Book Review: The Art Forger

Nov 5, 2012

On March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as police officers stole 13 works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Mass. Among the stolen were works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas and Manet. Unsolved to this day, the heist provides the perfect backdrop for The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.

Claire Roth is a talented artist shunned by the art world because of a past transgression. She now makes a living copying masterpieces-- which may not be respectable, but is perfectly legal. You see, selling a copy only becomes a crime when it is presented and sold as the original. And forgery only comes into play when Claire is approached by a gallery owner who has in his possession one of the stolen Degas. While he won't disclose how he acquired the painting, he does convince Claire to copy it so he can pass it off to an unsuspecting buyer and return the original to its rightful place at the Gardner.

Through copying the masterpiece, another mystery is revealed. Claire knows that the age of painting is accurate, but she's not entirely convinced that Degas did the work. She believes that the stolen Degas was, itself, actually a forgery.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then The Art Forger should be a tome. Yet Shapiro's gift of finding just the right word allows the reader become absorbed in a manageable 350 pages of artful imagery, vividly portrayed through an economy of words. Not only can you clearly see Claire's process of copying masterpieces, through her descriptions, the images of the paintings move from mental periphery straight into visual imagination where nuances of the pieces are discovered... down to the varnish, brushstrokes, and craquelure. This thriller will please art and literature lovers in equal measure.