaf, among Ashkenazi Jews who’ve long predominated in New York City. It may have been an unconscious choice that Highsmith made. A reading of her cahiers might reveal something about the name choice.
One of the pervading themes in The Talented Mr. Ripley, is the homoerotic attraction Tom feels for Dickie Greenleaf. Highsmith plays with Tom Ripley’s homoerotic emotions like a Bach partita, most particularly after Tom murders Dickie Greenleaf. Tom Ripley travels inside and outside of Dickie’s identity – sometimes he’s Tom, sometimes he’s Dickie. Highsmith never includes any mention of the Greenleafs Jewishness, if that was the case. Neither Father Herbert Geenleaf nor son Dickie Greenleaf are endearing characters. They are wealthy: Herbert is rich and arrogant, Dickie is rich and spoiled but is essentially a decent guy. Is “greenleaf” an echo of the old American paper greenback, the precursor of the modern US Dollar? If the Greenleafs are Jewish (and so highly assimilated as hardly to seem Jewish in the way Highsmith felt about Jews), then is Tom Ripley’s homicide of Dickie in part recognition that Pat/Tom is killing a wealthy Jewish son of a wealthy Jewish father? Yet Tom Ripley goes on to impersonate and quite literally inhabit the being of the dead Dickie by taking his name and wearing his rings and clothing.
Does Tom Ripley become a Jew? Her anti-Jewish hatred was a deep and persistent undercurrent in Highsmith’s personality and outlook but anti-Semitism would have complicated and thrown the focus off the plot of Tom Ripley’s life and adventures. To focus on Tom’s waywardness she have had to eliminate any mention of Jewishness. This is admittedly supposition but the documented history of Highsmith’s attitudes towards Jews – all rich and obnoxious – makes for unique “what ifs.” Of course, her editors and publishers would undoubtedly have edited out any pronounced anti-Semitic descriptions, references or allusions. But was “Greenleaf” a hidden clue that got past her editors? Did she ever know someone named Greenleaf or Gruenblatt? Or someone who she worked with or had contact with during her days at Ben-Zion Goldberg’s FFF Publishers? A query to Barnard College didn’t turn up any student named Greenleaf or Gruenblatt in Highsmith’s years there. Born in Lithuania the well-educated son of a rabbi, Goldberg emigrated with his family to the US where his father changed the family name. He was the son-in-law of the great Yiddish playwright, novelist and humorous story teller, Sholem Aleichem. It would have taken Highsmith little time to find out Goldberg’s antecedents or about his prominent father-in-law, even if she wasn’t told directly by Goldberg himself.
Highsmith may have modeled Tom Ripley on Han van Meegeren but she certainly seemed unaware that Van Meegeren had a long-time, off-and-on friendship with the (very secular) Jewish Dutchman Jopie Breemer. Van Meegeren had other Jewish friends, also highly assimilated Dutch Jews whose everyday demeanors were that of any Dutchmen. Highsmith’s own anti-Semitism never abated even given the Jews in her own life who helped her in her literary career, were her editors, were the Jewish women she loved and who loved her, and were her Jewish friends. Highsmith compartmentalized her life and relationships in order to maintain a semi-tidy existence.
Patricia Highsmith’s personality is very difficult to understand but she remains eminently readable and interesting. Her knowledge of Han van Meegeren was far from a complete picture of the man and her appropriation of part of his personality for modeling Tom Ripley has something of artistic license about it. The real Han van Meegeren and the fictional Tom Ripley are unforgettable but neither are wholly admirable. And they are really quite different in personality.
It may prove useful to look at the real and fictional characters of Han van Meegeren and Tom Ripley in terms of their personality traits. A trait is a habitual pattern of behavior, thought, and emotion. In the 20th century psychologists of personality developed a variety of taxonomies – broad categories of an individual’s habitual traits which could help to understand that individual. The lists varied in numbers of categories. The shortest taxonomy consisted of five categories. This so-called Big Five taxonomy was designed broadly to integrate all traits and cultures and was agreed by consensus among psychologists of personality. The naming of each trait category differs among various Big Five taxonomies only in the use of synonyms for the category’s label. One such taxonomy is used here as a conceptual framework, not as a final and prescriptive diagnosis for Van Meegeren and Tom Ripley. Patricia Highsmith probably didn’t refer to such a taxonomy but instead found what appealed to her in taking a trait or some aspect of personality from Van Meegeren and giving it to Ripley. It seems to have worked well in her mind as a novelist, as it did for her readers.
