Forgery of Venus
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Forgery of Venus

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by Michael Gruber

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Chaz Wilmot is a painter born outside his time. He possesses a virtuosic command of the techniques of the old masters. He can paint like Leonardo, Goya, Gainsborough—artists whose works sell for millions—but this style of painting is no longer popular, and he refuses to shape his talent to fit the fashion of the day. So Wilmot makes his living cranking out parodies


Chaz Wilmot is a painter born outside his time. He possesses a virtuosic command of the techniques of the old masters. He can paint like Leonardo, Goya, Gainsborough—artists whose works sell for millions—but this style of painting is no longer popular, and he refuses to shape his talent to fit the fashion of the day. So Wilmot makes his living cranking out parodies for ads and magazine covers. A break comes when an art dealer obtains for him a commission to restore a Venetian palace fresco by the eighteenth-century master Tiepolo, for a disreputable Italian businessman. Once there, Wilmot discovers that it is not a restoration but a re-creation, indeed a forgery. At first skeptical of the job, he then throws himself into the creative challenge and does the job brilliantly. No one can tell the modern work from something done more than two hundred years ago.

This feat attracts the attention of Werner Krebs, an art dealer with a dark past and shadier present who becomes Wilmot's friend and patron. Wilmot is suddenly working with a fervor he hasn't felt in years, but his burst of creative activity is accompanied by strange interludes: Without warning, he finds himself reliving moments from his past—not as memories but as if they are happening all over again. Soon, it is no longer his own past he's revisiting; he believes he can travel back to the seventeenth century, where he lived as the Spanish artist Diego Rodríguez de Silva Velázquez, one of the most famous painters in history. Wilmot begins to fantasize that as Velázquez, he has created a masterpiece, a stunning portrait of a nude. When the painting actually turns up, he doesn't know if he painted it or if he imagined the whole thing.

Little by little, Wilmot enters a mirror house of illusions and hallucinations that propels him into a secret world of gangsters, greed, and murder, with his mystery patron at the center of it all, either as the mastermind behind a plot to forge a painting worth hundreds of millions, or as the man who will save Wilmot from obscurity and madness.

In Chaz Wilmot, we meet the rarest breed of literary hero, one for whom the reader feels almost personally responsible. By turns brutally honest and self-deceptive, scornful of the world while yearning to make his mark on it, Wilmot comes astonishingly alive for the reader, and his perilous journey toward the truth becomes our own.

The Forgery of Venus, a blend of erudition, unflagging narrative brio, and emotional depth, brings us inexorably toward the intersection where genius and insanity collide. Miraculously inventive, this book cements Gruber's reputation as one of the most imaginative and gifted writers of our time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Gruber and reader Eric Conger do away with all certainty in this literary thriller, in which a brilliant but exceptionally troubled contemporary painter becomes embroiled in a scheme to forge a Velasquez painting, even as he is tormented with amnesic breaks and visions that seem to be from Velasquez's own life. There's a slight shift in pitch as Conger switches from the nameless narrator of the novel's framing sequence to the main story's protagonist, Chaz Wilmot, but other than that, he doesn't attempt to differentiate the other characters' voices from Chaz's. That's an entirely appropriate choice, as this is a frighteningly introspective narrative, recounted by a man who literally does not know who he is from one moment to the next. Is he going mad, being driven mad, actually shifting among realities or some combination of those options? For this audiobook to work, the reader and the author must make the narrator's hallucinatory perspective convincing, and both succeed wonderfully and chillingly at this task. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 18). (Apr.)

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Library Journal

In his latest thriller, Gruber (The Book of Air and Shadows) tells the story of Chaz Wilmot, a talented painter in the style of the Old Masters who is unable to make a living in the art world of today. His salvation comes when he is summoned to Italy to restore a ceiling painted by Tiepolo. Once there, he realizes that the job is not so much a restoration as it is a forgery. His work on the ceiling earns him the interest of a wealthy patron who hires him to paint other forgeries. Problems arise when Chaz begins to relive situations from his past and then travel back to the 17th century, where he becomes the Spanish artist Velázquez. Soon, he is no longer sure of even his own identity. Is he losing his mind, or is someone trying to make him think so? Gruber writes with a deft hand, creating a fallen hero who is likable despite his faults. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/07.]
—Nanci Milone Hill

