U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Must I Paint You a Picture?

Over at the New York Times blogs, documentary film-maker and visual historian Errol Morris has just wrapped up his long series entitled Bamboozling Ourselves, which might be of interest to readers of this blog.

Bamboozling Ourselves explores the case of Han van Meegeren, the 20th century’s most famous art forger, through the lens of two recent books on van Meegeren and his paintings. From the 1920s through the 1940s, the Dutch van Meegeren painted a series of “Vermeers” which were authenticated and praised by art historians and critics. One of them was eventually bought during World War II by Hermann Göring. Accused of collaboration after the war, van Meegeren came clean as a forger and claimed that he had intentionally duped the Nazis and was thus not a collaborationist. This story of forgery-as-resistance stuck but is now being questioned. The authors of the two recent books on van Meegeren, Edward Dolnick and Jonathan Lopez, offer new views of the case from slightly different perspectives. Dolnick stresses psychological factors at work in van Meegeren’s success as a forger. Lopez focuses on the historical visual-cultural context, making a strong case not only for van Meegeren’s Nazism, but for the necessity of seeing the van Meegeren “Vermeers” through a National Socialist “period eye.”

Morris takes these two analyses and weaves a fascinating, broader essay that touches on many issues of interest to this blog. It’s not U.S. intellectual history, but it is European intellectual history. And it concerns an aspect of the European past, Nazism, that haunts American culture and thought as well. It’s a fine example of the kind of very long-form blogging that Morris has been exploring with great success on his blog. And it even includes a few examples culled from analytic philosophy, which in turn connects it to an earlier topic of discussion over here (a topic which, incidentally, I hope to return to sometime soon).

As they say, read the whole thing…but give yourself plenty of time to do so!