A TAXONOMY OF PERSONALITY TRAITS OF TOM RIPLEY AND HAN VAN MEEGEREN
TRAIT: Positive/Negative TOM RIPLEY HAN van MEEGEREN
OPENNESS (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
CONSCIENTIOUSNESS (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)
easy-going/careless (but organized in his study of forgery techniques)
EXTRAVERSION (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
NEUROTICISM (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident).
sensitive/nervous while later he becomes more secure/confident
AGREEABLENESS (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached)
Both Tom Ripley and Han van Meegeren displayed traits as adventurous, exploitative, personally charming, and attracted to the illicit. Both had a strict upbringing with an emotionally cold and domineering parent or other adult relative in loco parentis (Han’s father, Tom’s aunt), and both had artistic talent. According to the above taxonomy these two men were basically very different personalities although, like all of us, they would sometimes display traits that weren’t basic to themselves. In effect, they could slip some of their personality traits on and off like a coat.
How did Patricia Highsmith herself score on this taxonomy of personality? Her view of personality is a profoundly personal concept. Highsmith tried psychoanalysis – unsuccessfully – and found no answers to what troubled her. She was not an especially self-reflective woman although she did try to be self-analytical, mostly in her young adult and middle years. Her diaries reveal her anguish about her life and relationships. Her biographers reveal a great deal more about Highsmith’s childhood and her relationship with a mother who herself had a bizarre narcissistic personality. The two – mother and daughter – indulged in mutual loathing and wrote to each other in incredibly hateful and spiteful words. Since Highsmith refers to herself in closing a letter as “Pat H, alias Ripley,” and she pronounced her liking for the way Han Van Meegeren lived his life as an artist, some of the traits in the Big Five could be reflected in Highsmith’s own personality.
Highsmith could be both inventive/curious and consistent/cautious from her school days to her mature years. She was organized and only occasionally careless. She preferred a solitary and reserved existence and was very unhappy and awkward in social settings. She was a sensitive and nervous woman although in her early years she was known to adults other than her mother as having charm and intelligence as a child. Except for her lovers, she hated to be touched by others, avoiding handshaking and hugs if she could – she stiffened or pulled away when they happened. She had trouble coming to terms with her sexuality although she never denied it, and almost all of her lesbian relationships ended badly (she rocketed from instant eternal love to near-hate when it was over) although a few ended in friendships which remained until her death. Even her closest friends and long-time publishing colleagues said she was a highly disagreeable and difficult woman.
Patricia Highsmith was a completely different personality from either Tom Ripley or Han van Meegeren. Highsmith would undoubtedly have wanted to be a blend of these two but her own personality – or ethical standards – would never have permitted her to do the things that Tom Ripley and Han van Meegeren did. She wouldn’t have killed anyone although she long enjoyed the thought of her mother’s death. She was able to kill in her novels, and that may have been enough to assuage her desire to kill her mother – or at least see her dead. Highsmith had too much respect for her own talent to ever permit forgery or fakery from soiling her reputation as a writer. After reviewing her lifelong behavior some have recently claimed that Highsmith suffered from an Autism Spectrum Disorder, pointing toward what was formerly called Asperger’s Syndrome. If that was so, she was undoubtedly among the highest functioning persons intellectually of anyone with or without a disorder. Her emotional life was utterly tangled and she had no ability to sort out those emotional messes. She lived vicariously through Tom Ripley and that put her in touch with Han van Meegeren. In the end, she remained Patricia Highsmith.
