Yesterday I listened to the CD version of my new radio drama, The Art of Deception…
It’s not science fiction – it’s a straight thriller set in the world of art forgery and art theft. It stars Indira Varma and David Schofield, and is directed by my long-time collaborator and dashed nice chap Toby Swift.
This is a passion project for me; I’ve always been fascinated by art forgers. One of the greatest was Hans Van Meegeren, whose fake Vermeers made him rich and famous in the 30s and 40s. At this height of his fame, he even managed to sell a Vermeer to Herman Goering. Bizarrely, to modern eyes, the Van Meegeren Vermeers look awful - the people look plastic and the colours are wrong. And there’s none of the quiet perfection of the real Vermeer – who had a genius for making us feel we are eavesdropping on domestic reality, not looking at a mere painting.
But that’s the art of deception! Van Meegeren’s first Vermeer forgeries were actually rather good, but all the art dealers declared them them to be fakes. So he hit upon the trick of forging early Vermeers, in a very different style to the more mature work everyone knew about. And that fooled everyone…l
There’s a great lesson there in how to deceive; it is, it seems, the big ridiculous lies that work better than the small credible lies.
The climax of Van Meegeren’s story came when the Allies won the Second World War and it was discovered that Van Meegeren had sold a Vermeer to the fat, greedy, evil Goering - who was by then classified as a war criminal. It was of course an act of treason to sell a Dutch masterpiece to a Nazi, and Van Meegeren faced the death penalty. But his defence in court was to argue that it’s not treason to sell a forgery to a Nazi; in fact, by duping the enemy, he was striking a blow on behalf of the Dutch people!
Unfortunately, by that time the critics were so convinced that the Van Meegeren-type Vermeers were masterpieces that no one believed a mere hack like Van Meegeren could forge one. So he set up a easel in court, and in front of the assembled judges, over the course of several days, he forged a Vermeer.
The result – Van Meegeren was convicted of forgery, but spared the death penalty.
Anyway, this is all background stuff – it’s just one of many stranger-than-fiction true stories I uncovered in the course of researching the play. My actual story takes place in the present day, and features a dying art forger, Daniel Ballantyne, who is telling his life’s story to an art historian, Jessica Brown.
But then it emerges that the dying art forger is a pathological liar – and an art robber – and possibly even a murderer…And Jennifer finds herself trapped in a game of bluff and counter-bluff, in which her reputation, and her life, are in peril.
The drama is being broadcast as a serial, in 5 x 15 minute episodes in the week of the 22nd June, for 5 days (morning and evening). It’ll also be available on iPlayer for a week after that.
Cunningly, my final words on the draft script I submitted were:
TO BE CONTINUED
So I’m hoping there will be further adventures of Ballantyne and Brown to come in the future….
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