'Fake' painting revealed as Dutch masterpiece

Courtauld Institute 'forgery' may have hung in Vermeer's home

He made his name as the world's most ingenious art forger. So when the Courtauld Institute of Art was presented with a copy of a Dutch Golden Age painting by the arch-counterfeiter Hans van Meegeren, the gallery's director accepted the work as a fake of the highest order.

Now, 50 years after The Procuress was deemed a forgery – albeit a brilliant one – it has proved to be a genuine 17th-century painting of the Dutch Golden period and may even have hung in the house of the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer.

This week, The Art Newspaper will reveal how the Courtauld acquired the work in 1960 when it was donated as a van Meegeren, duly accepting it as a rare offering from one of the most uniquely-gifted forgers of all time.

Van Meegeren was born in 1889 and set out to become an artist. But after critics decried his work as derivative, he felt they had destroyed his career and decided to prove his talent by forging the works of some of the world's most famous artists, including Vermeer. He replicated the styles and colours of the Dutch Golden Age artists so exactly that critics and experts celebrated his work as genuine and utterly exquisite. He was exposed in 1945 after being accused of selling a newly-discovered Vermeer to the Nazi Hermann Goering.

His most successful forgery was a version of Supper at Emmaus – originally by the baroque painter Caravaggio – in the style of Vermeer, which he created in 1937. It was so convincing that it was hailed by art experts as the finest Vermeer they had ever seen.

The latest research at the Courtauld has revealed that The Procuress is a version of the 1622 brothel scene by the eminent Dutch painter, Dirck van Baburen, which is depicted in the background of two works by Vermeer. It is believed the Courtauld's painting may be the work that once hung in Vermeer's home in Delft.

According to a 1641 inventory, Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins, owned "a painting wherein a procuress points to the hand" (the scene in the Baburen painting). She is believed to have brought the picture to Delft, where her daughter Catherina married Vermeer in 1653, and the family lived together. The Baburen original appears in two of Vermeer's paintings: The Concert, painted in about 1664; and A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, 1671.

The painting was presented to the Courtauld by Professor Geoffrey Webb, a specialist on historic architecture. He had been a senior arts officer in Germany just after the Second World War, and apparently received it in the Netherlands as a gift for helping with the restitution of works of art. He believed it was a Van Meegeren fake which had been recovered by the Dutch authorities in 1945 from the forger's villa in Nice.

When Anthony Blunt, the then-director of the Courtauld, accepted The Procuress, few questions were asked. A few suspicious queries raised in the 1970s by the Dutch scholar Marijke van den Brandhof were not followed up, as all appeared convinced it was a product of the forger.

It was later lent to three exhibitions on fakes as a fine example of a forgery. Two other versions of The Procuress were thought to be the original until now. The first was owned by the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, but in 1949 another emerged from an English private collection. It was auctioned at Christie's before being bought by Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

Scientific work at the Courtauld now confirms that the picture could date from the 17th-century. The canvas is old but more significantly, there is no evidence that modern pigments was used. Caroline Campbell, a curator at the Courtauld, believes it is "likely to be a 17th-century painting". She admits to being "surprised" at the results of the investigation, because it had originally been accepted as a van Meegeren.

The painting is not on view to the public due to its fragile condition, but may be viewed by appointment at the Courtauld.

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth