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The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro
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The Art Forger (2012)

by B. A. Shapiro

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1,1871446,765 (3.74)114
  1. 00
    The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (Lirmac)
    Lirmac: Both novels deal with forgery, but The Tragedy of Arthur makes notions of the false and the real the thematic heart of the book.
  2. 00
    Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake by Frank W. Abagnale (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  3. 00
    The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith (mamzel)
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“In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and roamed the Museum’s galleries, stealing thirteen works of art.”

“It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history.”

-The Gardner Museum Heist

Claire Roth is a talented young artist, but after being involved in a scandal, involving a past boyfriend, she has been black-balled by the art community. She now paints reproductions. When an old friend and gallery owner, approaches her, to forge a painting, he offers her a chance to have her own, one-woman show, which will gain her the respect she yearns for. The glitch is: the Degas painting that she is asked to copy, appears to be one of the stolen artworks, from the Gardner theft.
This sends Claire down a very dangerous path, which involves local police, the FBI and possible prison time.
There is mystery, intrigue, romance and gorgeous descriptions of art and the process of creating art. The author seems to know her stuff. The novel begins to stretch credibility in the last third or so, but not quite enough to sink the story. A good, old-fashioned yarn. ( )
3 vote msf59 | Apr 11, 2016 |
52 Weeks 52 Books 2014.46

Thoroughly enjoyable audio read. ( )
  yvonne.sevignykaiser | Apr 2, 2016 |
Good idea, and great research and info on reproduction painting and forgeries. BUT this book was so boring and disconnected that i had to force myself to finish. I had no empathy for the overly naive heroine, who bordered on stupid. And I felt no connection between her and any of the other characters. It didn't really grab my attention till page 80 and then it just dragged on and on until the end, which had a minor pickup. All in all, I didn't feel that it was worth reading. ( )
  mashiaraqcs | Mar 29, 2016 |
The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston was robbed in 1990 by thieves who stole priceless paintings, including those of Rembrandt, Degas and Vermeer. The crime has never been solved and the paintings not seen since. The FBI believes it knows who the culprits are, but has not gathered proof enough to make arrests. The museum even today offers $5 million reward for the return of the paintings. New clues have emerged in early 2016, but the mystery remains.

This crime novel centers around the real events of the theft. Chloe Roth is a talented young painter in Boston whose reputation has suffered from a scandalous incident in the art world. Chloe had an affair with an older painter, Isaac, who was in a competition to paint a modern piece for a competition sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Isaac was struggling to produce the work and in desperation to help Chloe paints it for him. The painting awes the art world and Isaac receives international renown. He does not reveal that it was not his work and, after their affair ended bitterly, Chloe approaches MOMA to say that it is actually her work. To prove it might be her work, the museum asks her to paint a similar version. She does, but a jury determines that she could not have been the painter of the first work. It seems likely that MOMA is attempting to cover up the fraud they have fallen victim to. Isaac later commits suicide and the art community blames Chloe for driving him to it.

Chloe is working on a series of paintings that she has little hope will ever be exhibited. She makes a living by copying masterpieces for a company called Reproductions.com. This firm sells copies (clearly promoted as such) to collectors for a tiny fraction of the cost of an original.

Chloe is approached by Aiden Markel, a prominent gallery owner and art dealer, with a proposition that will make substantial money for them both and at the same time be of great benefit to the world. He provides her with After the Bath, a Degas work that is one of the stolen art works. She is stunned. His plot is to have her copy the painting so that he can sell it to an Asian collector as the original. He isn’t saying from whom he got the work, but knows it to be the work taken from the Gardner museum. Once he receives the money from the copy he will return the original to the gallery to the acclaim of the art world. He reasons that the buyer cannot expose him because the purchaser of a known stolen work could hardly make a claim on the basis that he believed he was purchasing an original Degas that was stolen.

Chloe studies the work closely, doing deep research into the known background of the masterpiece. She is shocked to realize that this painting must be a copy of the original, although clearly a masterful one. She detects that the fine brush strokes, almost indiscernible, were done by a left-handed painter, not by the right-handed Degas. She decides to proceed with copying and does not tell Aiden that his painting is a fake. She is worried about the legality of her involvement, but Aiden assures her that copying a masterpiece is not a crime; it’s only when the work is sold as an original that forgery occurs and she is not the seller. He further asserts that there are so many levels of conspirators between him and the buyer that their connection with the hoax cannot possibly be exposed.

