Forger’s Death Mask Bought by Rijksmuseum

Han van Meegeren's death mask has been acquired for €300 by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam Photo: Rijksmuseum

In what might be its cheapest (and most oddball) acquisition of the year, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum announced that it has purchased the death mask of master forger Han van Meegeren. According to the Independent, the piece was snagged for €300 ($409) at a recent auction in Rotterdam.

The museum’s director Wim Pijbes says van Meegeren’s paintings are “horrible.” But, he retains a certain respect for the forger who conned much of the European museum- and art world in the early 20th century, having purchased the piece as a reminder of those predecessors’ (and presumably his own) fallibility. Van Meegeren was a portrait painter before he started producing fake Vermeers in the 1930s. He died in prison in 1947, at which time the plaster cast of his face used to make this mask was made.

“Van Meegeren’s was the most scandalous and most famous forgery case in the 20th century, making several Vermeer fakes and selling them to the most prominent museums and collectors of the time,”  Pijbes told the Independent. “[A museum] can always be wrong, it could always be a fake—there are still lots of fakes on the market—and the greatest mistake you can do as a museum is to buy a forgery.” The mask also compliments the museum’s archive of other materials related to the forger.

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