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 Jacques Henri Emil Van Meegeren  (1912 - 1977)

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Lived/Active: Holland      Known for: illustration and painting

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Ad Code: 4
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from Auction House Records.
Portrait of a lady
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Jacques van Meegeren (26 August 1912 in Rijswijk, Netherlands – 26 October 1977 in Amsterdam), born Jacques Henri Emil van Meegeren, was a Dutch Illustrator and painter.

He is also considered to be a forger of the work of his father Han van Meegeren.  He was, however, less gifted and his forgeries adversely affected the reputation of his father’s work.

Youth

Jacques van Meegeren was born 26 August 1912 in the little village of Rijswijk near The Hague, Holland, four months after the marriage of his parents. His future life would be affected by the notoriety of his father and the exotic descent of his mother who stemmed from an Indonesian royal family. In 1915 his sister Inez was born.

Jacques adored his father and loved being allowed to go to his father’s studio and help him with cleaning brushes and suchlike.[2] When he grew older his father took him along to art dealers and museums teaching him how to look at and assess works of art and paintings. He soon began to sketch and draw, indicating he had some talent for it.

Stay in Indonesia

In 1923 his parents divorced. It is not certain whether Jacques followed his mother to Paris at that time or remained in The Hague, it is known, however, that in 1927 he went with his mother and sister to Sumatra[3]. They went to live there with his mother’s family who were directly related to the Sultan of Serdang. Jacques attended the government HBS – a high school – in nearby Medan, traveling every day in a little steam train. A charming incident occurred at that time.

Jacques and his mother made a visit to the Sultan of Serdang. This Sultan had a small harem of eleven wives, the youngest of whom was very beautiful. He introduced his nephew to this woman and instructed her to entertain his guest as best as she could. Jacques enjoyed the most idyllic moments with this young woman; it was an exotic way for a boy of 16 to be initiated into the secrets of love.

Choice of a profession

In 1930, when Jacques turned 18, he came back from the East Indies. His father was happy to see his son and took him with him to his many friends, fellow-artists of the The Hague Art Circle, painters and actors. They visited theatres and restaurants; for Jacques it was a joyful introduction to the high life of The Hague where father Van Meegeren spent his money freely.

Father van Meegeren warned Jacques not to become an artist as it was too uncertain a profession. Jacques was sufficiently clever to attend university and he had a talent for technical themes. He thus went to study electrical engineering at the Sorbonne in Paris. In addition to his studies he continued to paint and draw just as his father had done in his youth.


Student years

From 1931 on Jacques studied in Paris. He lived in an attractive studio on Boulevard Raspail and enjoyed an ample allowance from his father. The following scene provides a good picture of his life:

Jacques received a letter from his cousins, the Prince Royal of Serdang and the Prince Royal of Deli, Sumatra. They came to visit the Colonial Exhibition in Paris that featured exotic temples and pavilions, with the Balinese style pavilion of the Dutch East Indies being the finest of all. The princes asked Jacques to make up their daily program. During the day they had to pay official visits, but after these they changed into street clothing and their jewels were hidden in the hotel safe, but they still wore their velvet topies (Indonesian caps). In all the Parisian nightclubs the group frequented, Jacques was seen as a kind of leader. The most attractive Parisian and foreign “vedettes” were nightly in their company. The famous French actress Mistinguett was besotted with the Prince Royal of Deli and followed him everywhere. The partying lasted a month.

Jacques kept the reputation of being an Indian prince and became popular among the female students. The good life continued.

Relationship with his father

After his studies ended, Jacques worked for a period in the electro technical industry [7] but a regular lifestyle did not suit him. He became a journalist and illustrator and worked for Parisian magazines, but he got some kind allowance from his father as well.

Jacques paid incidental visits to his father who lived at that time in Roquebrune, Southern France, were he prepared and created his most notorious fake, the Supper at Emmaus, although Jacques didn’t know that at that time.

In 1938 father Van Meegeren suggested Jacques to visit the great exhibition of Old Dutch Masters in Rotterdam and have a special look on the newly discovered Supper at Emmaus by Vermeer. When his father asked later on what impression the picture had made on him, Jacques’ reaction was remarkable:
”It is a masterpiece of this century, certainly no Vermeer.”
”To whom do you attribute it then?”
”To you, Dad,” Jacques said. “I can see it from the long and outsized form of the heads. The eyelids are your way of painting (...) the wine glass and the white pitcher are also in your possession.”
His father did not speak another word and Jacques kept the secret of his father. They didn't discuss the matter anymore until 1945, when the fake came to light.

Marriage

The 22nd September 1938 Jacques married in Paris with Lucienne Combey, a girl from Annecy near the Swiss border. Opposition by the family – especially by her father – was severe, but the couple persevered.

They went to live in Paris on a better address than a starting journalist could afford but they were helped out by father Van Meegeren, who at that time already earned much money with his forgeries.

In 1939 their daughter Michèle was born, in 1942 their daughter Chantal.

During World War II (1939–1940) the couple lived in Paris. Jacques traveled between Paris and Holland which was remarkable in itself in full war-time. He also had a home in Amsterdam. Around the end of the war Lucienne went to live with her two children with her parents in Annecy, as there was no food to left in Paris.

After the war Jacques traveled to Holland to help his father who had been arrested for his fraud with the Supper at Emmaus and other fake Masters. Jacques didn’t unite with his family in Annecy and had no money to help them out. He only wrote letters with vague plans and futile promises for money. In a sense he abandoned his family.

After a while Lucienne got tired of all vain promises and went her own way. She, however, refused to divorce Jacques so that a peculiar situation arose: they never lived together any more, but when Jacques later on met another woman he couldn’t marry her because of the still existing marriage.

