Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


JOSEPH VAN DER VEKEN (Antwerp 1872 – Brussels 1964)

 A Pair of Donor Panels

oil on panel

20 ¼ x 8 ½ inches each          (51.5 x 21.6 cm.)  


Arthur Marheim, Paris (?)

Gaston S. Levi, Paris, circa 1900, and thus

by descent in the family until 1996 when purchased by

Private Collection, New York

Private Collection, Washington, D.C., 2008 until the present time



Greenwich, Connecticut, Bruce Museum, Fakes and Forgeries: The Art of Deception, May 12 – September 8, 2007, pp. 72-73, (illustrated) (as the Master of the Palmer Triptych)[1]



Maryan W. Ainsworth, “Caveat Emptor: An Early Twentieth – Century Workshop for Flemish Primitives”, Apollo, June 2001, pp. 25 – 29, no. 13 (illustrated) (as after Hans Memling)

Maryan W. Ainsworth, “Early Netherlandish Paintings or 20th Century Fakes?,” IFAR Journal, volume 4, no. 3, 2001, pp. 12-13, figure 7 (illustrated) (as after Hans Memling)

Didier Martens, “Les Frères van Eyck, Memling, Metsys et Alii ou Le Répertoire d’un Faussaire Éclectique”, Wallraf-Richartz – Jahrbuch, volume LXIV, 2003, pp. 254 -256, 258, 260, 264 & 276, fig. 2 (illustrated)

Jean-Luc Pypaert, “Early Netherlandish Painting XV?, Joseph Van Der Veken,” in Un Aspect de l’Histoire des Collections, de la Restauration et de la Contrefaçon en Belgique dans la Première Moitié du XXe Siècle, Scientia artis, volume 4, Koninklijk instituut voor het Kunstpatrimoniun, Brussels, 2008, pp. 227 – 228, no. 101, fig. no. 6a-b, both illustrated twice (as by Joseph Van der Veken)

Prof. Dr. H.W. Van Os, “Post-postmodernisme” in Bulletin van de Vereniging Rembrandt, Summer 2014, The Hague, p. 39, illustrated


Joseph Van der Veken was regarded as one of the most skilled restorers of Netherlandish painting of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Belgium during the twentieth century and spent a large part of his career serving as senior conservator of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Such technical expertise also afforded him a secondary career as a master forger creating pastiches of Early Netherlandish works that today can be found in museums and private collections throughout the world.[2]

The majority of his forgeries are believed to date from between 1900 and the start of World War I. Jean-Luc Pypaert in his catalogue raisonné of Van der Veken’s work has placed our donor panels within this time frame.[3] Our donor wings were created to flank a central panel depicting an enthroned Madonna and Child which shared the same tapestried background, thus forming a triptych. The donor panels are based on a pair of donor portrait fragments by Hans Memling in the Muzeul National de Arta, Bucharest with fanciful additions by Van der Veken. The artist changed the male donor’s dress into that of a sixteenth century German. Also the patterning of the tapestry behind the figures derives from a specific type designed by John Henry Dearle the assistant and successor of William Morris at Morris and Co.. Dearle’s designs were based on the backgrounds of renaissance millefleurs tapestries that excluded their central figural motifs. Further the inclusion of the tasseled borders at the bottom of the tapestries is an anomaly for the fifteenth century.[4] 

Two particularly notorious and remarkable events define Van der Veken’s later years. Prior to World War II Émile Renders, a banker and art collector, owned a collection of fifteenth century Flemish Masters that was regarded as one of the most important in the world still privately held. In 1941 Herman Goering purchased twenty works from the collection for 300 kilograms of gold (whose value today would be about 4-5 million dollars). It was only after the end of the war with the return of some of the Goering purchase to Belgium that the truth about the Renders’ collection slowly came to light. In tandem with Émile Renders who since 1920 had been purchasing Early Netherlandish paintings in damaged or ruinous state, Van der Veken began a strategy that has been labeled “hyper-restoration” in order to return them to a marketable state. The process consisted of removing the old paint layers and painting a new masterpiece on the old support over the original preparatory layers. The results for decades proved very convincing.[5] 

In 1934 the lower left panel of the Ghent Altarpiece of The Just Judges was stolen and never recovered. In 1940 the Nazis stole the entire Altarpiece which would not be returned until 1945. That year, although Van der Veken was always suspected of being involved in the theft of The Just Judges and continuously interviewed while always sustaining his innocence, he was commissioned to paint a replica of the still missing panel. Today Van der Veken’s panel remains on view as part of the Ghent Altarpiece, while the original’s disappearance is regarded as one of the art world’s greatest unsolved mysteries.[6]

While his career is shrouded in subterfuge and deceit, Van der Veken possessed a great talent that only now has begun to be unmasked.



[1] The Master of the Palmer Triptych is a name that Maryan Ainsworth puts forth in her 2001 article for Apollo, to cover a group of panels that share basic similarities and at the time were thought to have been created in Berlin around 1900, after one of the best-known works of this group in the Palmer Art Museum, University Park, Pennsylvania.

[2] Noah Charney, Stealing the Mystic Lamb, The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece, Public Affairs, New York, 2010, p. 186; and J. Sanyova, Materials and techniques of Jef Van der Veken: Imitator of early netherlandish painting of the 15th and 16th centuries, Royal Institute of Cultural Heritage, Brussels, Belgium, p. 1.

[3] Jean Luc Pypaert, op. cit., p. 228.

[4] Maryan W. Ainsworth, “Caveat Emptor”, op. cit., p. 25.

[5] Noah Charney, op. cit., p. 185; J. Sanyova, op. cit., p. 1; “Émile (Léon Houvenaeghel) Renders” in Dictionary of Art Historians, Department of Art History, Duke University.

[6] Noah Charney, op. cit., pp. 186 – 187. 

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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