|The Art Forger
3 / 5
"I step back and scrutinize the paintings."
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.
Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting—the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.
Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.
Okay, did anyone else notice how completely self-absorbed the main character, Claire, is in this novel?! It's so annoying. She couldn't care one whit about her friends, never asks about their lives, but uses them to her advantage whenever she needs to. And they seem to be okay with this! So I guess it's not a problem in her world...
For those who haven't yet read this book, it is about a woman who is asked to make a forgery of one of the famous paintings which was stolen in the Gardner heist of 1990. Of course, the minute the painting was named, I went online to see it for myself - I like to know what is being discussed when it comes to famous artwork. However, I it turns out that Shapiro actually invented a fifth version of Degas' "After the Bath" for her story, one which does not actually exist. It was a pretty good idea, since the whole story is simply a fiction based on the author's idea of what might have happened to that one missing painting - she does not speculate on the disappearance of the others that were taken.
Interestingly, I am reading another book right now which discusses the Gardner art heist, which is odd since I haven't really encountered the famous and intriguing story since I read Stealing Rembrandts several years ago. (The other book I am reading, Wally Lamb's We Are Water, doesn't talk about it too much, but it was funny how they both coincided in my life at exactly the same time.) In any case, like many others, I've been fascinated with this story since I heard about it. I cannot wait until the paintings resurface, so the world can know how the strange robbery took place.
Shapiro's book, though, at least takes a very good stab at a story behind one of the pieces - you'll never see the ending coming! I did really enjoy reading about the process of art forgery, which many reviewers say is truly the way these things are currently done: the materials and processes that Claire uses in the book, and the people she learns from, are real and have produced paintings which have fooled many an authenticator. Very neat stuff. The science behind it is amazing, too.
The story itself, Claire's experiences as she paints the fogery and as she recalls other problems in her career as an artist, is interesting enough, although as I pointed out above, she is not a great friend. Luckily, her pals don't seem to mind. They get caught up in her adventure, too, and this really was one story that had me totally uncertain of what was going to happen next - I like mysteries like that.
I read the book because it took place in Boston, and I do love all the Bostonian details that Shapiro throws in here and there. I also read it because my sister graduated from the Museum of Fine Arts school, just like Claire does in the novel. I think I'd recommend this most to people who are interested in art, Boston, or the Gardner Museum heist. Otherwise, it's a mystery novel that won't really appeal outside those catgeories, I think. Still, a very fun and engaging book!
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