HAN VAN MEEGEREN’S POST-WAR LEGACY AS AN ARTIST
As for Van Meegeren’s post-war exposure as an artist, here is a telling report that continues to show his family’s efforts to protect his legacy:
“Het was zo slecht geschilderd dat het niet van mijn stiefvader kon zijn,” zegt Yola Weber over achttien van de honderd werken, die zij zag. Derhalve hangen er 82 vervalsingen van Van Meegeren op die tentoonstelling, die morgen door de schrijfster Marie Louise Doudart en de acteur Henk van Ulson geopend wordt. De valse vervalsingen zijn verwijderd.
De eigenaars van de achttien vervalste vervalsingen, vooral particulieren hebben de werken vaak voor duizenden guldens via de kunsthandel gekocht: “Ik vind het ellendig voor deze mensen, maar de werken zijn niet echt. Ik ken het werk van mijn stiefvader al vanaf mijn vijfde jaar,” zegt Yola Weber.
Het is voor de eerste maal in de geschiedenis van de kunst dat een vervalser vervalst wordt.
(“It was so badly painted that it could not be my stepfather,” says Yola Weber about eighteen hundred works, which she saw. Therefore, 82 forgeries of Van Meegeren are hanging at the exhibition, which will be opened tomorrow by the author Marie Louise Doudart and actor Henk van Ulson. The false counterfeits were removed.
The owners of the eighteen falsified counterfeits, especially individuals who often have to work for the thousands of guilders purchased through the gallery: “I think it miserable for these people, but the works are not real. I know the work of my stepfather starting in my fifth year,” says Yola Weber.
It is the first time in the history of art a forger is forged.) (25)
This quotation raises the issue of what “false counterfeits” are. It is just as likely that art was forged and that art forgers existed long before Han van Meegeren was born, and just as likely that a forger’s own work was occasionally faked. But that issue is beyond the parameters of this study.
Viola Weber claims that she knew the Van Meegeren family since she was five years old – a rather unlikely chronological event since she was born in 1910, and in 1915 Han van Meegeren was living in Scheveningen with his first wife and two small children. In 1919, Johanna (Jo) Theresia Oerlemans (stage name Jo van Walraven) and her husband art critic Carel H. de Boer settle across the street from the Huis Ten Bosch palace in The Hague. Van Meegeren, Carel de Boer and Jo Oerlemans share a studio there.
Han and Carel de Boer, who wrote admiringly of Han’s art in 1918 in De Boer’s shortlived art journal, become acquainted just as Han’s marriage was beginning to suffer its greatest stress because of Han’s many affairs. (26) Han moved to The Hague and found himself in a very pleasant flirtation with Jo which led to an ongoing affair that Carel de Boer was aware of but to which he raised no objection. Han and his wife Anna divorced in 1923 because of Han’s intense affair with Jo, which continues until Jo and Carel divorce.
Jo and Han first lived in a ménage à trois with Carel de Boer, Viola’s biological father. Then Carel finally decamped, and Jo and Han co-habited as a married couple with Viola joining the new family. Han and Jo marry in 1928. It isn’t quite clear how young Viola was when she first met Han van Meegeren. Carel de Boer, as it happened, was chairman of the cultural affairs division of the fascist National Front party. It was founded in 1934 and originally named the Black Front but immediately after the German Occupation all parties were banned except for the Dutch National Socialist Party (NSB). Han van Meegeren and Carel de Boer were ideological soul mates.
Viola first married in 1931 in London to an up-and-coming Japanese artist Saburo Hasegawa (1906-1957); his first name sometimes appears as Sabro, the way it is pronounced in Japanese. That marriage appears in the United Kingdom and Wales Marriage Records which show that in 1931, at age 21, Viola married Hasegawa in Wandsworth, London. He had an international reputation as an abstract painter and writer. There is a Familiebericht (Family News Report) for this 1931 marriage on 28 December 1931, in the Civil Registration records and Het Vaderland, 29 December 1931. Neither family of the newlyweds are mentioned anywhere. There is no evidence as to where she was living with her new husband. That marriage seems to have ended quickly.