Kirkus Reviews
The stupendous talent of an otherwise wasted illustrator pushes him to the edge of madness and leads to the creation of an original work by a master who has been dead for centuries. Nobody mixes art, sex, drugs and wit quite like Gruber (The Book of Air and Shadows, 2007, etc.). Here he looks at representational painting, the creative imperative, forgery and the love of children, and the result is again irresistible. Chaz Wilmot, gifted artistic hack, child of a gifted artistic hack, hands a CD to his old Columbia classmate and one-time close friend and asks him to give it a play. It's the narrative of Wilmot's adventures as the artist Diego Velasquez, a trip that began with the ingestion of an experimental hallucinogen administered by yet another old Columbia classmate, now a doctor. The drug sends Wilmot into the skin of the little boy who would grow up to be perhaps the most gifted painter of all time. These intensely interesting journeys are not quite relaxing for Wilmot. In ways they are a reproach for the life he has led, refusing to create the art his ex-wife Lotte, now a small-time gallery owner, still urges him to make. (If he would just cut loose and paint, he could get proper medical care for his sick young son.) The aftereffect of the drug is that he can and does paint, possibly better than ever, concentrating as never before. But those Velasquez trips are increasingly intriguing: He's in Renaissance Madrid painting the king and then back in the present, still painting better than anyone ever has. So well, in fact, that he gains the interest of those in the rich and frightening world of forgers. Alas, the drug also seems to be wiping out his past. Fast, frightening and, asusual, richly imagined.
Booklist (starred review)
“Gruber is on a roll…[a] terrific art-historical thriller…a perfect place to get lost for a few days. Once again, Gruber mines a popular vein and strikes gold.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“This is an art lover’s dream. Mystery and obsession are textured with art history in a plot that explores not only the shifting nature of art, but also the complex nature of identity.
Chicago Sun-Times
“Ingenious...The author owns his subject matter and packs it with well-researched details, making this...a successful, suspenseful examination of insanity, forgery and reality.”
Arizona Republic
“Gruber writes thrillers for smart people. This novel is about art and creativity. That sounds lofty, but Gruber gives it humor and heart. The ensuing drama, involving a forgery believed to be the work of Diego Velazquez, keeps you on your toes.”
Tampa Tribune
“Michael Gruber giv(es) us a finale in which the excitement level is high because we don’t know who, if anyone, to trust. It’s a satisfying conclusion, one that will leave readers debating the morality of Wilmot’s final decision.”
Seattle Times
“Michael Gruber’s new thriller, THE FORGERY OF VENUS, is as layered as a luminous portrait by an old master. A tour-de-force combination of suspense and characterization, as well as a primer on the world of art and art forgery.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“A quick and sharp romp through the art world. Downright delicious.”
Toronto Globe and Mail
“This terrific art thriller has history, thieves, insider snippets and a convoluted plot to keep you guessing.”
Boston Globe
“(An) imaginative novel of psychological suspense.”
Edmonton Journal (Canada)
“Stunning...utterly unique, and breathtakingly original. It’s one of those novels you want to press upon your friends, fully confident that it will not disappoint. It’s a tour de force performance from Gruber, and a novel worthy of considerable attention.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Michael Gruber’s large and growing number of fans won’t be disappointed with his sixth novel, a thriller in the art history vein. He’s woven a tale within a tale within a tale, all filled with marvelous twists and turns that build suspense and heighten the mystery until the satisfying conclusion.”
New Orleans Times-Picayune
“THE FORGERY OF VENUS is the latest in Gruber’s series of amazing books. He has applied his deft touch to everything from Shakespeare to shamanism, yielding a finely drawn portrait of an engrossing world every time.“
USA Today
“Tantalizing...exhilarating. Retains the power from the first chapter to keep readers desperate for the suspenseful, addictive fix of every succeeding one. FORGERY OF VENUS is a highly intelligent novel that entertains and educates.”
Wichita Eagle
“Smart and literate. Gruber approaches art with obvious appreciation, and has woven a clever story with plenty of detail.”
"Gruber is on a roll…[a] terrific art-historical thriller…a perfect place to get lost for a few days. Once again, Gruber mines a popular vein and strikes gold."
Chronicle Herald
“Michael Gruber has created a first-rate thriller that throws the reader into the art world, past and present.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Forgery of Venus
A Novel

