‘The Art Forger’ paints a truer hue2/19/2014
Courtesy of Beaverdale Books
Review by Shirley Shiffler
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Though an over-used description, “The Art Forger,” by B.A. Shapiro, is a genuine page-turner of a book. I read it in a four-hour sitting — and much too late into the night. In addition to providing thrilling suspense, the reader learns about the process of oil painting and, even more interestingly, the forgery of oil paintings.
Claire Roth is a talented artist who has a habit of making poor choices, especially with her love life. To help a fellow artist/boyfriend in a creative slump meet his deadline, she gives him credit for a painting she did. After the affair ends, her painting strikes gold, and she is left out in the cold. Fighting for artistic credit, she is dismissed by the art establishment and becomes a pariah to the art world. Her talent is recognized by a charming gallery owner who asks her to create a copy of one of the Degas paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 — the largest unsolved art theft in history. In exchange for her part in this Faustian bargain, he will give her a one-woman art show at the gallery. Claire agrees and neatly rationalizes her doubts with the encouragement of her charming gallery owner. Claire immediately suspects the “original” Degas painting is a forgery. She keeps her doubts to herself and completes the process. The twists and turns of the plot build quickly and will likely keep you reading late into the night, too.
Shapiro juggles three plot lines. In addition to Claire’s present story and backstory, we follow Isabella Stewart Gardner’s life during the time she acquired the Degas painting. A constant battle is waged between authenticity and morality throughout each plot. After reading it, you will never view (or trust) the art world in quite the same way. CV
Shirley Shiffler grew up in Urbandale, graduated from Drake University and lives in the Beaverdale neighborhood, where she’s trying to live her life right the first time through.