When it comes to making a quick buck or trying to change how history is remembered few do it in quite the way that forgers do. It takes immense skill and knowledge to get someone to believe a forgery whether it is forging checks, historical documents, diaries or famous works of art, there is a dedication to the craft that is rarely found in any other type of crime. These forgers of the 20th century were able to fool the world…for a while at least. Some made millions, others found themselves in prison and a few just made a name for themselves in the history books. Click through the list to see some of the greatest forgers (and their forgeries) of the 20th century.
Han Van Meegerean Painted Himself Out of a Death Sentence
Han Van Meegeren was a Dutch painter who tried his hand at a successful art career around the turn of the century. He enjoyed painting in the style of the old Dutch masters and he had quite the skill for it. But by 1928, taste in paintings had changed and people we looking for more modern art styles rather than works done as the old Dutch masters. Critics began to pan Han van Meegeren as having no originality or skill outside of copying the work of others.
To that end van Meegeren decided to show the world that he could not only copy the Dutch masters but he could produce works of art that were even better than what the old masters had produced. He spent six years in study practicing his methods for copying the works of Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, Gerad ter Borch and Johannes Vermeer. He was successful and by the end of his self-imposed period of study he was creating works of art that were passing as originals. He started to sell his forgeries with even experts in the field crediting them as originals and previously unknown works of art by the old masters.
However, when the war came one of van Meegeren’s agents ended up selling one of his Vermeer forgeries to the Nazis. When it was discovered in an Austrian salt mine along with other looted Nazi art, experts traced the unknown Vermeer back to van Meegeren. Van Meegeren was then charged with selling Dutch cultural artifacts to the enemy, a crime punishable by death. With a stiff penalty over his head, van Meegeren confessed that the Vermeer was actually a forgery and therefore he had not sold Dutch cultural property. To prove his innocence, he painted another forgery in front of experts, revealing his secrets and that the Vermeer was a fake. Instead of death he was sentenced to one year in prison but he suffered a heart attack and died before his sentence could be carried out.