Han van Meegeren (1889-1947); Oil on Board; Child Blowing Bubbles


Origin: Dutch
Period: Early / Mid Twentieth Century
Provenance: The Tony Haynes Collection
Date: c.1930-45
Canvas Height: 13 inches
Canvas Width: 11 inches

Painted in oils on board, depicting a small child, three quarter bust, blowing bubbles, presented in the original gilt frame, and signed lower right H van Meegeren.

A painterly picture, the cheerfully expressive style is not so typical of the artist's work, being a rather more joyous subject than most of his paintings, displaying flagrant use of colour, rather than the usual darker nineteenth century style.  This piece would have been painted towards the end of his life and the technique is very competent, with the use of light particularly well rendered to the eyes and lone bubble, the overall balance of colours pleasing, the child looking curiously somewhere between apprehension and joy, perhaps waiting to break into a smile at any moment. We know van Meegeren painted in various styles and qualities, and experts at Bonhams, Christies and Sothebys have recently confirmed the picture as an original. This picture compares in style with, most notably, two of his other works, the first ‘Mother and Child’ and the second, ‘Die Ziegenhirtin’.

To the reverse of the painting are the remains of a South African label that reads; “P?.W. H. M?. erloo kunssentrum du Toit street 272 pretoria foon 3-7549”. From this we can deduce that the picture was framed (and probably painted) at least sixty years ago because the South African phone number on the label is only five digits long. Our investigations have led us to the Pretorian Art Museum along with several other galleries in and around Pretoria and South Africa and all signs of this mysterious ‘art centre’ seem to have vanished since, with 272 du Toit St. being close to the city centre, but almost downtown today. We therefore have no reason to believe there is any significance in the South African framer's label other than the strong links between the Dutch and the Afrikaans, thus giving the picture more credibility.

Born in 1889, the tale of Han Van Meegeren, the most notorious and celebrated forger of the 20th century, is an extraordinary one. Forging paintings of some of the world's most famous artists, including Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch, Gerard ter Borch and Johannes Vermeer, his talent for drawing and painting was discovered at a young age. By 1913 Van Meegeren established himself as a painter in The Hague, where he won many commissions for portraits and his first forgeries date to 1923, being two portraits in the style of Frans Hals. Leaving for the South of France in the company of his then wife, Van Meegeren created his most famous forgery, a version of the Men of Emmaus, attributed to Vermeer. The sale of this and other forgeries brought him millions of guilders. In 1939 Van Meegeren returned to the Netherlands and in 1943 one of his forgeries was sold to Hitler’s right hand man Hermann Goering, giving Van Meegeren the title of ‘the man who swindled Goering’. After the war investigations into the sales of Dutch cultural heritage and thus illegal trade finally found leads to Van Meegeren. Considered a traitor, Van Meegeren decided to disclose the fact that he was the creator of this and many other paintings, to escape punishment, and remarkably, to prove his point Van Meegeren painted a 'Vermeer' from his jail cell. In November 1947 he was sentenced to one year in prison but suffered a heart attack soon after hearing the verdict and died in hospital, never serving his sentence.

This original work by a revered and multi talented artist, and one with a huge cult following, represents, in some way, the vanity, gullibility, artistic skill, greed, malice, and sense of fun, which encompasses all of his work. Van Meegeren still haunts the art world to this day, and make no mistake, he was a talented artist in his own right, but not only that, he made people stop and think what they value in a picture, and just why they do so.