Amsterdam

From 1946 on Jacques lived in Amsterdam in the house at the Amstel-quay where he was registered since 1940. His father, however, didn’t need much help; on the contrary, he helped his son to become a painter.

When Han taught his son to paint portraits, he was a stern tutor. When Jacques had finished a portrait and a small part – for instance a hand – was not good enough, he made him do the complete portrait again. Han used to say: “What you have done once, you do better next time.”
Jacques became a capable portraitist and his father’s best pupil. Jacques goal was to render the character of a model in his paintings, also when children were concerned.

After two years waiting his father’s trial began in October 1947. Jacques attended the trial, as well as his sister Inez. It was an emotional experience for him. In the end his father was sentenced to one year prison but soon after the verdict he got ill and was admitted to a private clinic in Amsterdam. Before he could serve his term, father van Meegeren died to the dismay of Jacques.

Jacques made a drawing of his father lying in state in his home in Amsterdam, and attended the funeral where he delivered a brief eulogy ending with:
”Too many young artists think that skilful drawing and command of painting techniques are no longer necessary to become an honest artist. They would do well to take an example from my father.”

As so often happened with father Van Meegeren’s words in the past, this statement of his son was wrongly interpreted by one of Holland’s newspapers:
”Museum directors take care! The son of Han van Meegeren has said that artists today should use his father as an example.”

Jacques continued to paint and quite successful so. He got commissions for portraits all over the country and had exhibitions in several towns. In between he went to Paris and worked as a scenery painter with the American Theatre and lead a bohemian life.

In 1954 he met his wife for the last time in Annecy and made a portrait of his eldest daughter (age 15) but there followed no reconciliation.

France

Jacques continued to live and work in Amsterdam and met there his second partner in life: Juliette Ledel. In 1957 he traveled with her to Nice where he could sell his father’s villa Estate after his father’s bankruptcy had been settled after so many years. They bought a house in Laghet, not far from Nice, and settled there. Jacques worked as a painter and portraitist and they both mixed with the local population and started to play pétanque, the popular sport of Southern France.

One of the commissions Jacques obtained was the creation of a painted War Memorial of which he was very proud. In 1959 the couple invested all their money and energy in a private exhibition of Jacques’ work in Nice. However, a few days before the opening of the exhibition Nice was flooded because of a bursting water dam high in the mountains. No public came and no publicity was obtained; Jacques suffered a mental depression which lasted several months.

Holland again

In 1962 the couple Jacques and Juliette went back to Holland without any money left. They were lured to Amsterdam by a plan for an Hollywood movie about Han van Meegeren. Jacques was invited to take part in it and to consult the crew about the details of his father’s life. It was, however, not the first plan for a movie about Van Meegeren’s life (and it would not be the last either), but like in former cases the plan was dropped and no movie was made. The couple was left without money. They had a hard time, always changing their address and living in ever poorer circumstances.

Jacques was desperate for money and started to make and sell pictures with his father’s signature which fetched far better prizes than his own. These fakes will be discussed in the following section.

In the last year of his life he met a nurse – a Mrs. Van de Biggelaar – who had known him as a boy. He told her the story of his life and confessed that he had abandoned his wife and children. He also admitted – and that is of historic importance – that he had made fake pictures with the signature of his father.

A year later, in 1977, Jacques died, a poor and lonely man. Juliette was no longer with him, it is not known whether she had left him, or had died; actually very little is known of her.

His funeral was organized by a remote Indonesian cousin who happened to live in Holland. A sad and sorry end for a man who always had suffered from his too luxurious upbringing and never had learnt to cope with his life.

Fake van Meegerens

Jacques was not the only one who faked his father’s work. After Han van Meegeren had become famous, his work rose in price and it became worth-while to fake his paintings. Many existing mediocre paintings got a signature “H. van Meegeren” or new pictures were made in a quasi Van Meegeren style.

Among these fakes the imitations by Jacques are the most tricky ones as he painted in a style that was akin to his father’s and was also able to produce a perfect fake signature. He sometimes authenticated their provenance by writing a certificate.

An interesting case in this respect is the collection Couto. Mr. Carlos de Couto was the Brazilian vice-Consul in Amsterdam at the time Han van Meegeren – and later on – Jacques lived there. He bought pictures directly from Han van Meegeren and he also gave him a commission to paint a portrait of his wife. These pictures were of course entirely authentic Van Meegerens. He also bought some Van Meegerens at auctions which might have been authentic as well.

However, later on he often lent money to Jacques van Meegeren who paid him back in pictures by “Han van Meegeren”. There are good reasons to assume that many of these were made by Jacques himself and signed with an ”authentic signature”. The present owner of the collection is now left with the question which of these pictures are authentic and which are fakes. In the majority of the cases it is clear that the imitations by Jacques are of a substantial lower quality.

The fake "Van Meegerens" made by Jacques and others are usually of low quality. They are, however, not always recognized as such and have thus adversely affected the reputation of Han van Meegeren's work.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_van_Meegeren

This article is based on the following documents:

    * [1] Frederik H. Kreuger, A New Vermeer, Publ. Quantes Rijswijk, Holland, 2007, ISBN 978-90-5959-047-2. This is a biography of Han van Meegeren which also describes the life of Jacques in the chapters II to V and VIII, and his forgeries in chapter IX.
    * [2] Lord Kilbracken, Van Meegeren: Master Forger, Charles Scribner's, New York 1967. It describes parts of Jacques’ life, Lord Kilbracken was a friend of Jacques.
    * [3] Juliette Ledel, Biography of Jacques van Meegeren, Document at the RKD, the States Institute for Art Documentation in The Hague, Holland.


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