The Last Vermeer centers around the trial of Han Van Meegeren, widely considered the most successful forger of all time. After the capture of Hitler’s Nazi army, Dutch officials started arresting the Nazi sympathizers. Van Meegeren was charged with treason for selling valuable Vermeer paintings to German military leader, Hermann Göring.
The film follows the trial and investigates the spiral web of affairs, in order to find out the real truth.
What was a Vermeer?
A Vermeer referred to a priceless painting by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, who lived during the 16th century. His paintings were considered historically valuable and thus art lovers were ready to pay any amount to hang a Vermeer on their wall. In the film, a similar incident happens with Hitler who was a famous art lover. During World War 2, he confiscated the world’s most prestigious art to feed his pride.
But after the war, these artworks went missing. The Allied forces assemble a special department to retrieve the lost art, and the film follows the investigation of a Vermeer’s painting, Christ and the Adulteress, that was sold to Nazi leader Goring by dutch art dealer Han van Meegeren. Allied Provisional Officer, Captain Joseph Piller arrests Van Meegeren for treason and selling State property to Nazis.
Did Van Meegeren’s sell original Vermeer Paintings?
Van Meegeren didn’t confess it directly but Joseph‘s assistant Minna found out similarities in the faces of Vermeer’s painting and a painting that wasn’t even a hundred years old. Thus proving that Van Meegeren’s Vermeer were a fake, a forgery.
Later, in prison, Van Meegeren confesses that he painted those forged paintings himself but didn’t tell him because no one would have believed that an uncelebrated painter like Van Meegeren could paint like Vermeer. He said, “I am merely a lost artist who found his calling imitating the masters.”
How did Van Meegeren sell his forged paintings as real ones?
During the 1950s, the only method to verify the age of paintings was to employ a chemical test. In the rigorous process, the final arbiter is the application of alcohol to a tiny portion of the canvas. Oil paints dry and harden over time and thus if the paint on the paintings dissolves, that signifies it’s fake and not aged.
To make his paintings real, and pass the alcohol test, Van Meegeren mixed a plastic resin called Bakelite in his paints. When heated, it perfectly emulates the hardness and consistency of centuries-old oil paint.
How did Joseph prove Van Meegeren Innocent?
To win the case, Joseph had to prove that Goring’s Vermeer, sold to him by Van Meegeren, was fake. At the beginning of the film, Joseph hid Van Meegeren in his office, where he painted day and night. The painting he was working on was a replica of Vermeer’s biblical series. But no one was ready to accept that the painting was a replica. Even museum owner Dirk Hannema called the painting 280 years old.
Van Meegeren cunningly painted Joseph’s face in the painting yet no one believed his words. With only one thing left to do, Joseph created a chaotic diversion in the court and threw acid on the painting that burnt the plastic Bakelite, revealing H.V.M initials on the canvas, justifying that it was indeed a forgery made by Van Meegeren. After the charade was over, Han van Meegeren was found innocent and all charges were dropped against him.
‘The Last Vermeer’ Ending Explained – The Real Truth
At the end of the movie, Detective De Klerks, the man in charge of Van Meegeren’s case, visits Joseph. He hands him a hardcover book that holds a collection of Van Meegeren’s art. According to Joseph’s knowledge, the Americans found another copy of the book in Hitler’s private library. De Klerks insists Joseph check the dedication page, which might change his perceptions regarding the master forger.
The dedication page was a tribute to Hitler by Van Meegeren, revealing his true colors. He was actually a Nazi hiding in the cloak of an art forger.
A final confrontation between Joseph and Van Meegeren proves the point strongly. The conversation is highly symbolic in nature. It lays down that in order to avoid a death sentence, he confessed to the less offensive act of selling forgeries to Nazis and thereby replenishing their treasury. Whatever he did, he did entirely for himself and there wasn’t any patriotic or artistic feeling attached to it. Van Meegeren was a chameleon with grey colors, Joseph underlined.
Joseph briefly communicated that a great artist faces reality rather than skipping the hardships by selling his own morality. Van Meegeren was not an artist but a flatterer who tried to please the ruling men, critics, and doubting sheep to become a hero. The act of an artist is black and white, he either creates art with his soul or not at all. But Van Meegeren is grey. He could have been great, he had the talent but he made simpler choices in life. Maybe he wasn’t brave enough to walk through the fire, Joseph pointed.
In the end, Joseph takes away Van Meegeren’s book which was substantial evidence to prove his guilt, and put him on a death sentence. But, no matter how bitter he might be with the fake man, Joseph let him live. He threw the book in fire and destroyed the evidence. He went to the farm to live with his wife and son. Out of guilt, Van Meegeren suffered a heart attack, six weeks after the trial.
The Last Vermeer is a historical film based on real-life events. It is based on a book written by Jonathan Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers. The film is directed by Dan Friedkin.