In 1932 Han and Jo leave for the south of France – without Viola as far as we know. Viola Weber was living in The Hague in 1934; she may have left London and returned to the family house. It appears that Viola returned to London because in 1946 she remarried, to Leendert J. Weber, in Kensington, London. Weber’s records cannot be found anywhere. Viola’s mother Jo died in Zwijndrecht in 1977 so it is possible that Viola was staying or living with her now very elderly mother at the time of the 1974 interview. Viola’s statement that she knew Han van Meegeren’s art from the time she was five years old is clearly an egregious error or mistaken memory. She seems to have left the family as soon as she could. Viola de Boer appears in print in 1974 as “Yola Weber” – Yola being a nickname for Viola. No obituary was found for Viola Weber-de Boer, in any name combination. Such records have been digitized and posted online in both the Netherlands and the UK.♦
Bolonik, Kera, “Murder, She Wrote,” at https://www.thenation.com/article/murder-she-wrote/,
20 November 2003.
Brandhof, Marijke van den, Een vroege Vermeer uit 1937. Achtergronden van de schilder/vervalser Han van Meegeren, Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1979.
Dawson, Jill, The Crime Writer, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2016.
Dirda, Michael, “This Woman Is Dangerous,” The New York Review of Books, vol. 56, no. 11, 2 July 2009. Review of The Complete Ripley Novels published by W.W. Norton.
Dolnick, Edward, The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century, New York: Harper’s, 2008.
Gardner, Geoffrey, “The Tremor of Forgery,” http://filmalert.blogspot.com/2009/06/tremor-of- forgery.html, 18 June 2009.
Guarnieri, Luigi, “La doppia vita de Vermeer,” Review by Sigrid Gaisreiter, http;//www.kunstbuchanzeiger.de/de/themen/kunst/rezensionen/587/. Despite the title this is the story of Han van Meegeren.
Halford, Macy, “Joan Schenkar on Patricia Highsmith,” The New Yorker, 28 January 2010.
Ivry, Benjamin, “Patricia Highsmith: Antisemitic Stranger on a Train,” at http://forward.com/bintel- blog/120506/-patricia-highsmith-antisemitic-stranger-on-a-trai/, 8 December 2009.
Jordison, Sam, “Tom Ripley, the likable psychopath,” at http://www.the guardian.com, 2 June 2015.
Jordison, Sam, “Mr Ripley’s great talent? Making us like a killer and his crimes,” at http://www.theguardian.com, 9 June 2015.
Kreuger, Frederik H., The Arrest of a Master Forger, Diemen, 2006.
Kreuger, Frederik H., Han van Meegeren. Master Forger, Diemen, 2004.
Lemain, Thierry, “The Narrative Structure of Forgery Tales,” 39-60, in Cultural Property Crime: An Overview and Analysis of Contemporary Perspectives and Trends, edited by Joris Kila and Marc Balcells, Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2014.
Lopez, Jonathan, The Man Who Made Vermeers. Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2008.
Meaker, Marijane, Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s, Berkeley: Cleis Press, 2003. A memoir by one of Highsmith’s lovers.
Miller, Jacqui, “The Tremors of Forgery: The Palimpsest of Tom Ripley’s Identity,” 56-66, in Clues: A Journal of Detection, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2015. This issue’s theme is “Re-Evaluating Patricia Highsmith.”
“Ontdekking van stiefdochter: Van Meegeren zélf vervalst.” Het vrĳe volk: democratisch-socialistisch dagblad, 5 September 1974.
Peters, Fiona, “The Contraction of the Heart: Anxiety, Radical Evil and Proximity in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Novels,” 189-208, in Cultural Expressions of Evil and Wickedness: Wrath, Sex, Crime, edited by Terrie Waddell, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003.
Savage, Michael, “Inside the Mind of a Forger,” at http://artintheblood.typepad.com/art_history_today/
2009/10/-inside-the-mind-of-a-forger.html, 10 September 2009.
Schenkar, Joan, The Talented Miss Highsmith. The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, New York: St. Martin’s Press/Picador, 2009; paperback 2011.
Schöffer, I., “Meegeren, Henricus Antonius van (1889-1947)”, in Biographical Dictionary of the Netherlands. [13 March 2008].
