The catalyst for Shapiro's classy and pleasurably suspenseful debut is the legendary art heist of 1990, in which 13 masterpieces were stolen from Boston's strange and wonderful Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum. Claire, a superb but frustrated painter who, like art collector Gardner, has been the target of scandal, supports herself by creating high-quality reproductions of Degas paintings for an online art retailer. So when Boston's most prominent and sexiest gallery owner brings one of the missing Gardner paintings, a Degas, to her studio and offers her a veritable deal with the devil, Claire cannot resist. But she detects the painting's stunning secret and turns out to be as fine a sleuth as she is an artist. Shapiro dramatizes Claire's creation of a perfect forgery in fascinating detail and performs some elegant fabrications of her own in the form of risqué letters allegedly written by Gardner. The result is an entrancingly visual, historically rich, deliciously witty, sensuous, and smart tale of authenticity versus fakery in which Shapiro artfully turns a clever caper into a provocative meditation on what we value most. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
Library Journal Reviews
This absorbing debut is grounded in the real-life theft of 13 artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston that would today be worth $500 million. Eager young artist Claire Roth supports herself by making reproductions of classic paintings. Promised a one-woman show, she agrees to forge a painting that turns out to be one of the stolen Gardner works.
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Library Journal Reviews
By page two of this novel, the reader is fully engrossed into the world of struggling artist Claire Roth, nicknamed "The Great Pretender" who copies famous paintings for a website called Reproductions.com. When Aidan Markel, the handsome owner of a prestigious gallery, offers her a show of her own work in exchange for forging a painting, she reluctantly agrees. He brings two paintings to her studio, a supposedly original Degas called After the Bath and a work by an obscure painter of the same size and age. A Degas expert, Claire determines that the Degas in her studio is itself a forgery, and she's the only who knows. Stripping the paint off of the lesser-known work, she creates another forgery, doing such a good job that art authenticators think it is the original Degas, missing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum since 1990. (Thirteen works worth over $500 million were actually stolen from the museum at that time.) Aidan lands in jail when the copy is seized by the FBI, and Claire will be too unless she finds the original Degas. In this enthralling intrigue, the yearning to own an original work of art is thoughtfully explored, and the text is interspersed with letters from Gardner herself, describing her relationships with the artists whose work she collected. VERDICT This well-researched work combines real elements (though After the Bath never existed) with the understanding that the art world is as fragile and precarious as the art itself, particularly for young hopefuls. A highly recommended debut that would be great for book discussion groups.—Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH
[Page 88]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Shapiro's new novel (after The Safe Room) is filled with delightful twists, turns, and ruminations on what constitutes truth in art. Broke and painting copies of famous artists' work for a reproduction site, artist Claire Roth is enticed by gallery owner Aidan Markel's request to forge a painting by Degas that was stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum in 1990 (in the largest unsolved art heist in history). As Claire works, she wonders if the painting she's forging is legitimate. Meanwhile, Claire steps in when her blocked artist lover can't finish his work for a deadline, essentially painting what becomes something of an art world sensation. Her lover slips into denial about her contribution and Clair weighs the repercussions of going public, knowing that it will damage her reputation even more badly than her heart. An intricate shell game exploring the permutations of the craft and ethics of art, Shapiro's novel is a lively ride, melding Claire's discoveries with fictionalized 19th-century letters from Gardner that hint at even deeper complexities. The wit, Claire's passion for her work, what it takes to create a piece that can pass modern scrutiny, and the behind-the-scenes look at the lives of working artists and the machinations of the art world overcome an ending that ties things up too neatly. The choice of present tense for much of the book keeps the reader at a remove from the action, but Shapiro's research, well-integrated into a strong premise, captivates. Agent: Ann Collette, Rees Literary. (Oct. 23)
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An artist whose reputation has been tarnished stumbles on a piece of art that disappeared twenty-five years ago and agrees to forge it for a gallery owner, until she realizes that the art she is forging may itself be a forgery. - (Baker & Taylor)
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.
- (Workman Press.