Chapter One

Thanks for listening. I realize this is an imposition, but when I heard Mark was throwing this party and he said he'd invited you, I thought it was perfect timing. There's other stuff I want to talk about, but that can wait until I see you again. It's a shame you haven't seen the actual painting—those posters are shit, like all reproductions—but I guess you've read the stories about how it was found and all that. These are lies, or may be lies. Reality seems to be more flexible than I'd imagined. Anyway, let me set the stage for this.

Did you ever do any acid, back in the day? Yeah, now that I think about it, I believe I gave you your first hit, blotter acid, purple in color, and we spent the day in Riverside Park walking, and we had that conversation about seagulls, what it was like to be one, and I seem to recall you transmitted your consciousness to one of them and kited along the Hudson, and then later we spent the bad part of the trip in your room in the apartment. It was just before spring break our senior year. When I asked you how you liked it after, you said you couldn't wait for it to be over. Oh, yes.

And that's my point—it implied that you knew you were doping, knew you were hallucinating, even though the hallucinations might have seemed totally real. One time—did I ever tell you about this?—I was tripped out on acid and I happened to have this triangular tortoiseshell guitar pick on me, and I spent half the night staring at it, and all those little brown swirls came alive and showed me the entire history of Western art, from Lascaux cave painting,through Cycladic sculpture and the Greeks and Giotto, Raphael, Caravaggio, right up to Cézanne, and not only that—it revealed to me the future of art, shapes and images that would break through the sterile wastelands of postmodernism and generate a new era in the great pageant of human creativity.

And of course after that I couldn't wait to trip again, so the next weekend I got all my art supplies lined up and the guitar pick in hand and I dropped a huge fucking dose, and nothing. Worse than nothing, because the guitar pick was just what it was, a cheap piece of plastic, but there was a malign presence in the room, like a giant black Pillsbury Doughboy, and I was being squashed and smothered under it and it was laughing at me, because the whole guitar pick event was a scam designed to get me to trip again so this thing could eat me.

You remember Zubkoff, don't you, my old roommate? Pre-med? The guy who stayed in his room studying all the time. We called him the Magic Mushroom? I heard from him again, out of the blue. He's a research scientist now. I joined a study he was doing on a drug to enhance creativity.

Did you ever wonder how your brain worked? Like, say, where do ideas come from? I mean, where do they come from? A completely new idea, like relativity or using perspective in painting. Or, why are some people terrifically creative and others are patzers? Okay, being you, maybe the whole issue never came up.

But it's always fascinated me, the question of questions, and even beyond that I desperately wanted to get back to the guitar pick, I wanted to see what's next. I mean, in Western art. I still can't quite believe that it's all gurgled down to the nothing that it looks like now, big kitsch statues of cartoon characters, and wallpaper and jukeboxes, and pickled corpses, and piles of dry-cleaning bags in the corner of a white room, and "This is a cock." Of course you might say, well, things pass. Europeans stopped doing representational art for a thousand years and then they started up again. Verse epics used to be the heart of literature all over the world and then they stopped getting written. So maybe the same thing has happened to easel painting. And we have the movies now. But then you have to ask, why is the art market so huge? People want paintings, and all that's available is this terrible crap. There has to be some way of not being swamped in the ruthless torrent of innovation, as Kenneth Clark called it. As my father was always saying.

I mean, you really have to ask, do we love the old masters because they're old and rare, just portable chunks of capital, or do we love them because they give us something precious and eternally valuable? If the latter, why aren't we still doing it? Okay, everybody's forgotten how to draw, but still . . .

Drifting here. Back to Zubkoff. He called me up. He said he was running a study out of the Columbia med school, lots of funding from the government, National Institutes of Mental Health, or whatever, to explore whether human creativity could be enhanced by taking a drug. They were using art students, music students, and he also wanted to get some older artists in on it, so they could check if age was a variable. And he thought of me. Well, free dope. That was never a hard sell.