“The Self-Accused Forger of Vermeer’s Art,” The Illustrated London News, 22 December 1945, 606-607, called the story “The art sensation of the decade.”
Thorne, Sam, “The Lives and Deaths of Fictional Artists,” https://frieze.com/article/works-paper,
1 June 2011.
TIME magazine, 10 September 1945, 18 November 1946, 24 November 1947, 18 September 1950.
“Van Meegeren: Het Scherm Gaat Neer,” 10×14 inch pages with brief text accompanying b/w and color photos, published ca. 1950 as part of a newspaper supplement. Pages numbered 32-35. There is no author, journal name or date on the margins of the pages. The text and photos are not set in news page layout. These were found inside a copy of Teekeningen I owned by the author. Text is about the upcoming auction of Han van Meegeren’s estate, which took place 5 and 6 September 1950.
Wasserman, Janet I., “Han van Meegeren and His Book Teekeningen 1,” Published in 3 parts, 30 March 2016 by the Rob Scholte Museum, The Netherlands, https://robscholtemuseum.nl.
Part of this article investigates the identity of Henri Friedlaender as the designer and typographer of Van Meegeren’s book. Much of the evidence about Friedlaender is believed to exist in archives in the Netherlands where it remains unlisted in finding aids and therefore inaccessible.
Wasserman, Janet I., “Han van Meegeren and His Portraits of Theo van der Pas and Jopie Breemer,” Published 2013 at “An Independent Scholar Unbound,” http://mae08ben02x.wixsite.com/indy-scholar-unbound.
WieWasWie.nl. A collaboration of participating national and regional archives and historical and genealogical collections.
Wikipedia entry for Patricia Highsmith.
Wilson, Andrew, Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003; paperback 2010.
Barnard College Office of Alumnae Relations, New York, USA.
John Löwenhardt, Löwenhardt Foundation, Haarlem, Netherlands.
Rob Scholte, Den Helder, Netherlands.
Dr. Ulrich Weber, Swiss Literary Archives, Patricia Highsmith Papers, Bern, Switzerland.
1. “The Self-Accused Forger of Vermeer’s Art,” The Illustrated London News, 22 December 1945, 606-607, called the story “The art sensation of the decade,” 606.
2. http://www.delpher.nl. It should be said that this database is selective – it doesn’t cover every newspaper published in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the coverage is extraordinary and it is all the remote researcher has available online. The original Dutch forthis article was translated by the author.
3. 8 November-1 December 1941: Exhibition of fifty drawings by Han van Meegeren at Hotel Hampdorff in Laren. Brief notices appear in De Tijd, 7 November 1941 and De Gooi- en Eemlander, 7 November 1941. A full signed review appears in De Tijd, 20 November 1941. Van Meegeren sought the friendship of Ed Gerdes (1887-1945), a painter whose Nazi sympathies and virulent anti-Semitism grew with his membership in the NSB in the early 1930s. Gerdes, now an active Nazi, was appointed as director of the visual arts guild under the Nazi Occupation-installed Kultuurkamer. Van Meegeren’s friendship with Gerdes paid off. This author believes that it was Gerdes who helped Van Meegeren get around the severe rationing that allowed the publication of Van Meegeren’s high quality art book in 1942, Teekeningen I. See footnote 5. See Marijke van den Brandhof [1943-1989], Een vroege Vermeer uit 1937. Achtergronden van de schilder/vervalser Han van Meegeren (Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 1979), 129-132, in which she documents Van Meegeren’s wartime collaboration with Ed Gerdes, the direct commissions Van Meegeren received from the Occupation government, and his money donations to Nazi causes.
