In the years since World War II, there has been much discussion about its impact on not only world powers but how it has shaped cultural identities around the globe. When the Nazis moved through Europe they stole thousands upon thousands of artworks and relics from the occupants, changing the ownership of land and social capital.
The Last Vermeer zooms in on the true story of one exchange of art, and the infamous deception that underpinned it.
Guy Pearce (The Rover, Iron Man 3) stars as Han Van Meegeren, an embittered artist who swindles the Nazis by selling them forgeries of famous paintings – most notably an “undiscovered” Vermeer titled Christ and the Adulteress.
When Van Meegren’s work shows up in a renowned art gallery, it raises questions about his relationship with the Nazis, and Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang) is sent in to investigate how he came to be in possession of the painting, and where his allegiances lie.
At face value, The Last Vermeer is a lesson in art history and the thefts that occurred throughout occupied Europe during the Second World War. However beyond that, it grows into a commentary on how we form our perception of an artwork’s value, and the philosophy behind why someone would choose a life of imitation over pure personal expression.
Han Van Meegeren’s art career never took off in its own right. He worked hard to impress the critics who manned the gateway to elite society, but was continuously dismissed by their reviews.
Wanting so desperately to fit in – and prove the illogicalness of their opinions – he turned his talents to mastering the style of the great artists and, in replicating their skill, he ultimately undermined how critics judge the quality of a piece. Van Meegeren’s actions challenged the power balance between the onlooker and those seeking their approval.
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Whatever your level of interest in history, The Last Vermeer is interesting viewing for our present-day audience (albeit, slow-going at times).
Seeing how our culture is steeped in a need for approval and surrounded by opportunities for comparison, the movie raises worthwhile questions about how we attribute value to what we consume, and whose gaze matters most.
It shows how imitation can be a device for personal protection: if we’re never truly authentic, any criticism we face isn’t really about us but about our projected image.
Whether Van Meegeren knew it at the time or not, his actions forever rattled the way we define worth. Is it innate or does it vary based on the mood of the moment and who’s doing the assessment?
How that applies to art can be long debated, but when we attribute The Last Vermeer’s questions to our own lives, thankfully The Bible gives us a clear answer that our incomparable worth is innately, and indelibly sewn in by our Creator.
The Last Vermeer is in cinemas now. Rated M