Review: The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick

Review: The Forger’s Spell by Edward DolnickThe Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick
Amazon|The Book Depository
Pages: 349
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Art, History

As riveting as a World War II thriller, The Forger's Spell is the true story of Johannes Vermeer and the small-time Dutch painter who dared to impersonate him centuries later. The con man's mark was Hermann Goering, one of the most reviled leaders of Nazi Germany and a fanatic collector of art.

It was an almost perfect crime. For seven years a no-account painter named Han van Meegeren managed to pass off his paintings as those of one of the most beloved and admired artists who ever lived. But, as Edward Dolnick reveals, the reason for the forger's success was not his artistic skill. Van Meegeren was a mediocre artist. His true genius lay in psychological manipulation, and he came within inches of fooling both the Nazis and the world. Instead, he landed in an Amsterdam court on trial for his life.


I really enjoyed Dolnick’s The Forger’s Spell, but it was a choppy read. There was a little too much information for just one book, and you could immediately tell the level to which Dolnick researched but he often jumped from subject to subject without much continuity.

This book was part World War II history (particular to Nazi looting), biography, art history, and a forgery how-to. I would definitely recommend this book to someone already partly familiar with World War II art crime subjects and the Van Meergan case.

While a large majority of the book is summarized as the tale of art forger Han Van Meegeran and how he cheated Hermann Goering out of millions of dollars by selling him “Vermeer’s”. For me this book seemed to be more focused on how Van Meergeran fooled the entire art community and several acclaimed art critics. Very little was said about the Goering Vermeer deal.

Perhaps the mystifying part of this novel was how so many renowned art critics praised Van Meegeran’s Christ at Emmaus as the best Vermeer they’ve ever encountered when in reality it was one of the greatest forgeries ever constructed. As a museum and auction professional who has had similar run ins with forgeries I found that particular part of this story remarkable. Van Meegeran’s capture was also another surprising part of this story – but I won’t spoil it for any potential readers.

Recommended to art lovers, art crime enthusiasts, and those who don’t mind choppy transition between subjects.

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