The Curious Case of Art During the Second World War.

By Lotte van Dijck - 23 February 2022

Nazi Germany was obsessed with art and collected it throughout their occupation of Europe. Their collection was built up by confiscation art from imprisoned Jews, trading freedom for art collections, and by buying art from art dealers. All of this art was stored in salt mines to protect them. Eventually German art collection was intended to fill the Führermuseum in Linz, the birthplace of Hitler. The art collection was reviewed by Hitler twice a year, in a book with photographs of the latest acquisitions.

Door nazi's geroofde kunst nu te zien in Deventer | Nederlands Dagblad


One of the prized possession of Hermann Göring, a German officer who confiscated a large amount of art in occupied Europe, was a Vermeer, which he traded for 1.6 million Guilders. One thing Göring did not know was the fact that this was not a Vermeer but rather a van Meegeren. Van Meegeren was one of the most brilliant forge artist from the twentieth century. He got into art forgery to prove art critics that he could paint, which he succeeded at. The method he used was very exact, he used old 17th century canvasses used old formulas to create the paints and used similar brushes as the original painting. To give the paintings a more aged look he created a method where a layer of Bakelite to harden out the paint as if it was a few centuries old. After baking it in the oven to further dry out the paint he rolled it up into a cylinder so that the paint cracked a little bit after which the canvas was washed with black paint to fill in these little crackles. He was so good at replicating their styles that the art critics of that time regarded the paintings as originals and sometimes even superb, so did Göring to whom he sold a fake Vermeer. Selling to the Germans came to bite him in the ass, because, due to this sale after the war van Meegeren was arrested for treason. Since, the punishment of art forgery was so much lower than treason he told the court that he had forged the painting, which they did not believe. To prove his point he painted another Vermeer, after which he was sentenced to one year in prison for forgery and fraud. It is still not known how much forgery paintings van Meegeren has painted, and we will never know because he died before he was able to sit out his sentence.

Han van Meegeren - Wikipedia


Once the war ended an agreement was made that all confiscated art should be returned to the country where it came from. A special unit was formed called; Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (MFAA), also known as the monuments men (known by you from the like named movie). Which had the mission to save as much of Europe’s culture as possible. A few monument men worked at the headquarters and a few operated in the field. The men on the field had the assignment to inspect and conserve the most important monuments and artefacts they found during the rise of the allied forces. Eventually in a few different saltmines all the confiscated art was discovered. The real challenge ended up being the fact that all this art needed to be given back to its original owners, which was hard to do, as some of the owners were killed in the concentration camps and the fact that some artefacts just went missing.


Nazi Germany was obsessed with art but luckily the Netherlands had someone selling them a forgery. Luckily after the war most of the art confiscated was brought back to its rightful owner.




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