The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (♦♦♦♦♦)
Claire Roth is a struggling young painter who earns her meager living copying masterpieces for a renowned website. Her expertise is in Edgar Degas’ works. Claire is very talented, but she has a muddled past thanks to an affair she had with a professor in graduate school who attributed a painting of hers. Hence, Claire has become an outcast in the art community--who was very fond of said professor—and has been denied opportunities given to lesser talents.
Out of the blue, gallery owner Aiden Markel makes contact with Claire wanting to see her latest work. In reality, he is after her expertise in copying masterpieces. Aiden proposes Claire a one-woman show in his gallery in exchange for her forging a stolen Degas’ masterpiece titled After the Bath. Claire accepts.
Only after being in the magical presence of the painting, she begins to realize that this painting may itself be a forgery. Armed with Degas’ sketchbooks and her “unique combination of knowledge and skills”, she concludes that the After the Bath she has in her studio is indeed a forgery. But several questions remain…When was it forged? Who forged it? And most importantly, where is the original?
I loved The Art Forger. It is a rich, intricate tapestry where snippets of the recent past (three years ago), long past (last years of the nineteenth century) and the present intermingle to make a fascinating detective story come to life. The detective story is anything but conventional, because it’s about what “an unassuming painter”--with knowledge, the right skill set, and a unique perspective—sees when all the experts in the field disagree.
Shapiro’s The Art Forger makes us look deeper into ourselves to question what we would do faced with similar situations. Is the art equally valuable if it’s produced by a nobody? Does it have the same appeal? The book also questions the culture in which we’re immersed that makes instant celebrities out of regular people and then public opinion decides whether that person remains in the summit or is thrown into the abyss if she/he makes a mistake.
Among the plethora of reviews that followed the launch of the book, is one from Elle Magazine stating “If Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Da Vinci Code had a love child, this would be it”. I think it says a lot to be compared with The Da Vinci Code, but The Art Forger is smarter, deeper though less incendiary than the former and the reason is that despite art being a vehicle to unravel the mystery in both, in The Da Vinci Code the ultimate goal is to bring into question the basis of Christianity. The Art Forger doesn’t have those pretenses; it is a more plausible story, filled with current resonance yet equally compelling and satisfying.