4. International Institute for Social History (Amsterdam), http://www.iisg.nl/hpw/calculate.php. While the liberating Allied forces in 1945 set an exchange rate of 2.652 guilders = 1 US dollar, which became the peg for the guilder within the Bretton Woods system, the online Axis History Forum received a posting from a reader citing the exchange rate: 4.67 guilders (.21) to US$1 in 1943. Note that the symbol for the guilder (gulden in Dutch) is fl from its older denomination as the florin. Conversion tables presently in use designate NLG for Netherlands Guilder, noting it as obsolete and replaced by the Euro; the rate is 1 NLG = 0.481758 USD. Clearly, these rates fluctuated. See also: “The Dutch Guilder” in Wikipedia; https://measuringworth.com/datasets/exchangeglobal/result.php; www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/; Axis History Forum, http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=69010; US Consumer Price Index, http://goodcalculators.com/
5. Jonathan Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers. Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2008), passim. Lopez’s investigation into Theo van Wijngaarden’s criminal art career as well as Van Meegeren’s association with Van Wijngaarden is discussed in the course of over fifty pages throughout the book.
. “Han van Meegeren and His Book Teekeningen 1,” published in 3 parts, 30 March 2016, online at the Rob Scholte Museum, The Netherlands, https://robscholtemuseum.nl. Also downloadable at “An Independent Scholar Unbound,” http://mae08ben02x.wixsite.com/indy-scholar-unbound/han-van-meegeren-and-teekeningen-1.
6. See note 1.
7. A history of the 200 paintings is in a 2012 article, Anne Laure Bandle, Alessandro Chechi, and Marc-André Renold, “Case 200 Paintings – Goudstikker Heirs and the Netherlands,” Platform ArThemis (http://unige.ch/art-adr), Centre of Art-Law, University of Geneva, at https://plone.unige.ch/art-adr/cases-affaires/200-paintings-2013-goudstikker-heirs-and-the-netherlands/case-note-200-paintings-goudstikker-heirs-and-the-netherlands. While it is an excellent chronology of the case, Van Meegeren’s name appears nowhere in this law review article. He was immmaterial to the Miedl-Göring manipulations.
8. Van Meegeren’s part in the transaction and the Goudstikker paintings are followed in Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers, 180-185. The upshot is that Göring was Miedl’s client once Miedl gained control of the Goudstikker Gallery – and Van Meegeren suffered the consequences. The 200 paintings were returned by Germany to the Dutch Government after the war and surviving members of the Goudstikker family sued later for the restitution of their property, Alan Riding “Dutch to Return Art Seized by Nazis,” The New York Times, 7 February 2006. This article is thorough but the villain is, deservedly, Miedl with no mention of Van Meegeren and his “Christ and the Adulteress” or his other forgeries. Alois Miedl is again in the news, in 2017, along with his client Göring, about those 200 artworks but this restitution suit is by the heirs of the Dutch-Jewish Lewenstein family, “Heirs Sue for Return of a Kandinsky, Saying It Was Looted by Nazis,” The New York Times, 3 March 2017. One gets the sense that Han van Meegeren, while a willing seller through Miedl, was cleverly controlled by him. Miedl was a far more high-powered art thief, with top Nazi connections, than Van Meegeren ever was.
9. Delpher newspaper database on Han van Meegeren’s illness; the reports occur through a good part of the year, and the database is easily searchable for them.
10. Marie-Louise Doudart de la Grée, Emmaus; roman [Over Han van Meegeren], (Utrecht: Bruna, 1947) and Bob Wallagh, De echte Van Meegeren, (Amsterdam: Strengholt, 1948). Doudart de la Grée published a defense of Van Meegeren in her Geen standbeeld voor Han van Meegeren: naar authentieke gegevens, (Amsterdam: Nederlandsche Keurboekerij, 1966) and later Het fenomeen: Gedramatiseerde documentaire over het leven van de kunstschilder Han van Meegeren (Omniboek, 1972).
11. John Godley, Lord Kilbracken, Han van Meegeren: Master Art Forger (New York: Funk, 1951), 28.
13. TIME, 18 September 1950.
14. About Patricia Highsmith’s reading habits: “I went through her library (not yet catalogued) but couldn’t find a book on van [sic] Meegeren. Highsmith was a daily newspaper reader and probably knew about the case in this way.” Dr. Ulrich Weber, Patricia Highsmith Papers, Swiss Literary Archives, Bern, email to the author, 11 September 2016. See Andrew Wilson, Beautiful Shadow, passim., and Joan Schenkar, The Talented Miss Highsmith, passim., for the almost daily newspaper clippings Highsmith collected and filed.
