I cannot remember where I heard about The Art Forger by BA Shapiro, but it was most likely either NPR or Books on the Nightstand. But the second I heard about the book, I knew I was going to find it and read it. I actually changed my book club pick to this book, largely because one of the women in my book club is an artist and the others are interested in art. And it’s a great story.
In 1990, two men dressed as police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, and walked out with 13 pieces of art by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, etc. worth an estimated $100 million. The strange thing about the heist is that the art has never surfaced. Most of the time, when famous art is stolen, it’s recovered. Theories abound as to who stole the art and who has it now. Isabella Stewart Gardner has a caveat in her will that no pieces could be added to her collection or removed. So there are 13 blank frames that now hang where the paintings once did.
This background is important to know because The Art Forger deals with the heist. The central character is Claire Roth, who is an artist living in Boston. She has survived a scandal in the art world that involved her famous artist ex (who was married and is now dead). To survive, she paints reproductions of famous works of art for a website. In her spare time, she paints her own original works. She is struggling because of the scandal involving the ex.
One day, she is approached by a dealer, whom she knows through the ex, and is asked to paint a reproduction of one of the paintings stolen in the Gardner heist. Only he has what he claims to be “the painting”. He wants her to copy the painting and promises her a bunch of money and showing in his gallery of her own original work.
The rest of the book centers on whether Claire will be able to reproduce the painting, whether the painting she is reproducing is or is not a forgery itself, and where the real painting is. There are questions of whether Claire will get caught in yet another art world scandal or worse.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The review in the New York Times Review of Books was not as kind. But I’m not a paid critic and read for enjoyment. This book combined several things I like – art, crime, mystery, and a well-told story. While I could have done a little less with all the back story about the boyfriend, I really liked the book. It is well-written and well-plotted.
It was obvious from reading the book that Ms. Shapiro did a lot of research into the Gardner heist, paintings, Degas, and how to forge a painting. The parts of the book that engrossed me the most were the details she talked about in how to forge paintings and the lengths that forgers go through to make their work seem authentic.
Overall, this was an entertaining and engrossing story. If you like art and crime and art theft and forgery, it’s a good book to read.