The Ploug Forger
Although it is certain that multiple forgers have worked on creating The Plough forgeries, only one forger has allegedly been identified: Cor van L. Van L. is said to be specialized in the forgery of Jan Altink paintings, and supposedly has been doing so for at least three decades. Van L. is an artist of moderate quality who also sells and exhibits under his own name, but his main income allegedly comes from the sale of forgeries (See Estimated Profits).
To understand a forger, one needs to understand the person that he or she is. Therefore a biography of Van L. can be found on this page. Most of the information on this page comes from an interview by Hendrik Jan Korterink with Van L. himself. We are most grateful towards Mr. Korterink for allowing us to use this information. This biography will show us the probable time around which Van L. started his alleged forgery practices, and hopefully give a better insight into the man behind the Altink Affairs.
Van L. was born on the 15th of September 1942 in Magelang on Java, Indonesia. He and his mother and sister would move to the Netherlands in 1946. During his youth he was influenced by a number of more prominent Dutch artists such as Harrie Kuyten and Charley Toorop.
Although Van L. wished to go to the Art Academy in Amsterdam, his parents wouldn’t let him. Instead, he would enroll in divinity school. Alongside his studies at the seminary, he would hold the position of sexton at a church in Huisduinen. Soon hereafter Van L. would meet Corrie, who he would later marry, and who would – allegedly – become his accomplice in the forgery schemes.
Before he started as a teacher in 1969, Van L. was drafted into the army for two years. During his army years, he would keep painting and even receive a reward for his work. In 1970 he started studying at the Minerva art academy, just like the members of The Plough.
1971 is of great importance to understand the forgery scheme Van L. put in motion. It was the year that, according to Van L., he had bought the Altink paintings which later would turn out to be fake (and most likely painted by himself). At a market in Bergen, he and his sister supposedly met art dealer Henk van den Berg, who apparently sold two works by Altink to his sister, of which Van L. would inherit one in 1989. Besides buying the two Altinks, Van L. made a separate deal with this Van den Berg to purchase six more paintings: three works by Altink, two by Dijkstra, and one by Wiegers. In 1974 Van L. bought a farm in Holthe, where he and his wife still live to this day. To pay for renovations, he sold the six paintings he purchased from Van den Berg. The problem with this story, however, is that the art dealer called Van den Berg remains untraceable. There are no records that prove his existence, nor are there any people within the Dutch art trade community who say to have known or ever met the man. A more plausible explanation is that Van den Berg is a fictional person, who serves as provenance for the forged works. Following this logic, we can pinpoint the sale of his forgeries as early as 1974.
Van L. would mention Van den Berg as provenance again in May 1990. According to Van L. he had lost contact with Van den Berg, but they reunite at Sotheby’s during the viewing days for Modern Art. Van den Berg told Van L. that he wanted to thin out his collection. He wanted to sell six paintings by Altink for a price of ƒ 4.500 a piece, six gouaches for a price of ƒ 1.000, and one panel on the back of a wooden serving tray for a price of ƒ 5.500. To be able to complete this sale, Van L. had to take out a loan with the Rabobank in Beilen for ƒ 13.500. The remainder of the sum he would pay in ƒ 8.000 cash and family jewels. Remarkable for a trade of such a sum, namely ƒ 38.500, is that there was no contract, nor any other form of traceable registration that this deal actually took place. Again a more plausible explanation is that Van L. forged the works and needed to justify their provenance. This reasoning becomes especially convincing when taking into consideration that multiple works stemming from this so-called ‘Van den Berg-deal’ later were proven fake, and were probably painted by Van L.
After this mysterious trade with Van den Berg, Van L. said he was contacted by a mister Jansen, claiming to be a friend of Van den Berg. He had heard that Van L. owned antiques, and proposed a similar trade to the one Van L. had made with Van den Berg. Jansen would give up five small paintings, thirteen gouaches, and five aquarelles in return for ƒ 27.500 worth of van L.’s antiques (of which the most prominent piece was blood coral jewelry taxed – according to Van L. – at ƒ 5.000). Just as with Van den Berg, no documentation exists of this trade. There is no contract, and there is no taxation report of the blood coral. Furthermore, Jansen is also untraceable, just like Van den Berg. What makes this story even more dubious is that this meeting is supposed to have taken place at a coffee house near Amsterdam Central Station, where the two parties then would have traded goods for a net worth of ƒ 55.000. Using basic logic, a more plausible explanation is, again, that Van L. created this story to provide his forgeries with a backstory.
The reason Van L. needed a backstory was that he put a large number of the works up for sale, supposedly to finance renovations on the farm. Two of the works he offered up for sale at the time were even advertised in NRC Handelsblad as ‘two landscapes in tempera by Jan Altink’. If one looks closely, a pattern emerges where every time Van L. sells artworks he is renovating the house, but also that the works were acquired from an untraceable source.
At this point in time the alarm was raised about a large number of fake Altinks flooding the art market, which would eventually lead to the events of the Altink I Affair. On Monday morning, July 13th 1992, the police would arrest Van L. on charges of forgery and fraud.
Although the motivation for the alleged forgery practices of Van L. are unknown – as he has always proclaimed his innocence – it can generally be brought back to one of two things: monetary gain and/or recognition. It is most likely that Van L. was motivated by both. The sum that Van L. earned by selling his alleged forgeries exceeds 4 million euro. It is therefore logical to conclude that he was motivated by monetary gain. But recognition most likely plays a significant role in the motivation of Van L. for the creation of forgeries as well. Van L. is not only a great admirer of The Plough and their work, but also of well-known Dutch forgers such as Han van Meegeren and Geert Jan Jansen. It is therefore most likely that Van L. seeks the same recognition The Plough enjoy, or at the very least the same as the famous Dutch forgers. Van L.’s alleged forgery practices are thus most likely motivated by both monetary gain and recognition.
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