Perhaps it’s because I can’t even draw a proper stick figure, but I am not into fine art. I have visited museums and galleries. I have a few prints hanging on my walls at home (usually because they match the interior paint color of a particular room). But I have never understood why so many people buy or collect works of art. Until now.
In the January She Reads book club selection, The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, you are introduced to the psychology of the art collector. It’s amazing what some people will do to possess a masterpiece. Yes, many buy (or steal) paintings because they are interested in the monetary value of the work, but others just want to possess the thing. It’s like watching a really high-brow episode of the TV show American Pickers–you can’t imagine what would drive a person to buy something of value only to let it sit alone in a shed or hang on a wall in a locked room. But to the collector, the value is in the having.
Or in the sharing. Known as America’s first patroness of the arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner inspired The Art Forger. Gardner was a serious collector in the late 19th and early 20th century, who rubbed elbows with John Singer Sargent, Henry James, James Whistler and other important artists of her generation. She created the museum that bears her name in Boston so that the public could enjoy her artistic treasures, but in 1990, the museum was the victim of one of the largest art heists in history. Two men dressed as police officers overtook the security guards and stole thirteen pieces of art, including Rembrandt’s Storm of the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert and works by Degas and Manet. To date, no one has been arrested for the theft and the paintings have not been recovered. This real-life heist provides some of the mystery and drama in The Art Forger.
Shapiro also plants us in the mind of the artist. The novel’s protagonist, Claire Roth, is a talented painter who has been shunned by the Boston art community. She eeks out a living copying well-known paintings for Reproductions.com. When someone from her past offers her a career-changing opportunity, Claire must decide if she will pursue her dream of becoming a well-known artist through questionable means.
B. A. Shapiro’s research into the techniques and history of famous art forgers is evident. Those who enjoyed the historical fiction Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier will appreciate Shapiro’s fictionalized letters from Belle Gardner. The book moves seamlessly back and forth between Belle’s world, the backstory that led to Claire Roth becoming blacklisted in the art community, and the present day mystery behind one of the paintings missing from the Gardner Museum.
To learn more about The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, visit the She Reads website. There you’ll find posts by both the author and links to reviews by other She Reads bloggers who have read and enjoyed the book.