Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Club Pick: The Art Forger

The Art Forger
by B.A. Sharpiro
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
2012
355 pages

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information about the theft

Deeply satisfying and rich in detail, The Art Forger is that rare novel that not only captivates the reader but takes the reader on a journey into another world: the world of prestigious museums, unscrupulous art dealers, unsavory, international thieves and corrupt gangs who use stolen art to fund their drug and gun purchases, and talented, yet unknown and undiscovered artists, who are driven by their desire to create works of beauty and those who will do anything to get that first big break.

It is in this world that Claire is struggling to gain her foothold. Three years earlier, she was in a relationship with celebrated artist Isaac Cullion and the art insiders remember her as the woman who brought shame and suicide to his name. Claire helped Isaac paint one of his most celebrated works--actually she painted  all of it--but Isaac takes all the credit, fame and wealth from her work. The more famous he becomes, the angrier Claire gets. She tells the museum that she painted 4D and they don't believe her claims. Shamed, Claire is unable to get any gallery to take her seriously and show or buy her work, so she ends up working for a company that sells high end copies of famous masters' works; she is an expert on Degas.

After three years in obscurity, Claire is approached by gallery owner Aiden Markel who contacts Claire and offers her a deal. He asks that she paint a copy of an important painting and she will be richly rewarded. Claire thinks of all the things that the money could buy and after pondering the deal for a few days, she agrees to help Markel.

Everyone who knows anything about art knows about the infamous break-in and robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museam in Boston in 1990. Thieves broke in and ripped thirteen pieces of famous art from their frames including works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas. It is the largest unsolved art theft in history and the FBI is still on the case. None of the stolen art has ever surfaced.

Claire is excited to see the giant shipping crate that is delivered to her loft and opens it with Markel's help. In it is what Markel says is the stolen original Degas After the Bath. Markel wants Claire to paint a copy of the original which will be sold to a foreign investor and the stolen one will once again grace the walls of the Gardner Museum. Markel isn't doing anything illegal--he's returning one of the most celebrated pieces of art to its rightful owner--the museum and thousands of people worldwide will now be able to view it. Claire is speechless and excited. She has a real Degas in her loft! She gets to live with a masterpiece!

She begins to painstakingly prepare the canvas, taking an old, lesser work of art down to the canvas and mixes all her own paints. She knows Degas' techniques inside and out and she knows how to "bake" a painting to make the paint look as old as the original. When she is finished, no one should be able to tell that Degas did not paint it himself.

Markel reminds Claire that it is not a crime to make a copy of a painting. She is merely doing what she does at her real job--creating a copy of a masterpiece. Claire is paid again when the painting is finished and experts agree that it is the real masterpiece and it's sold to the buyer. Claire and Markel get entangled in a romantic relationship, and just when everything seems so right...it goes so wrong. Twists and turns will keep the reader enthralled.

Masterful storytelling and a compelling plot make The Art Forger a must read for any history or art buff and anyone who loves a great novel. This is a great book club book, are you listening, Oprah? I am constantly impressed by the talent of the writers chosen to be published by Algonquin. Algonquin is one publishing house that finds the true keepers in the world of literature. Do yourself a favor--run, don't walk, to the nearest book store and get a copy of The Art Forger--it's that good!

Highly, highly recommended grade 9-up. Some mature content. Sex, language.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

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