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The Disciples at Emmaus

The Disciples at Emmaus

115 x 127 cm, painted around 1936-37


This is the best and also the most famous of all the van Meegeren forgeries. It was painted at his villa in Roquebrune in the south of France, on a 17th-century canvas by an unknown painter depicting a religious subject, The Raising of Lazarus . This canvas and its wooden stretcher were cut down on the left-hand side to fit the proportions of the projected Emmaus. Van Meegeren said he kept the strip of canvas and the two pieces of stretcher so removed, but only one piece of stretcher (and no strip of canvas) was actually found at his villa by the police. However, the annual rings and a wormhole on this piece of wood matched exactly those on the edge of the stretcher. X-rays revealed the traces of an underlying painted head at approximately (but not exactly) the position that van Meegeren had said one would be found.

Van Meegeren sold this painting through middlemen, an old lawyer friend, Dr. G.A. Boon and the dealer Hoogendijk. The cover story was that van Meegeren had been asked to sell this and other pictures, part of a collection of Old Masters, by an old Dutch family now living in Italy. Discretion was required as the Fascists would be annoyed that such important art works had left the country. For his part, the lawyer contacted the prestigious art historian, Dr. Abraham Bredius, who examined the Emmaus for two days and then certified it as a genuine Vermeer, announcing its discovery in the Burlington Magazine . At the end of 1937 the painting was sold via Holland's leading dealer, D.A. Hoogendijk, to the Dutch Rembrant-Vereeniging (the Rembrandt Society), for the sum of 520,000 guilders, about 1.8M GB pounds in today's money. It was presented to the Boymans Museum, Rotterdam, where it created a sensation.

There are (or were) those who maintain that both this picture and The Last Supper are in fact genuine Vermeers (see Argument).