Han van Meegeren held a grudge. The art establishment had failed to recognise his genius, so he duped the critics by painting the perfect forgery. In 1936 he created a ‘Vermeer’, called it The Supper at Emmaus, and sold it to The Rembrandt Society for the equivalent of £4 million. Many more forgeries followed and van
Meegeren became exceedingly rich.
Should van Meegeren’s skills be admired? If he fooled the experts, does it follow that van Meegeren’s forgeries are as accomplished as Vermeer’s paintings? Is a perfect forgery as good as the real thing?
One of my favourite paintings in the National Gallery is by Vermeer. Painted in the early 1670s, it depicts a woman staring directly out of the canvas as if at the viewer, surprised but apparently not displeased by the viewer’s intrusion into her private boudoir. Painting is a form of communication. When Vermeer created that painting he was communicating something authentic to the people who would look at it, to me and you. Vermeer’s authentic voice is still speaking to us today, cutting through language, time and place. Van Meegeren’s forgeries, however, are all but forgotten: they have nothing authentic to communicate.
On the day of Pentecost a crowd of 120 believers had gathered together. A sound like the rush of a powerful wind swept through the house. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in strange tongues, yet they all understood. It was a communication, something meaningful that would live with them. It was no forgery, it was not fake news. It was an authentic voice, a voice cutting through language, time and place, a voice that is still speaking to us, still empowering the Church, today.