Aiden and Chloe fall into love. He begins to appreciate the art she has been working on and offers her an exhibit in his gallery, a sure ticket to her critical and financial success. But, things go wrong. The courier of the painting handles its transport badly and Aiden is arrested and jailed. He has given the purported original to the Gardner who is planning a gala reinstallation. In a vault that can be opened only with his fingerprint he has placed the cash from the sale and the sellers (who seem to be mob-connected) are threatening to remove his finger to gain access to their money. Chloe is determined that she can save him only by finding the original.

But, where is it? In her research she has learned of Sandra Sondheim, a living relative of Gardner. She approaches Sondheim on the pretext that she’s researching a book. Sondheim gives her access to a collection of old documents and journals. One journal is by Virgil Rendell, who she figures out was a lover of Stewart’s niece (Amelia was Sandra’s grandmother) and whose hope to marry her was dashed by Gardner. Virgil is known to have been an accomplished portrait artist, but also a forger of other’s works. Chloe concludes that the work given to her to copy, and now returned to the museum, is Virgil’s copy. Chloe is arrested by the police for her connection with the scheme, but she is released on bail. She suspects that the original may be in an obscure room in the sub-basement of the museum. It was not there and the museum director firmly believes that they now have the original that Aiden and Chloe attempted to sell.

Chloe returns to Sandra’s and forces herself into a closed room off the parlor. There she sees the original painting. She is amazed to see that it is composed markedly differently than the copy in the Gardner museum and that one of the nude bathers is actually Isabella Stewart Gardner. Gardner posed for Degas during her visits with him in Paris. Gardner knows the painting can never be displayed and bribes Virgil into painting a different version for the museum. This discovery exonerates Aiden who is released and manages to convey the sale proceeds to the sellers. Chloe’s exhibit at his gallery proceeds and she receives the acclaim she had been aspiring for.

There are several elements of this crime novel that were impressive. Foremost is that the plot holds together logically; too many such stories have contrivances that diminish believability. Second is the interweaving of (fictional) letters that Isabella sent to her niece Amelia in which she describes her relationship with Degas and says that Degas has gotten her to pose for his work in a way that will create scandal at home. Finally, there is a fascinating description of techniques used by forgers to replicate art that often fools the experts. The forgers mentioned in the story a true life figures. She tells the story of Hans VanMerregen, the Dutch artist who was arrested after WWII for selling a work of Johannes Vermeer to Herman Goring. To defend himself from severe punishment as a collaborator, Vanmerregen recreated the painting to the astonishment of the Dutch authorities. The story cites estimates by experts that as much as 40% of art hanging in galleries could be forgeries.

After the Bath was a series of paintings by Degas of women emerging from bathing. The painting in this novel is fictional. The relationship between Degas and Gardner is also made up. Will the original art works ever be found? One hopes so. Among the missing works is Vermeer’s The Concert, a marvel that the world should see again. ( )
  stevesmits | Mar 3, 2016 |
I thought that this was a) historical fiction and b) a mystery. Both those things turned out to be true in part but essentially this was a contemporary literary fiction novel. I think my rating may reflect in part my sense of disappointment about that misconception. However, being from the Boston area, I enjoyed all the local color and I found the information about art very interesting. In particular, seeing the "art scene" in terms of a business, a way of making a living, was fascinating. I found the historical fiction parts about Isabella Stewart Gardner fun but not completely believable. I also thought that Aiden Markel's "big reveal" predictable and it bothered me all along that Claire wasn't more cautious/suspicious. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 29, 2016 |
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Readers looking for insight into the Gardner heist will have to go elsewhere. But readers seeking an engaging novel about artists and art scandals will find “The Art Forger” rewarding for its skillful balance of brisk plotting, significant emotional depth and a multi-layered narration rich with a sense of moral consequence.

 
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Epigraph
A painting is above all a product of the artist's imagination; it must never be a copy.
--Edgar Degas
Dedication
To Dan, who never gave up
First words
I step back and scrutinize the paintings.
Quotations
A painting is above all a product of the artist's imagination; it must never be a copy. --- Edgar Degas
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Book description
A Degas painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is delivered to the Boston studio of a young artist. A few years after suffering personal disappointment from her artist/lover which also cast her reputation away, a handsome suave art gallery owner enters her life with an intriguing proposition to help the museum, benefit mankind and recover her career aspirations at the same time.
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An artist whose reputation has been tarnished stumbles on a piece of art that disappeared twenty-five years ago and agrees to forge it for a gallery owner, until she realizes that the art she is forging may itself be a forgery.

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