“The Art Forger” by B. A. Shapiro is a suspenseful novel full of intriguing historical facts. One, that modern technology has made copying the old masters much easier than it has been in the past. Another is that copying a valuable painting is not a crime as long as there is no intent to sell the copy as an original.
In this novel Claire Roth is a renowned Degas reproductionist. She is a talented artist in her own right, but so far her name is unknown in the art world. One day a well-known gallery-owner offers her a deal: He will present her work in a one-woman show in his gallery, plus give her a huge check, if she will just reproduce a Degas he has in his possession. He assures her nothing is illegal. However, she immediately recognizes the painting as a Degas that was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. It is true in real life that three Degas paintings did go missing in the Gardner Museum heist and have never been recovered.
The novel also cleverly brings up a famous WWII Dutch art forger who, after the war, was forced to confess to his forgery to avoid sentencing for collaborating with the enemy. A famous Vermeer in Goring’s possession was traced back to him. The author provides many delicious insights into the world of art forgery and says experts suspect that several good forgeries today hang in the best museums.
As Claire works on her Degas reproduction the author vividly describes the various stages she goes through to make her painting look as old as the original. Among other things she bakes it in an oven at 100 degrees C after each layer. She has stripped the canvas of a lesser-known artist’s work of the same period, and as her painting bakes, the cracks of the old painting reappear in her new work. As Claire works, you can smell and see the brush strokes as she replicates Degas’s style.
The writer depicts art forgery as a fascinating business, and in the case of this novel gives the reader a suspenseful, plot-twisting, experience.