The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Initial thoughts on completion:
This was a really fascinating book. It combined several of my favorite subjects, and in some cases informed new interests - history in general, World War II, Nazis, art in general, Vermeer, Dutch painting, forensic analysis, psychological motivation, crime, and detective work. I feel like a much more rounded person having read this. It was fascinating to watch the story unfold and Dolnick did a great job of providing other examples and similar scenarios to explain and inform. One of my favorite quotes, that I feel really embodies the essence of the book (and my interest in it) comes from the 5th chapter: "We turn to science to free ourselves from the fallible judgments of human experts, and we find that the scientific tests themselves require human interpretation." I have a much better appreciation for the science that is the job of an art critic, and a better realization of the intricacy that is history. I like to think that I know the truth, or have the skills to discover it, but now realize that reality is subjective and largely up to our own perceptions and the lens through which we view it. Eventually the entire mess will be untangled, but until that happens, we must take the information we have and formulate our opinions and understandings. It is important to retain an open mind while doing this, however, because as new information surfaces, our opinions may need to be altered.
Reasons to read:
If you have any interest in art, art crime, or World War II, this is a great one. It's definitely different than most books out there (at least, that I've read to this point). The chapters are really short, which (let's face it) are a plus, especially if you are a busy person with limited time for recreational reading. It is very clear and the story is easy to follow. Even though you know how it ends - Hitler dies, they catch the forger (not a spoiler - the book would not exist if we still thought they were authentic Vermeers) - the twists and periodic change in focus keep it interesting. I found my sympathies shifting, first against and then for Van Meegeren and back again, hoping the Nazis find treasures, then hoping they fall for the fakes, then feeling bad for their gullibility. Overall, I'm glad I bought it.
It makes you want to know so much more about all the smaller side scandals and historical points brought up, so it's going to be a huge time sucker if you follow all the new leads and questions it opens up.
Probably when the actual process of forgery was explained. Who knew it took so much work to make something new appear so old? The tricks he used were ingenious, and it was described very well, which is commendable, as technical explanations and jargon can become laborious at times.
In summary, a great book for many interests and worth the time it took to read it.
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