Summer Newsletter: Art in Boijmans and in the port of Rotterdam
20 June 2010

Van Meegeren's fake Vermeers

The museum almost had a real Vermeer in its collection, but The Supper at Emmaus turned out to be a fake Vermeer by the master forger Han van Meegeren.

"The Supper at Emmaus" viewed by Dirk Hannema (r), then director of Museum Boymans, and Hendrik Luitwieler (l), restorer. Photo: Frequin, 1938.

Until 22 August 2010


Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen presents ‘Van Meegeren’s Fake Vermeers’, an exhibition of the famous forgeries of Han van Meegeren. Van Meegeren craftily exploited art historians’ desire to discover early works by Johannes Vermeer. In 1937 the director of Museum Boymans, Dirk Hannema, became enthusiastic about a recently discovered painting by Vermeer: The Supper at Emmaus. He purchased the painting for 540,000 guilders, a huge sum at that time. There was enormous interest in the painting. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam even offered Vermeer’s The Love Letter in exchange for the painting, but Hannema rejected the offer. And so Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen missed its opportunity to have a real Vermeer in its collection.


How did Han van Meegeren manage to deceive art historians at the time? Van Meegeren’s most successful painting, The Supper at Emmaus, is an excellent illustration of his technique. He painted the forgery on an authentic seventeenth-century canvas, which he bought from an art dealer. He scraped off the original painting and painted his subject with historical paints. It takes years for oil paint to dry completely and so Van Meegeren used a different substance to bind his pigments: bakelite, a modern material that was mainly used in electronics. When heated it created a hard paint surface, which gave the impression that The Supper at Emmaus was centuries old. This technique, in combination with a carefully chosen subject and composition, made Van Meegeren’s work so convincing to art experts at the time. The Rijksmuseum, which also has works by Van Meegeren in its collection, has carried out extensive technical research into his technique.

Concurrently with ‘Van Meegeren’s Fake Vermeers’ the Mauritshuis in The Hague is hosting the exhibition ‘The Young Vermeer’. The exhibition explores Vermeer’s development by focusing on three early works. Our unique association with the Mauritshuis offers discounts to visitors to both museums during the exhibition. You will get a discount of € 1,50 on production of a Boijmans admission ticket at the Mauritshuis cash desk on a normal price of € 12 and vice versa you will get a discount of € 2,50 on production of a Mauritshuis admission ticket at the Boijmans cash desk on a on normal price of € 10. Tickets are valid from 12 May to 22 August 2010. Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offers.