The Forgery of Venus: A Novel

The Forgery of Venus: A Novel

by Michael Gruber


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060874490
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/10/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 620,928
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

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


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

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.

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The Forgery of Venus 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 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
sharlene_w on LibraryThing 30 days ago
A knock off of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring -- the story is fact and fiction woven around a famous painting. Most of the story is told via a recording on a CD--a first person account of an artist who travels through time and space while under the influence of a drug. In reality--that portion of the book fills more than 7 discs in the audio format. An interesting premise for a story, but I was rather put off by this book. I like a book that enlightens me in some area--I learn a few things about the world while I am reading. I'll admit it, art history isn't my strong suit, but rather than feel like I learned something, I felt like I just spent several hours with someone who was trying way to hard to impress me with what they knew. The plot was overshadowed by superfluous ostentatious crap. No real drama either. Disappointing. It was one of those experiences that left me wondering why -- why I kept plodding through it.
indygo88 on LibraryThing 30 days ago
This one's got somewhat of a surreal quality to it. The plot moves along a little bit slowly, and some of the references to art restoration and forgery were somewhat lost on me, but I also found that I learned some things, specifically about the Spanish artist Velazquez. The main meat of the novel centers on a current-day artist, Chaz Wilmot, who plods along in life doing art parodies, despite the fact that he is really quite talented, following in the footsteps of his artist father. He is eventually commissioned by a German art dealer to re-create a lost Velazquez piece, passing it off as the real thing. In the meantime, he has memory flashbacks, some from his own childhood, and some as the artist Velazquez himself, in 17th century Spain. This may or may not be a result of a drug study he is participating in. The reader is led to believe this is the case, but that's when the surreal aspect comes in and the reader is struggling to separate what's real and what is imagined. While it makes for an interesting story and the reader is kept guessing, it's also somewhat confusing and disjointed at times. I enjoyed the story for the most part, although it didn't necessarily grip me like I think it had the potential to do.
ACQwoods on LibraryThing 3 months ago
The first few times I heard about this popular novel, I thought the plot sounded too contrived for me to enjoy it. But after numerous strong reviews from diverse sources I added it to my list. As soon as I started reading it I couldn't put it down. It's the story of a painter in present day New York City whose style and technique belong in an older era. When he joins a clinical trial for a new drug designed to increase creativity, he finds himself traveling back first to his own youth and then to that of a famous painter. Soon he's not sure what is real, past and present, and when a painting by an old master is discovered the reader no longer knows who the real artist is. It was an unexpected page turner!
5hrdrive on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Very unique - an intricate tale told by an unreliable narrator. This is the second Gruber novel I've read and I just love his voice.
auntmarge64 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Michael Gruber is one of my favorite authors, and I think I've read all of his novels at this point.. This one is about the world of artists and forgers, but the central question is whether the main character is mad (always an intriguing question). I found the information about the art world somewhat too detailed at times, but as the story progressed and the main character's dilemma came into focus, the difficulty of determining which of his experiences were real became quite a scary proposition to contemplate.
adpaton on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Michael Gruber is one of those rare writers who do not hesitate to surprise the reader with some strange and unexpected twist: the ingenious Book of Air and Shadows had an Olympian weight lifter as the hero of a delicate literary mystery.This novel concerns a priceless and newly discovered Velazquez Venus which is both a forgery, since it is painted by 21st Century artist Chaz Wilmot, yet not a forgery, since at the time of painting the artist was possessed by the spirit of Velazquez. Not quite as good perhaps as its predecessor but never-the-less The Forgery of Venus is an educated, informative, intriguing and interesting literary novel.
