Book Review: THE ART FORGER, B.A. Shapiro

ImageBook Review: THE ART FORGER, B.A. Shapiro

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Boston / Art World / Art Forger / Art Dealer / Literary Thriller / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Degas)
Publisher/Publication Date: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (10/23/2012)

 Publisher summary: On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth 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. 
 Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery. 
 Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.

SPOILER: The Degas painting in question does not exist. Don’t waste twenty minutes (or MORE) looking for it on your Smartphone.

What I Think:

If art and Paris stroke your senses, combine that with pulling something over on the snooty and you have THE ART FORGER. Shapiro merges historical fact with her wonderful imagination in this tale of ambition, greed, heist and forgery through the eyes of Claire Roth, a struggling artist with a tainted past and (fictionalized) letters of Isabella Stewart Gardner, an infamous Boston art collector.

Driven by the need to clear her name and establish herself, Claire Roth is shrewd and deals well with conflict, but is not as likeable as she could have been. Her involvement with boys at a juvenile prison where she teaches art is used only as a tool to discover more about forgeries and foreshadow Claire’s brushes with the law. Bitterness over past betrayals within the art community comes through in self-deprecating humor and is sometimes, laugh-out-loud funny, but Claire lacks heart.

Shapiro paints clear descriptions of setting and I had no trouble picturing characters or understanding their motives. The internal struggle Claire faces – her own original works, side by side with the forgeries/ copies she creates provides a great backdrop for the external plot. Museum authorities, art critics and federal agents race to discover the answer of what is authentic art, doubting Claire’s story – and who she is trying to protect –  the entire way.

I particularly enjoyed learning about the world of art forgery. Shapiro’s descriptions of paint and forgeries –  how time affects oil and canvas  – captivated my scientific side. Let’s face it, we all like books that make us feel a bit smarter at the end. THE ART FORGER is a fun read and a fascinating introduction to the world of art, forgery and deception.

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