The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro Publisher: Algonquin Books (October 2012). Literary fiction. Hardcover. 304 pages. ISBN: 978-1-61620-132-6.
I’d yet to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum when one of the most notorious and major unsolved art heists occurred in 1990. I’d transferred to Simmons College as a junior that year. Such a devastating loss of thirteen pieces of art worth over $500 million dollars including works by Vermeer and Edgar Degas. I’ve since become a fan of both the museum and the fascinating and venerable Isabella Stewart Gardner– even wrote a children’s book (still unpublished) about her. This novel, The Art Forger, focusing on the heist, immediately caught my attention.
Claire Roth graduated from the MFA School under a scandalous cloud. She makes a tenuous deal with an art gallery owner to forge an Edgar Degas painting in exchange for her own show in his gallery. The painting he brings her appears to be one of those stolen from the Gardner museum. Claire’s so young and I couldn’t understand her supposed talent as an artist rather wasted at a reproduction company. Scandal or not. I’ve never cared all that much for painted reproductions. I don’t see the point. I didn’t care for Claire or for Marcus, the gallery owner. I also found the entire forging concept a bit sketchy. Shapiro did scrupulous research into forging paintings and provided that detail into The Art Forger. Fascinating and creepy.
The fabricated relationship Shapiro created in letters between Gardner and her “niece” never resonated with me or seemed that relevant. I found the letters inauthentic in tone. The pages teem with flat characters but ooze with paint. The art propels the story. To be honest, I almost stopped reading this novel about one hundred pages in. But I decided to give it another go and the novel redeemed itself somewhat in the end. At a recent book reading, Shapiro said she greatly admired Gardner but I found the novel undermined her a bit and I’m not sure Gardner would’ve had a forged painting on her walls. She was way too savvy for that.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.