In The Art Forger, B.A. Shapiro writes a mystery novel that focuses on the art world and the art-meets-science discipline of art forgery. The book follows a young, beautiful artist named Claire who has spent the three years prior to the story’s current action trying to distance herself from a scandal her former lover embroiled her in and one which ultimately had her largely cut off from the art world.
Now, Claire is a very poor, struggling artist whose work no galleries are willing to show and who has resorted to making art reproductions for a website specializes in high-end look-alikes of the world’s most famous paintings. As we first get to know Claire, we meet a very immature and self-pitying woman who has allowed her previous bad luck to stall both her creativity and her emotional development. These attributes are greatly enhanced by the author’s decision to write the novel in first person, present tense — a writing style I greatly associate with Young Adult fiction.
Claire’s lack of self-confidence and her naivety allow her to become part of a scheme to create a high-end replica of a Degas painting — one she believes to be a copy, but many others see as a forgery. Despite some early reluctance, Claire finds that she is thrilled and challenged by the effort to make a copy good enough to fool art experts. The more she studies the art of forgery the more she finds that her own work has come to life. Soon, she is creating a series of paintings that will comprise a real chance to establish herself as an up and coming artist. Furthermore, the more she works, the more and more confident and adult she becomes; her study of both Degas and his work begins to define her as a true scholar of his work and her study and perfection of the replicating techniques make her a scholar of art forgery as well.
Before Claire has a chance for her own one-woman art show, two men who were part of the “copying” scheme are arrested and her role in the deception is very likely to become widely known and possibly lead to her arrest as well. Her newfound confidence in her painting technique, her knowledge of Degas, and in herself means that, rather than allowing others to take advantage of her, she instead works to get herself and her compatriots out of trouble.
Although I cannot say that the author is an outstanding writer — her style is a bit amateurish and unimaginative — but her topic is clearly well-researched and she does present some very interesting views on both the creation of art and the real source of its value.