Anyway, I volunteered, and here we all are. And I'm sure you're wondering now why, after however long it is, old Wilmot is dropping all this on me. Because you're the only one left, the only person who knows me and who doesn't care enough about me to humor me if I'm nuts. I'm being blunt, I know, but it's true. And while I'm being blunt, of all the people I've known, you're the one with the solidest grasp of what the world calls reality. You have no imagination at all. Again, sorry to drop this on you. I'm dying to know what you think.

The Forgery of Venus
A Novel
. Copyright © by Michael Gruber. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author Michael Gruber is the author of five acclaimed novels. He lives in Seattle.

Brief Biography

Seattle, Washington
Date of Birth:
October 1, 1940
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A., Columbia University, 1961; Ph.D., University of Miami, 1973

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The Forgery of Venus 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
Pop a pill, smoke a joint, have a drink, or just do whatever it is that helps you relax and suspend belief for awhile and then you can go on a really fine ride created by author Michael Gruber, who mixes fact and fantasy to the point where you might wonder if you have also lost your mind as has the book's main character. I enjoyed it so much, I found myself googling artists and admiring paintings discussed in the book so that I had a better idea of what was being discussed. We can argue about what is art, but I think you will agree that this book is indeed a work of art.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a student of art history and as one involved in the art world I loved this book. I also loved the play between reality and the unreal world. I very much enjoyed the ending ~ it eas delightful.
Mariet More than 1 year ago
Michael Gruber is amazing. His research is excellent! I loved reading about the world of art and artists. Where do they get their talent? Is it a gift or a curse? Do artists have any reality? His characterizations were spendid. I look forward to seeing any Diego Velazquez work and will always wonder if it is a forgery!
mindbuilder More than 1 year ago
If you are at all interested in art this is the book for you. Gruber delves into the world of art forgery in such a way that you almost feel like you are reading a documentary. For anyone with an artistic flair, you can easily put yourself in the shoes of the main character, and the author does good job of making you "feel" the true experience of a master painter as he creates a work of art, while also keeping you on the edge of your seat, straddling the fence between sanity and insanity through his main character.
R_E_Conary More than 1 year ago
I'm a sucker for novels about art forgery and faked antiques. I've thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy series and Iain Pears Art History mysteries featuring Jonathan Argyll and the Italian art theft squad. So seeing "The Forgery of Venus" was a no-brainer for picking up, but this book was more than an art scam rip-off; it's a kaleidoscope look inside the "hero's" head that makes this a masterpiece read.

Artist Chaz Wilmot has little regard for modern painting technique: "Anyone can do a figure in oils. If you screw up, you just paint over it, and who cares if the paint is half an inch thick. The thing is to catch the life without trying, without any obvious working." When someone says that he's painting like Velásquez, Chaz agrees. "I can paint like anybody except me." So Chaz takes on the challenge of recreating (not restoring) a Tiepolo fresco so successfully no expert can tell the difference. Then, later, he creates a "lost" Venus by Velásquez, while channeling the dead artist--living within the artist in 17th Century Spain and Italy--until he is so mixed up that "I had no idea who I was."

"There were possibilities, I had those,... I might be Chaz Wilmot, hack artist, forger of a painting now hailed as one of the great works of Velásquez, hiding out from criminals. I might be Chaz Wilmot successful New York painter, now insane and under treatment... Or I might be Diego Velásquez, caught in a nightmare. Or some combination. Or someone else entirely. Or maybe this was hell itself. How would I tell?"

So who is he? Does it matter? The transitions from being Wilmot to being Velásquez are so smooth that it takes the reader a moment to realize which one is speaking.

"I run blindly, tripping and bumping into people...and then I am swept up off my feet and held, a man in black, a broad hat and a cassock, a priest...and I say my name, Gito de Siva,...and he says he will take me home, and I am glad to be saved but also terrified that I will be beaten and so I struggle in his arms. The priest says, hey, take it easy, buddy! And I find myself struggling with a UPS man in a brown uniform."