nancnn2 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This review refers to an unabridged audio edition of the book.I found this in my library right before a recent trip, and thought it sounded like something I would, history, intrigue. My trip was approximately 12 hours of driving, and I am afraid that this book made it seem twice as long.What a disappointment. No character in this book engaged me. I didn't like them, I didn't dislike them...I just didn't care about them, or what happened to them. I felt the author just repeated the same passages in slightly different settings over and over (and over) again. Even the historical flashbacks to another painter in another time were disappointing. I did not feel transported, and I did not feel that I learned anything about the time period.Interestingly, when I clicked on "will I like this book" on LibraryThing, it suggested that, "yes, you will love it." My general reading interests completely fit the profile of someone who would, indeed, enjoy this book. Obviously, profiling has its limits.
BobNolin on LibraryThing 3 months ago
As an artist and history buff, I loved this book! Just tore through it. The thriller/mystery aspects of seemed to be almost unnecessary, but then I guess it sells books. Towards the end I got lost in the hall of mirrors, but maybe it'll make sense on the second reading. And I will read it again -- it was that good. Much better than Book of Air and Shadows. As in that book, we have a disturbed main character, but this time I could relate to him. Maybe it's because I'm an artist (Venus) and not a sex addict (Air and Shadows). And this time, the man's emotional problems were central to the story, whereas in Air and Shadows, it seemed totally beside the point. Gruber is a wonderful writer, and we agree about art and politics, it seems, so that helps. Don't know if I would've enjoyed it so much if I wasn't an artist and hadn't studied art history. I would've enjoyed this story if it was just a time travel piece while under the influence. Hell, I've read plenty of time travel stories with much flimsier underpinnings. I didn't need a mystery/thriller to drive it along, really. And considering the "real" story is left up to our imaginations, I wonder if it was, again, just beside the point. It's almost like Gruber sets out to write a book of a certain type and sticks to it even after it becomes a different sort of story. Or, as in Air and Shadows, perhaps he's trying to write in mongrel genre, the Time travel/ mystery thriller potboiler. Personally, I find his insights and erudition more than enough to make him worth reading. I don't need him to pretend to be John Grisham, too. (Never read Grisham, but you catch my drift.)
ElizaJane on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Chaz Wilmot is a painter who is stuck in a rut producing advertising art so he can afford to pay for his son's expensive medical treatments. He agrees to take part in an experimental drug study focusing on artists and their creativity. Soon afterwards Chaz starts slipping into memories of the great painter Diego Velazquez. But these may not just be memories; he seems to actually be leaping back in time and living the painters' life. This is the beginning of a roller coaster ride that carries Chaz from New York to Italy, from sanity to insanity and into the world of international art forgery. Chaz is very confused and doesn't understand what is happening and the reader tries to make sense of it all. Is Chad having drug-induced visions? Is there something supernatural happening to him? Or perhaps Chad is really a psychotic mental patient? This was a thrilling read that continuously kept me guessing. Chaz is a very unreliable narrator and because of that I did find it hard to connect with him and actually care what happened to him. The profanity in the narrative bothered me some. It's one thing to have characters swearing at each other but I find it irritating when the narrator is swearing at me. However, the plot was a whirlwind of intrigue that kept me interested until the unsettling finish. I also loved the art world setting from the New York art galleries to 15th century Italy and Spain. Recommended.
Coyote99 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Loved the book. If you like the plot twists and time shifts of the ABC hit "Lost" and have a background (or at least a good survey course) in art history and the grand masters of the quattrocentro period in Spain and Italy; you will enjoy Michael Gruber's newest...The Forgery of Venus: A Novel. Told from Chaz Wilmot's account of insanity and time travel in CDs left for his college room mate, Gruber builds the aura of insanity and looming threat with subtle and not so subtle layers. I really liked Chaz Wilmot's "voice" Felt he was believable as a very intense artist with a very loose grip on reality. Overall, a good, absorbing read with a nicely excecuted plot.