15. From her college years into her early thirties, Highsmith had an unusual and sensual beauty that was immediately noticed. Her heavy smoking and drinking – she drank daily – destroyed her looks by her fifties. The physical changes from her twenties until she died are astonishing. Similar changes are noticed in Van Meegeren who was also a heavy smoker and drinker. He was a dapper young man bordering on handsome. His photos at the trial appear to be of an exhausted much older man than his real age and in poor health.
16. The Times (London), 25 January 1969; Highsmith “indicated that her inspiration for the novel came from the notorious Dutch painter, Hans [sic] van Meegeren”; Andrew Wilson, Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003; paperback 2010), 295, and Joan Schenkar, The Talented Miss Highsmith. The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith (New York: Picador, 2009), 39, 580. Both biographies misspell Han van Meegeren’s first name as Hans. Highsmith’s Ripley novels are: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), Ripley Under Ground (1970), Ripley’s Game (1974), The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980), and Ripley Under Water (1992).
17. Patricia Highsmith, Ripley Under Ground, 71, 72.
18. In the blog Film Alert, the entry “The Tremor of Forgery,” 18 June 2009, by Australian film critic Geoff Gardner, at his earlier blog: https://www.blogger.com/profile/.
19. Joan Schenkar, The Talented Miss Highsmith, 25.
20. Biographers Andrew Wilson and Joan Schenkar provide full descriptions of Highsmith’s illnesses, final hospitalization, death, and funeral.
21. Published at http://www.dodenakkers.nl/beroemd/kunst/165-meegeren.html. The obituary was posted in 2009 with an update on the literature for 2011; Ten Dam’s sources are not listed. This web site is an enterprise dedicated to memorializing Dutch persons great and small, especially as regards their gravesites anywhere in the world they are found. Dodenakker is a common Dutch reference to a cemetery.
22. “The Funeral” at http://www.dodenakkers.nl/beroemd/kunst/165-meegeren.html.
23. Griete Löwenhardt (1935-2003) Interview, 3 April 1997 [Interviewer unknown]. Courtesy of John Löwenhardt of the Löwenhardt Foundation at http://loewenhardtfoundation.org. An email message to Pim Polman Tuin wasn’t responded to.
24. “Han van Meegeren and His Portraits of Theo van der Pas and Jopie Breemer.” Published online 2016 at “An Independent Scholar Unbound,” http://mae08ben02x.wixsite.com/indy-scholar-unbound.
25. “Ontdekking van stiefdochter: Van Meegeren zélf vervalst,” Het vrije volk, 5 September 1974. The introduction to the main body of the news article is in italics:
TILBURG/ZWIJNDRECHT -”Meestervervalser” Han van Meegeren blijkt vervalst te worden.
Zijn stiefdochter Yola Weber (64) uit Zwijndrecht constateerde dat deze week toen zij op verzoek kwam kijken naar de inrichting van een overzichttentoonstelling van Van Meegerens werk in het Cultureel centrum te Tilburg.
(Tilburg/Zwijndrecht – “Master Forger” Han van Meegeren found to be falsified.
His stepdaughter Yola Weber (64) from Zwijndrecht found that this week when they came to look at the request for the establishment of a retrospective of Van Meegeren’s work at the Cultural Centre in Tilburg.)
RE: Henk van Ulson or Ulsen (1927-2009), a well-known award-winning stage actor who also had a film career, was openly homosexual and a friend of Doudart de la Grée who wrote a memoir about him. Van Meegeren’s friendship with Ulson and Doudart (and other gay people in the stage and film community) was evidence of Van Meegeren’s liberal and open acceptance of gayness, mostly people he knew in the arts. It flies in the face of his strict early Catholic upbringing and his later acceptance of fascist and Nazi ideology and propaganda that persecuted homosexuals.
26. H. de Boer, “Nieuew Stroomingen in de Hedendaagsche Schilderkunst,” De Cicerone, 1918, 89-96. An image of Jopie Breemer is on p. 90.