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Thunderclap & The Man who made Vermeers

Thunderclap by Observer Art Critic Laura Cumming is the story of the life and death of Dutch 17th century artist Carel Fabritius.

In fact much more is known about his death in 1654 when his house collapsed after a gunpowder  depot explosion in Delft.

As for his life, he was born in the village of Meetendam and worked as an apprentice under Rembrandt van Rijn and as a painter in Delft when its more famous artist was Johannes Vermeer.

Only a few paintings by Fabritius survive – notably a View of Delft in which a musician contemplates the town with his lute by his side.

The picture can be found in the Dutch room of the National Gallery.

To fill the gaps in the Fabritius story Cumming writes of her relatively unknown Scottish father, also an artist, James Cumming.

Laura Cumming is no stranger to writing about her family as On Chapel Sands depicts her abduction on a Lincolnshire beach and the conspiracy of silence afterwards.

She also writes of the emergence of Dutch art as it removed itself from the shackles of Spain.

It is estimated that, as literally the Dutch bought into a free art market, 1.3 million works of art were produced in that 17th century period.

The most famous artists of this period were Rembrandt and Vermeer – though the latter’s genius was recognised far later and his canon of work was no more than forty.

Thus he was vulnerable to forgery and this is featured in Jonathan Lopez’s The Man who made Vermeers.

This is the story of master forger Han van Megeeren.

He was tried as a collaborator after World War Two for selling one of his “Vermeers” – Christ and the Abductress to that serial looter Herman Goering.

He avoided sentence as a collaborator by admitting it was a forgery and it was an act of Dutch nationalism.

In fact Lopez’s research indicates that Van Meegeren was a collaborator who presented a book to Adolf Hitler and had many neo-Nazi colleagues in the art world.

Many of those colluded in the forgeries by obtaining false validations from so-called art experts.  This just proves the extent that a dealer will go to make a sale as these validations were well rewarded.

Van Meegeren even invented a catholic phase of Vermeer. It is true that in order to marry Vermeer did convert to Catholicism but he was never a biblical painter.

Van  Meegeren  also painted in a Nazi volkisch genre to appeal more to the German occupiers of Holland. All in all not a very edifying story of Dutch collaboration and the chicanery of the art world.

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About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts