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Almost twenty-five years after the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—still the largest unsolved art theft in history—one of the stolen Degas paintings is delivered to the Boston studio of a young artist. Claire Roth has entered into a Faustian bargain with a powerful gallery owner by agreeing to forge the Degas in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But as she begins her work, she starts to suspect that this long-missing masterpiece—the very one that had been hanging at the Gardner for one hundred years—may itself be a forgery. The Art Forger is a thrilling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.
|Publisher:||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
|Product dimensions:||8.20(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
B. A. Shapiro lives in Boston and teaches fiction writing at Northeastern University. Author website: www.BAShapiroBooks.com.
Read an Excerpt
The ART FORGERA NOVEL
By B. A. SHAPIRO
ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILLCopyright © 2012 Barbara A. Shapiro
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI step back and scrutinize the paintings. There are eleven, although I have hundreds, maybe thousands. My plan is to show him only pieces from my window series. Or not. I pull my cell from my pocket, check the time. I can still change my mind. I remove Tower, a highly realistic painting of reflections off the glass Hancock building, and replace it with Sidewalk, an abstraction of Commonwealth Avenue through a parlor-level bay window. Then I switch them back.
I've been working on the window series for over two years, rummaging around the city with my sketchbook and Nikon. Church windows, reflective windows, Boston's ubiquitous bays. Large, small, old, broken, wood-and metal-framed. Windows from the outside in and the inside out. I especially like windows on late winter afternoons before anyone inside notices the darkening sky and snaps the blinds shut.
I hang Sidewalk next to Tower. Now there are a dozen, a nice round number. But is it right? Too many and he'll be overwhelmed. Too few and he'll miss my breadth, both in content and style. It's so difficult to choose. One of the many reasons studio visits make me so nervous.
And what's up with this visit anyway? I'm a pariah in the art world, dubbed "the Great Pretender." Have been for almost three years. And suddenly Aiden Markel, the owner of the world-renowned Markel G, is on his way to my loft. Aiden Markel, who just a few months ago barely acknowledged my presence when I stopped by the gallery to see a new installation. And now he's suddenly all friendly, complimentary, asking to see my latest work, leaving his tony Newbury Street gallery to slum it in SOWA in order to appreciate my paintings, as he said, "in situ."
I glance across the room at the two paintings sitting on easels. Woman Leaving Her Bath, a nude climbing out of a tub and attended to by a clothed maid, was painted by Edgar Degas in the late nineteenth century; this version was painted by Claire Roth in the early twenty-first. The other painting is only half-finished: Camille Pissarro's The Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise à la Roth. Reproductions.com pays me to paint them, then sells the paintings online as "perfect replicas" whose "provenance only an art historian could discern" for ten times my price. These are my latest work.
I turn back to my windows, pace, narrow my eyes, pace some more. They'll just have to do. I throw a worn Mexican blanket over the rumpled mattress in the corner then gather the dirty dishes scattered around the studio and dump them in the sink. I consider washing them, decide not to. If Aiden Markel wants in situ, I'll give him in situ. But I do fill a bowl with cashews and pull out a bottle of white wine—never red at a studio visit—and a couple of glasses.
I wander to the front of the studio and look out the row of windows onto Harrison Avenue. The same view as Loft. I spend a lot of time in this spot, pretending to work through my latest project, but mostly daydreaming, spying, procrastinating. It's four stories up, and each of the six windows in front of me stretches from two feet above the floor to two feet below the fifteen-foot ceiling.
This building was once a factory—handkerchiefs, some old-timer told me. But the old-timers aren't known for their veracity, so it could have been hats or suspenders or maybe not even a factory at all. Now it's a warren of artists' studios, some, as in my case, live-in studios. Illegal, of course, but cheap.
According to media hype, SOWA—South of Washington—is the new trendy district in the south end of Boston's South End; the north was the new trendy area about ten years ago. But to me, and to anyone who spends any time here, it's barely on the cusp. Warehouses, projects, a famous homeless shelter, and abandoned basketball courts form the base of a neighborhood erratically pockmarked with expensive restaurants, art galleries, and pristine residential buildings protected by security. The roar of I-93 is so constant it sounds like silence. I wouldn't want to live any where else.
Below, Aiden Markel turns the corner from East Berkeley with his lanky, graceful stride. Even from half a block away, I can see he's wearing perfectly tailored pants—most likely linen—and what's probably a $500 shirt. It's eighty-five degrees on a late summer after noon, and the guy looks as if he stepped out of his Back Bay condo on a cool September morning. He pulls out his cell, glances at my building, and touches the screen. My phone rings.
There's no elevator and no air-conditioning in the hallways and stairwells. As we hit the fourth floor, Markel's breathing is steady and his clothes are bandbox. Clearly, the man spends time in the gym. Not to mention that he hasn't stopped talking since I let him in the door. No one would guess we've barely spoken to each other in three years.
"I was around the corner from here just the other day," Markel says, continuing his running monologue of small talk. "Dedham and Harrison. Looked at Pat Hirsi's newest project. You know him, right?"
I shake my head no.
"He's working with cobblestones. Very ingenious."
I pull open the wide steel door with two hands.
Markel steps over the threshold, takes a deep breath, and closes his eyes. "Nothing like the smell of an artist at work." He keeps his eyes closed, which isn't exactly what I want him to do; he's supposed to be here to look at my paintings, fall in love with them, and set me up with a one-woman show at Markel G. Right. Like that's going to happen. Although, what is going to happen or why he's here is beyond me.
"How about a glass of wine?" I ask.
He finally opens his eyes and gives me a slow, warm smile. "Will you be joining me?"
I can't help but smile back. He's not classically handsome, his features are too large for that, but there's something in the way he carries himself, the wide deep-set eyes, the dimple in his chin, that tugs at me. Charisma, I guess. That and our shared history.
"Sure." I grab a pile of canvases I somehow forgot were on my beaten up couch and lean them against an even more beaten up coffee table. Sometimes I think I'm a living parody of myself: the starving artist sleeping on a mattress in her studio to save on rent. Yet, there it is.
Markel doesn't move. He stares at me for a long moment then shifts his gaze over my shoulder, a wistful look on his face. I know he's thinking about Isaac. I probably should just say something, but I don't know what to say. That I'm sorry? That I'm still upset? That I lost a friend, too?
I pour wine into two juice glasses as he settles into the couch. Not an easy feat as it's lumpy and too deep for comfort. I should get a new one, or at least a new secondhand one, but the landlord just raised my rent, and I'm pretty much broke.
I sit in the rocking chair across from him and lean forward. "I heard your Jocelyn Gamp show went fabulously well."
He takes a sip of his wine. "It was her molten pieces. She sold everything she had. Plus three commissions. Amazing lady. Amazing artist. The Met's requested a studio visit."
I like how he doesn't take any of the credit. "She sold" rather than "I sold" or even "we sold." Extremely rare among the run-amok egos of most dealers and gallery owners.
"Not often a Boston show gets covered in the New York Times," I suck up.
"Yes, it was quite the coup," he admits. "I'm glad to see that you're still following the goings-on in the art world even though we haven't exactly been following yours."
I look up sharply. What the hell does that mean? But I see that his eyes hold compassion, maybe even a little guilt.
"Isaac's Orange Nude sold last week," he says.
Ah. As everyone knows, I was the model for Orange Nude. Even though it's an abstraction, there's no denying my long, unmanageable red hair or the paleness of my skin or my brown eyes. If I hadn't thrown it out the door when we broke up, I'd probably be living in a condo in Back Bay instead of renting in an industrial building in SOWA. But then again, I'm not the Back Bay type. "Don't tell me how much you got for it."
"I'll spare you the pain. But the sale started me thinking about you, about the raw deal you got."
I struggle to keep the surprise off my face. In the last three years, no one outside of a few art buddies and my mother—who never really understood what it all meant—has looked at the situation from my point of view.
"So I decided to come down and see what you've been up to," he continues. "Maybe I can help."
My heart leaps at the offer, and I jump up. "I pulled out a few from my latest series." I wave at the paintings. "Obviously, windows."
Markel walks toward the pieces. "Windows," he repeats, and he takes in the whole dozen from a distance, then approaches each individually.
"It's urban windows, Boston windows. Hopper-esque thematically, but more multidimensional. Not just the public face of loneliness, but who we are in many dimensions. Unseen from the inside. Or unknowingly seen. On display from outside, posturing or forgetting. Separations. Reflections, refractions."
"Light," he murmurs. "Wonderful light."
"That, too. Without light nothing can be seen. And with it, still so much is unobserved." Studio visits make me talk like a pompous art critic.
"Your light is amazing. The subtle values. Almost Vermeerlike." He points to Loft. "I'm struck by the difference in value in the light from the far left window through to the right ones." He steps closer. "Each slightly different, and yet each such a luminous part of the whole."
I'm also pleased with that particular play, but Vermeer, the master of light ...
"How many glazings are you doing?"
I'm reluctant to admit the truth. Not only are very few artists using classical oil techniques these days, but those who are aren't nearly as compulsive as I am about layering. I shrug. "Eight? Nine?" Which is actually low for me.
"It's reminiscent of the light falling on the black-and-white tile floor in The Concert." He walks closer to Loft. "The light bouncing off the building here. It's almost as if it's caressing the diamonds of the chain-link."
He steps back, examines the paintings closely, just as I had earlier. "I love how you're playing with classical style and contemporary subjects, with abstraction. But it's the realistic pieces that grab me." He waves dismissively at Sidewalk. "The abstracts aren't nearly as strong."
"Not too OTC?" I ask. OTC is "over the couch" in artist-speak, a derogatory term for paintings purchased by buyers who want their artwork to match their décor.
Markel laughs. "Not even close. I've been trying to tell people for years that realism isn't dead. That nothing can touch a great talent in classical oil."
A rush of warmth fills my body and races up to my face. It's been a long time since anyone said anything like that about me.
"I have lots more," I say, heading over to the three-tiered shelving I built to house my art books and canvases, although now it's all canvases and my books are in semiorganized piles on the floor. The shelves are a mess, of course. But a mess I know intimately.
I begin pulling paintings before he says he wants to see them. I grab the stepladder. I need it so I can reach the highest shelf, which is where I store most of my more realistic paintings. The ones I figured no one would be interested in.
"These some of your reproductions?" Markel calls from the other side of the room.
I look over my shoulder. "Yeah. I don't usually have any completed ones here. But the truck's tied up all week, so the Degas isn't getting picked up till Friday."
"Reproductions.com. Got to love the name. Saw the article in the Globe last month. Nice exposure for you." He hesitates. "I guess?"
"Not exactly the kind I'm looking for." Just what I need: publicity for pretending to paint someone else's masterpiece. "I tried to get out of the interview, but Repro wouldn't stand for it."
"Are they doing as well as their hype?"
"Probably better," I say, although I'm not really listening and not at all interested in Repro. I'm too focused on pulling my best paintings, but not too many. Light. Interesting value is what he wants, deep and translucent. I grab one. Not strong enough. Then another.
"Now this is OTC," he says, pointing to the Pissarro, which although incomplete is obviously filled with trees covered in masses of white blossoms.
I laugh. "For the pretentious."
"But poor," he adds.
I lumber down with three canvases under my arm. "Not all that poor. Those things go for thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands for the bigger ones. Unfortunately, I only get a fraction of that."
I quickly remove my more abstract paintings from the wall. Replace them with the ones I've chosen. I turn to him, but he's staring at the fake Degas.
"You're damn good at this."
"It beats waitressing."
His eyes don't leave my rendering. "I'll say."
"Degas' later work isn't all that hard to copy. Not like his early oils. They're a real bitch," I say, trying to be polite when every part of me wants to grab Markel and pull him to the other side of the studio. "What with all those layers. Painting and waiting. Painting and waiting. Could take months, maybe years."
"And Reproductions.com has you do that?"
"No. Never. A piece like that would have to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars." I come to stand by him. "Degas is my specialty, his oils in particular. I'm actually certified—whatever that means—by Repro, after I took the requisite classes." I wave to the piles of books in the corner. "I'm working on a book proposal about him. His relationship with other artists, dealers, collectors of his day. Cross-germination. That kind of stuff. But I'm not working on it as hard as I should be."
Markel's eyes remain glued to the Degas reproduction. "This seems like a better use of your time. Do they appreciate you?"
"Sometimes I get a bonus when people order a Degas with the stipulation that I'm the artist," I shrug. "Although you can hardly call a person who copies a masterpiece an artist."
He doesn't contradict me, and I gesture him back to my real work. He steals a last glance at Woman Leaving Her Bath before he follows.
We stand in silence, staring at my windows. I force myself to remain silent, to allow the work to speak for itself.
After two minutes that feel like twenty, Markel touches my arm. "Let's sit down."
We walk over to the couch and sit on opposite ends. He finishes off his wine and pours himself another. I decline his offer of a refill, wanting the wine, but fearing I'm too jittery to hold onto it.
Markel clears his throat, takes another sip. "Claire, I've just been given the opportunity of a lifetime. A chance to do good, real good for lots of people. And I hope you'll feel the same way about the one I'm about to give you." He pauses. "Although I suppose yours is really more like making a deal with the devil."
I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about, but I catch the word "opportunity." "And you're the devil?"
He shakes his head vigorously. "The devil's the one who gave me this opportunity. Although I've no idea who he is. He's levels away from me."
Although I meant it as a joke, he ponders the question, a professor attempting to answer a precocious student. "No. I guess that's wrong. Pawns are the better analogy. But clever pawns. Who can capture the queen. Either way, I'm mixing my metaphors."
"I've got no problem with the devil. I'm one of those people who thinks heaven would be boring. But being a pawn has never suited me."
This time he does laugh, but I can tell it's forced. "Then we'll stick with the devil."
Enough of this. "Okay," I say. "What are we talking about here?"
He locks his eyes on mine. "Something not quite on the up-and-up."
I don't break the stare. "I thought you said it was an opportunity to do good?"
"The end is good. It's just the means that are a bit iffy."
"There's illegal and there's illegal."
"And which one is this?"
Markel looks across the room at the Degas and Pissarro.
And now it all makes sense. "Oh" is all I can say.
He takes a sip of wine, relaxes into the lumpy couch. The most uncomfortable part of this conversation is clearly over for him.
I cross my arms over my chest. "I can't believe that after everything that's happened, you, of all people, would even consider asking me to forge a painting."
"How much does Reproductions.com pay you?"
"They pay me to copy, not to forge."
"So you said a fraction. A few thousand a picture? A little more?"
Often it's less, but I nod.
Excerpted from The ART FORGER by B. A. SHAPIRO Copyright © 2012 by Barbara A. Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“A clever, twisty novel about art, authenticity, love, and betrayal. B. A. Shapiro knows about Degas, and she knows about art theft and forgery, and she also knows how to tell a gripping story.”
“Blazingly good. Shapiro drops you where you’ve never been before, into the whole, crackingly alive world of art galleries, art forgeries, and the unexpected recesses of the human heart. As original as a real Degas, it’s also as unforgettable.”
—Caroline Leavitt,New York Timesbestselling author ofPictures of You
“An engaging journey. Will not only keep you as entertained as any thriller but leave you with a new appreciation of how paintings are made, evaluated, and understood—not to mention how they’re copied.”
—Arthur Golden, bestselling author ofMemoirs of a Geisha
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was such a fun story, especially made for art lovers and museum enthusiasts. Reads like a great beach read; the story is interesting enough that you want to tear through it, but not quite the page-turner of Hunger Games or Gone Girl. Even so, i will read it again, and soon, because of course my curiosity rushed me through. Clare's story is told through three different story lines that come together beautifully in the end without redundancies, which impressed me. The first story of her history three years ago: her torrid affair with a married art professor, a tortured artist type, and their "collaborative" painting she paints for him while he suffers a creative block in order that he not miss a great opportunity to show at New York's MOMA. The second storyline, told thru letter's of Isabelle Gardner about her friendship with Edgar Degas in 1890's Paris, which will help explore some of the mystery surrounding the Gardner Museum of Boston and the famous unsolved heist of paintings including one masterwork of Degas. The current storyline of Clare's life as a struggling artist who pays the rent by painting reproductions of masterworks, specializing in Degas while she bides her time waiting for discovery and a show of her own. Clare is offered an opportunity she cannot pass up from a promiment (and of course superbly attractive) gallery owner, something so great she wonders if it is a deal with the devil... and indeed, it may be. It makes for some very fun, very interesting, very imaginative reading!
Oh wow, this book is just captivating! I wanted to immediately read it again when I was finished! The suspense definitely had me going hours on end with this book and I didn't want to put it down. I kept wanting to know more about Claire's past with Isaac and her future with Aiden, her past with scandal and her future with forgery. When would Claire learn that her dependency on men to get ahead in the world as an artist only causes trouble? "When I accepted Markel's offer, I thought I'd be learning at the feet of a master painter; instead, my most powerful lessons have come from a master forger." (loc.1664) I had no idea how this book would pan out, and the ending was very satisfying. Perhaps it's because of my own love and hobby of the arts that sparks my intrigue, but the author did a wonderful job in telling this story. The slight of humor, the intensity of seriousness, the lightness in characterization was great! In particular I love the imagery she uses, as well as the metaphors and the personification of the artwork. I will absolutely want to reread this book again, as well as any other books by B.A. Shapiro. First Line: "I step back and scrutinize the paintings." (loc. 13) Last Line: "And no matter how big the commissions or how great the museums, I suppose I'll never know." (loc. 3815) ------- Quotes "The sweet possibility of reclaiming all that's been lost, everything I've ever wanted. But a forger? A pretender? The absolute last thing I want to be." (loc. 152) "'It's your call, Claire,' he reminds me. 'I can get someone else if I have to...' Someone else? 'Okay,' I tell him. 'I'm in.'" (loc. 404) "A writer friend once told me that when she walks into a library anywhere in the world, the smell makes her feel instantly at home." (loc. 730) "I'm astonished I was able to fool myself for as long as I did. That I, a self-proclaimed Degas expert, could be so taken in. I felt the truth the first moment I set eyes on the painting, yet I convinced myself otherwise. And I'm not alone." (loc. 1054) "A woman who makes a Faustian bargain is not without responsibility." (loc. 3810)
The Art Forger was recommended to me by my mother's best friend who is very well read...so I knew it was going to be good! This book caught my attention from the beginning! I am from Boston and very familiar with the Isabelle Gardner Museum heist. This past week there has also been a lot of hype due to new evidence in the case. If you like art history and historical fiction then you will love this book.
A good mystery about the meaning of art. Highly recommended.
A fun and fascinating mystery. From the first page I was engaged in the story and found it difficult to put the book down. The intertwining of fictionalized events involving people who once lived and the facts surrounding the infamous (and still unsolved) theft of 13 works of art from the Garner Museum, coupled with an intriguing what-if scenario about the reappearance of one of those missing treasures decades after the fact make a very satisfying story. Glimpses into the art world and the art of forgery add color and texture without distraction. I highly recommend The Art Forger.
I have read a lot of books and I have to say that The Art Forger is my favorite, it just kept me reading when ever I had time to do so. Great book. B.A. Shapiro, I can't wait for your next book.
Great book. I have no knowledge or particular interest in art, but the author weaves together a compelling story.
If your interested in oil paintings this is a good story and a look into the art world you may not know.
If you like museums, art, impressionism and mysteries this book will keep you interested for one night..... My only concern is that there were no more pages to read
Interesting book with some unexpected twists
Art teqniques described in a most interesting storyline.
It is 12:30 a.m. and I just finished the book- I couldn't put it down all day (and evening). I was totally engaged all the way through. I was fascinated with the authors attention to detail and her characters came to life in my imagination. I would love to see this made into a movie.
This book is a delight. I, too, stayed up late to finish it. Great suspense and what a delightful premise. There are so many interesting possibilities in an unsolved mystery and Ms Shapiro has taken full advantage. Thank you for a great read.
Suspense & Intrigue in the Art World Friends of mine visited the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum recently, and I was intrigued by their retelling of the infamous heist. I added B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger to my TBR list after being regaled with their stories of the museum. While The Art Forger is not about the theft per se, it is a novel that is tangentially related to the event and the still missing works of art. Once I started the audio-version of the book, I was hooked. I did find the unexplained references to Claire’s past troubles confusing in the first three chapters, however, by chapter four the author starts to slowly reveal how Claire came to be the leper of the art world. That layered reveal feels like a parallel to the process by which Claire creates a forgery of Degas’ After the Bath. Claire is a talented artist who is stymied by her repeated bad decisions. Leading the life of the literal starving artist, she is easily tempted by a Faustian offer from one of the most powerful art dealers in town, Aiden Markel. Her struggles with her past decisions and the ethics of the situation are eventually replaced with the lure of the reward—a one woman show that is guaranteed to make her an overnight success. Neither she nor Markel bargain on falling for one another. Markel doesn’t feel fully developed through much of the story, but I think that is necessary in order to keep him more of a mystery and to keep both Claire and the reader guessing about his morals and intents. His bargain with Claire is questionable and seems too altruistic, however, as Claire begins to trust him more and eventually succumbs to a romantic relationship with him, I let down my guard as well and put him in the protagonist role. The story tension is palpable and steadily increases as Claire manically works on the forgery as well as creating enough works for her show. Her study of Degas’ technique and her discoveries of how master forgers created their works is fascinating as is how Claire mimics those techniques using modern-day technology. As the plot thickened and deadlines approached, I found my stomach as tied up in knots as Claire. As the story approaches its zenith, it very much feels that Claire is on a collision course with disaster. What seemed so right and relatively easy becomes not only calamitous but dangerous. The present-day story is interspersed with letters from Isabella Stewart Gardener to her niece depicting her addiction to collecting art as well as her flirtations with Degas. The use of the letters to give readers some background information about the history of the museum was a creative technique that left me wanting for more. It created more mystery throughout the book. While Shapiro’s story is more about Claire’s need for redemption, her ambition as an artist, and Markel’s zealous desires, it is also a smart mystery. The Art Forger will make you question what you might be willing to do to realize your dreams, while you read Shapiro’s entertaining page-turner.
An engaging story. The story is a fascinating look at the art world (of which I knew very little). This novel is filled with mystery and suspense without anyone being murdered. And it even features a surprising ending. Great entertainment.
If you like art and it's history you will like this boook.
One would run down the street shaking paper to get the ink dry this is so easy on several modern artists that they say one half can be fake! Since photo etching came in some modern etchings by well known artists are suspect as being drawibgs turned inti etchings and hard to prove the copy right laws on modern art might slow sale of but not just copy. Will they go to extreme for just a cooy as they threaten with dvds and cds?
Great story that weaves past, present and the facinating world of artists and collectors.
I totally enjoyed this book and have recommended it for my book club. It is wonderful fiction but the art heist, which is the central core of the story, actually happened. A good read!
Thought provoking novel with an interesting topic. Makes you wonder about the world of art forgery. Are the works we see in museums always originals? Claire, is an interesting main character, whose knowledge has you referencing multiple topics! Fun read.