he Last Vermeer is the dramatic true story of Dutch painter Han van Meeregen, now streaming on paid Amazon Prime. The 2020 film takes place just after WWII has ended in Europe, during the chaotic period right before the Allied Forces returned control to the countries once occupied by the Nazis. Firing squads all across Europe are executing in the streets those deemed to be collaborators.
Caution: the viewer should be ready to witness several scenes of these firing squads at the beginning of the film.
Director Dan Friedkin’s film is adapted from the nonfiction book The Man Who Made Vermeers” by Jonathan Lopez, The Last Vermeer opens with the amazing discovery of the master’s work Jesus and the Adulteress, a work reputedly painted by Vermeer, and then stashed away during the pillage of stolen art for the personal collection by the Third Reich’s Hermann Göring. Actor Claes Bang’s character, Joseph Piller, a Jew, has the American military’s job to track down and jail those who have stolen or sold famous art s antiquities including famous paintings to Hitler, Göring, and other Reich leaders.
It doesn’t take Piller long cross paths with Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), a narcissistic artist who readily seems to pass the litmus test for a Nazi collaborator. Piller has his own doubts whether van Meegeren was painting forgeries. However, one thing Piller is sure of van Meegeren has committed some type of crime, to be sure. But which one and when?
To keep van Meegeren under his control, Piller has him imprisoned under a spurious charge —until there is a legal squabble with the local Dutch Judicial authorities. Piller however considers his own Monuments Group ethically superior to Dutch Justice Ministry. At times he calls his Dutch rivals “The Ministry of Convenient Justice.”
When the newly seated Dutch Minister of Justice rules against Pillar and then reinstates Dutch control over van Meegeren, Piller in a bold and decisive move pilfers van Meegeren from prison and hides him in an attic of a discrete building. For his own safety and to protect himself from the Dutch people’s backlash against Nazi collaborators and from one of those firing squads, van Meegeren agrees to answer all of Piller’s questions but only if he is allowed to paint while in the attic. Piller reluctantly agrees and sends a courier to round up the paint supplies van Meegeren requests.
The film dos an exceptional job of presenting the life of the eccentric van Meegeren who became an overnight world sensation when the news of his “painting exploits” broke at the end of World War II. However, prior to this last-minute notoriety, van Meegeren’s actual art career had a long path of disappointments and relative obscurity. It is with this landscape of anonymity that he was finally driven to select and forge the works of the famous Dutch painter Vermeer. In legal proceedings, Van Meegeren purports to have sold the fake painting to Göring, supposedly to show his disdain for the Nazis. But it is a difficult story to swallow since at that time and for years later his paintings were considered to be real Vermeer’s. And to van Meegeren’s credit, even the best art historians of his day agreed that these works were indeed authentic Vermeer’s. The story has been believed ever since and Van Meegeren did little to dispel those beliefs. Too bad history has proven it to be not true.
The Last Vermeer is a long-overdue unmasking of van Meegeren’s legend and a delightfully meticulous story of deceit in the art world.
I enjoyed and do recommend its viewing especially for those who are art history buffs, film aficionados, and audiences who enjoy a good who-dunnit. There’s a lot for everyone in this film. The acting by all is topflight. The set design and cinematography are beautiful, and it provides a welcome break from the usual Holocaust Genre films.
The film is for audiences 13+ due to some initial violent scenes. The movie provides the viewer with an educated peek behind the world of art fakes and to those who are tasked to forensically uncover them. I sense from this point on you may wonder when you go into a museum, is what you are looking at real, or is it an incredible faux-authentic fake?
Jeffery Giesener, former CEO of SourceMob, has both public and private company experience. Today, retired and enjoying life in San Diego, he’s a freelance writer who has a passion for both cinema and baking his Mom’s (Of Blessed Memory) European recipes.
Republished from San Diego Jewish World