Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro

The Art Forger  Claire Roth is a talented artist who makes bad decisions.  While an artist in her own right, for the last few years she has been making a living by copying famous paintings.  Whether she is a forger or merely a copier is a matter of intent.  A forger intends to pass her work off as the original while a copier and her patron acknowledge a copy is just that.  There is nothing illegal about copying another’s painting.  Claire’s work is even sold by company that has the word “reproduction” in its name – nothing misleading there.  

Claire became a copy artist work after a scandal involving her, her former mentor/boyfriend, and a painting left her a pariah in the art world.  Struggling professionally, personally, and financially Claire can’t turn away when Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner, offers Claire a way back into the art world with her own show.  All she will have to do is make one more copy, a credible copy of Degas’ fifth After the Bath.  To do this she needs to be able to examine the original up close, so Markel has the Degas painting delivered to Claire’s studio where she will create the copy.  The problem is After the Bath was one of the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the still unsolved 1990 art heist.  None of the stolen paintings has ever been recovered or seen since 1990 so how did Markel come to possess it?  As she works an even bigger question begins to surface, as Claire begins to wonder if Markel’s original is itself a copy.  But if Markel’s original is really a copy, where is the actual original? 

This was so good! I’m not even sure why but I couldn’t put this book down, staying up late, getting up early, desperately needing to know what happened next.  B.A. Shapiro seamlessly weaves three time lines together – Claire in the present, Claire’s scandal three years earlier, and Isabella Stewart Gardener’s 19th century correspondence about her friendship with Degas.  Claire is ambitious and that ambition leads her to rationalize one bad decision after another in the present and the past.  Aside from Claire’s personal and professional moral drama, what really pulled me in was the mystery surrounding the 1990 art heist.  Though the book is fiction (as is Degas’ fifth After the Bath), the 1990 theft from the Gardener Museum did actually happen.  The crime still has not been solved and the paintings and sketches that were stolen have never been recovered.  There have been many theories about who was behind the theft and where the artwork is now.  In The Art Forger Shapiro offers her version of what happened to at least one of the paintings.  The enjoyment I got from this was highly unexpected and very much appreciated.

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