Some time around a year and a half ago, I managed to get (through a promotional event) a copy of The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom.
I had never heard of it, and of course at the time all the rage was about The Help, a book which I had also read, but, as any great connoisseur will, I welcomed having a new book to read. I devoured it, loved it and subsequently raved about it to anyone who would listen for about…well, what time is it now?
So, last month I had another chance to have a copy of a book I had previously not heard of sent to me to read. The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro
I had read the synopsis online when it was confirmed that a copy was coming my way and, excited by it, waiting for the arrival in the mail. There are few things more exciting to an avid reader/writer, besides getting your own proof copy of your own book in the mail, than getting a brand new book sent to you. For the last few weeks, my kids have grown tired of hearing “did the book come in?” from me as I walked through the door in the evening after work.
Then, last night…I was sitting on the couch watching survivor with most of my kids when my youngest came home from a youth program he attended with a very cold package in his hands that he had rescued from the mailbox. It’s the book!!
I eagerly opened it. Hardcover. Fantastic. The book itself was cold from sitting outside in the frigid weather but I gingerly cracked the spine for the first time. I get a slight rush of adrenaline when opening a new book, especially one I’ve been looking forward to reading. But, there was survivor to finish watching and younger kids to get in bed at a decent hour and so it wasn’t until after ten that I was able to get into it proper.
Big comfy red robe on and propped in my bed with the pillows exactly how I like them, I turned to the first page and began.
The Art Forger captured me right from the beginning, the way a good book should. I was able to immerse myself in the world of the Boston art scene effortlessly and into Claire’s life without even trying. Shapiro manages to flawlessly draw me into a world about which I know little. The world of art and painters. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy art, but I don’t appreciate it in the same way that I do books. Of course, I can appreciate those who do appreciate it in that way. That’s a lot of appreciation, I know. I remember as a child my parents taking us to the National Gallery in Ottawa for an Emily Carr exhibit and being mesmerized by her paintings, yet at the same time totally stymied by the huge art work du jour that was garnering all the attention; a huge painting of just big wide stripes on a canvas. I don’t remember what it was called, only that I thought it was ridiculous compared to Carr’s exquisite work. But I digress.
Claire is an artist, but, she has been dealt some bad hands. Three years earlier she had become romantically involved with a man very much her senior, also a painter and had, under the gauze of young love’s vision, actually painted the masterpiece that catapulted him to fame and glory. He of course, after first swimming briefly in the guilt of this knowledge, left her high and dry for the good life. When Claire could no longer stand it, she attempted to “out” him and reveal her own ownership of the now famous painting and instead found herself blackballed by a world she longed to be a part of.
Now, three years later, Claire, The Great Pretender, is struggling to have a career of her own in a world that barely recognizes her and makes most of her living creating high scale copies of some of the greats; namely Degas.
Of course, her little scandal three years ago is not the biggest nor the most controversial on the Boston art scene. Some 20 years ago in one of the greatest art thefts ever, thieves broke into the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and made off with several of it’s most valuable works. Including a Degas.
Now, all of a sudden a respected gallery owner from her past pays her a visit to her studio under the guise of seeing some of her current work. Although he is interested in her work, he has a proposition for her. He has a Degas. The Degas. And he wants her to do a reproduction.
The Art Forger follows Claire through the (impeccably researched) process of how to reproduce a master work of art. We get to be a fly on the wall of her studio as she painstakingly studies a painting of one of her favourite artists and begins to not only struggle with the moral dilemma of even doing the work but the possibility that the painting itself is not all it seems. The story gets deeper as we go along for the ride learning more about the time in which Degas lived and work, the great ‘art forgers’ of the time, the history of Isabella Gardner and her affiliation with artists and the possibilities that even some of the worlds most recognized paintings on the walls of the most famous museums, may in fact be fake.
Claire’s world frenzies with the completion of the copy, the arrest of the man transporting it to a private collector in India, the set up of her own one-woman show, and the arrests of those involved that start pouring in. I don’t want to give away the book’s ending, but suffice to say I spent the majority of the morning sitting upright in my bed, talking to the book. Shouts of “I KNEW IT” and “what??!!”, sharp intakes of breath and the final satiated feeling of finishing it.
The Art Forger is a wonderful, bright beautiful read that kept me turning pages as fast as my eyes could devour the words. In fact, the first thing I did when I finished it was google Degas’ “bath” paintings, since I needed to see for myself the wonder that was frequently described on the pages, and, I was not dissapointed.
With a mix of fact and fiction, actual thefts and a peek into the world of art and artists, I recommend this book to anyone, whether you be an art lover or not.
Four and a half stars out of five.