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Having just finished this book, I searched around for reviews of this novel and observed that people either really liked this book or they really disliked it. I'm in the middle somewhere. On one hand, books that explore the boundaries between reality and unreality are my favorite genre of novels, and I do agree with the statement that the narrator makes at the end of this novel where he says " truth has left the building." Everything is manipulable now, even photography, and art is a lie to begin with...We all tell lies, even the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, even in the intimate depths of our private thoughts." If ever there was a statement one could consider true, this is it, accompanied by the one that says "if it can be believable, it can be real." For this reason, I loved exploring Forgery of Venus. Right up to the end I was sucked in completely and when a book can do that, well, that's a good sign as far as keeping my reading interest alive. The book also has a bit of a feel of DuMaurier's House on the Strand, which I happened to enjoy, with the scenes going back in time to the painter Velazquez, then forward again with a jolt. I also have enjoyed pretty much whatever Michael Gruber has written, because I do enjoy the way he goes about setting up a very palpable sense of tension in his books. His characters (imho) are not always meant to be likeable and so you can't find fault there (I did not like the main character, Chaz Wilmot, but hey...if I didn't like him, then the author's done his job), but the main players, I thought, were drawn well, down to their respective psychoses. On the flip side, though, I felt like the resolution to Chaz Wilmot's dilemma was way too pat and I was a bit disappointed. Also, imho, some of the scenes where he was lost in the world of Velazquez were at points tedious to read and I started skimming, a fate I generally reserve for romantic interludes in novels where I don't think they are appropriate.I'll be buying this one when it comes out to add to my collection of Gruber's novels. I'd recommend it to people who are interested in art and art history, as well as people who enjoy a good suspense novel. And, if there are other people such as myself who enjoy reading about the elusiveness of truth and reality, this one will hold your interest for a while. Overall, a good read and one I'd recommend, but not to the mainstream reading public. Once again, my thanks to Librarything and HarperCollins for the opportunity to review this book.
Electablue on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This is the first book I read by Michael Gruber and I enjoyed it, for the most part. The book grabbed me from the first page, and I found the combination of the historical detail and the information about art a fascinating combination. The book was a little slower paced than I would have liked, especially if it is supposed to be a thriller, but it still held my attention throughout and had enough twists and turns in the plots that always kept me guessing.
karen_o on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Chaz Wilmot is a talented artist, the son of a slightly less talented artist, and is obsessed with the idea of wasting his talent and thus doing exactly that. In addition to the paltry sums he brings in with commercial work he is a paid participant in the trial of a completely legal but somewhat psychotropic drug hoping to identify the roots of human creativity. With two ex-wives and three children to support -- one of whom is desperately ill -- he desperately needs money and when he's offered a huge sum to recreate a frescoed ceiling in Venice, the offer is just too good to refuse.What follows is a finely crafted, intricately woven novel of psychological suspense that I found completely absorbing. While at certain stages I felt that I could have used an art history lesson to get full enjoyment out of the book -- and I'm sure that readers with more knowledge of art than I have will reap an extra dimension -- ultimately that was beside the point and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the ride I'd signed on for.With the only other Michael Gruber novel I've read being The Book of Air and Shadows, I will definitely be checking out more of this author's backlist.
VisibleGhost on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Where to start? The Forgery of Venus is not poorly written. The pacing is good. Art is described well. The concepts are a step above the average mystery. So what's wrong with it? In a word, Chaz Wilmot, the main character. He's just not interesting. Neither as a sane man nor an insane one. He comes across as whiny and unsympathetic. He never roused my interest much less took me to a place of suspended belief. Therefor, the flow of the story never took off but drug on until I was agitated with the book. The Forgery of Venus falls short of being an engrossing read.
sshartelg on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is the second Gruber book I've read in the last year - I read "The Book of Air and Shadows" this summer - and based on these two books, I can't wait for his next one. (After reading "The Book of Air and Shadows" I thought I would read his earlier books, but after I read their plot summaries, I decided they didn't sound as interesting to me as his two latest works have proved to be.)"The Forgery of Venus" is a fast paced suspense novel set in New York, Venice, Madrid, Rome, and Bavaria. I did not want to put the book down as I followed protagonist Chaz Wilmot through his experiences - some real, some imagined, but the reader and Chaz are never quite sure until the very end - in the underground world of high end art forgery. If you are interested in the big money art scene in NYC and Europe, the underground world of forgers, or you just like a novel that leaves you guessing until the end, you should like "The Forgery of Venus"
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