Dutch artist Han van Meegeren set out to make a name for himself in a career as a legitimate artist. Unfortunately for van Meegeren, critics didn't seem to agree with that vision, writing off his original works.
As a forger, however, van Meegeren's work drew far more attention in the art world. Van Meegeren chose to paint under the guise of celebrated 17th-century master Jan Vermeer, a painter whose known catalog of work only included a few dozen works. Rather than painting copies of Vermeer's existing pieces, he created works that evoked Vermeer's style, but were a departure from the artist's previous subjects.
Van Meegeren made millions of dollars off of his forgeries, creating an estimated nine fake Vermeers. Unfortunately for van Meegeren, the jig was up at the end of World War II, when one of his forgeries turned up in the collection owned by Hermann Goering, one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany. The connection forced van Meegeren to confess to being a forger in order to save himself.
Under suspicion that van Meegeren had been in league with the Nazis, an act of treason, van Meegeren insisted that he had instead sold forgeries that he had created himself. In order to convince a skeptical court, van Meegeren spent two months creating an original Vermeer forgery in front of six witnesses.
Although he would later be convicted of lesser charges relating to the fraud -- he died of a heart attack before he would serve a day of his year-long sentence -- van Meegeren was celebrated as a hero among the Dutch for his cunning in fooling both the art world and the Nazis.
Famous Art Heists