What I am Reading – The Art Forger

This is either a forgery or a damn fine original!” – Frank Sullivan

 I discovered The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro this week while browsing the new paperbacks at Barnes and Noble. It’s a gem. The Art Forger was released in hardback in 2012. The story centers on the 1990 theft of thirteen pieces of art worth $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The theft, still unsolved, is the largest private property theft ever to take place. I have wandered around “The Gardner” as locals know it, and that made the story all the more fascinating to me.

The main character, Claire Roth, the forger, is guilty not only of using her impressive talent to create an illusion but of succumbing to delusion. Poor Claire makes very bad choices in men. The novel consists of three plots with three distinct timelines. Two are told in the first person by Claire and weave between her first mistake in men three years prior, Sir Isaac Cullion and her second and current, Aiden Markel. In both cases, Claire is convinced that an act that is inherently bad is capable of resulting in an outcome that is good. In both cases, she is proved to be wrong. In both cases, her own desire to showcase her considerable talent as an artist and advance her career plays a role in the decisions she makes. I found myself liking Claire. Each time she does something that leads to disaster, I found myself hoping for the best.

In The Art Forger, gallery owner, Aiden Markel, asks Claire, who has reputation for painting reproductions of paintings by Edgar Degas, to forge a copy of  “After the Bath” one of the paintings stolen from the Gardner Museum – as told in the novel if not in fact.

Entwined within the story – providing the third plot and timeline, as well as the key to the main plot – is the voice of wildly eccentric Isabella Stewart Gartner shown in a series of letters to her fictional niece.

The research behind this novel is impressive. B.A. Shapiro’s knowledge of how art is both created and then forged is more than credible. Her view into the art world from the studios of Boston’s South End to the galleries on Newbury Street and the viewing halls of the MoMA in New York City places the reader there.

The Art Forger is one of those stories I couldn’t put down. The complexity of the three plots and timelines as well as the seamless meshing of historical facts about the art world, both past and present, with Shapiro’s cleverly crafted fiction kept me reading. I finished in less than two days. I hope you like it.