My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The New York Times estimated “that forty percent of all the artworks presented for sale in any given year are forgeries.” The Art Forger provides some intriguing glimpses into this world, from the complicated mechanics of painting both originals and forgeries, to the meticulous process of authentication, to the hidden agendas and secrets of the great museums. The now infamous Gardner Museum art heist has been much in the news lately, and Barbara Shapiro has crafted an intriguing novel around it.
Clair Roth is a talented painter, eking out a living in Boston by painting reproductions of masterpieces commissioned by an internet company. Before his death, Clair’s ex-boyfriend gained his fame by passing off one of her paintings as his own; when she attempted to take credit, she was thoroughly and publicly discredited, and is now something of a pariah. Imagine her shock when Boston’s premier art dealer, Aiden Markel, approaches her with a tempting proposition – to make a copy of one of the missing Gardner paintings, a Degas that is now, somehow, in Markel’s possession. In return, she’ll receive a substantial payment and a show of her own at his high end gallery.
The plot is inventive, the first half following Clair at work, and the second her relationship with Markel, the marketing of the painting, and the hooplah that follows. Inserted between Clair’s chapters are fictional “letters” written by Isabella Stewart Gardner, telling how she acquired the Degas. She was an original, a true eccentric, and her story is as fascinating as Clair’s. It’s a ripping good story, built upon questions of ethics, and building to a satisfying revelation at the end.