Then there are Chaz's descriptions of painting technique: "I stretched a big canvas, over five by seven feet. I sized it with glue mixed with carbon black, and when it was dry I put on a thin layer of iron oxide, red lake, and carbon black, mixed with powdered limestone. Paint like Velásquez, prep like Velásquez." "The paint was thin, the fine canvas almost showing through, the brushwork free as a swallow in the skies, the palette simple, not more than five pigments." "(T)he handling of the satin of the 'camauro' and the 'manteletta' and the dense fall of the 'rochetta,' white but made of every color but white..." "I lay in the shadows on the white cloth--not white in the painting, of course, only fools paint it so with actual white paint..." "I brush in thin tints...always thin so that the white of the underpainting shows through..." "...using smalt with calcite on the dress, touches of lapis...I want transparency and speed; I'm working with the paint thinned to a milky liquid, a few back-and-forth swashes..."

It's invigorating, absorbing. And I find my fingers itching, my mind composing a scene, and I want to dig out my old box of
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
Art lovers and art historians should find this novel especially enjoyable, but it's really for anyone who just loves a wild tale. Chaz Wilmot is a painter in New York City who has long failed to live up to his capability and inherent talent. At a time when he's particularly desperate for cash, he's given two opportunities which are seemingly unrelated: participation in a study of the effects of the drug salvinorin, and creating a forgery of a "lost" Velazquez painting. From that point on his life becomes increasingly surreal as he moves back and forth in time and space, taking on the persona of Diego Velazquez and assuming the painter's genius. When in current time, he is at times frightened by his deepening involvement in the murky but lucrative world of art fraud. Chaz at some point believes he has totally lost touch with reality and is insane. Even the reader sometimes wonders. A fascinating story - highly recommended!
harstan More than 1 year ago
Chaz Wilmot¿s father C.P. Wilmot as he signed his work is a highly regarded illustrator. However, Chaz is much more talented than his dad or any of his contemporaries. Still they sell while he hacks out a living doing commercial crap. His former wife Lotte, owner of an art gallery, is disappointed in Chaz as she recognizes his talent and believes he would sell big time but he feels obligated to avoid the starving artist syndrome since they need money now for their ailing son. --- Chaz accepts work to restore a ceiling in a Venus palazzo. Before the trek overseas, a friend from their Columbia University days gives him a hallucinatory drug. In Italy, he finds the assignment exciting as it calls for a recreation rather than a restoration. With the aftereffect of the drug enabling him to focus while he somehow lives the life of noted seventeenth century artist Diego Velasquez, he becomes the Renaissance master past and present. As Chaz worries about his sanity with each time travel trek eradicating a piece of his memories, the art forger underground offer him wealth that will provide the best medical care in the world for his child in exchange for a few Velasquez masterpieces. --- This unique odd thriller is a terrific character study as Chaz is caught between his talent, what sells, his essence and his son¿s life. In a Twilight Zone like way, as he becomes more like Velasquez, the protagonist becomes less Chaz yet if he quits he loses the opportunity for funding his beloved child¿s medical needs. THE FORGERY OF VENUS is a strong tale starring a fascinating lead character who must make difficult choices amongst the art of love. ---Harriet Klausner
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Paloma More than 1 year ago
If you didn't like Vanilla Sky and Samuel Beckett, you won't like The Forgery of Venus. If you liked at least one of the two, you'll like at least portions of this book, while you argue at the book through the rest of it. Gruber is a capable writer and has, at least, sufficient command of painting to be convincing in parts. The major problem would have been correctible with a good editor and that was failure to select and remain in one point of view. Instead of writing the story as it happens, Gruber chose to write the story in the past as if it were on a CD given to a friend of the protagonist, set in real time. Much of the CD thus becomes a narrative, which would have caused me to close the book, were I not so intersted in art. At the point in the story that Gruber himself lost track of which of the points of view he most recently used and then starts writing a novel, we have an actual novel, written in real time, accomplishing the harder jobs of full dialogue and description and events. At that point, you get a glimpse of Gruber's potential and the work is, as a direct result, far more interesting to read. Unfortunately, Gruber ultimately gave in to an all too convenient debate (not dialogue) between two characters at the end who immitate a philosophical conclusion. Gruber has raw talent, but needs editing.
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