The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro casts it backdrop on the biggest unsolved art heist in American history: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston where a Rembrandt, a Vermeer, a Manet, and five Degas were cut from their frames and lost into the night on March 18th, 1990. Our heroine, Claire Roth, is a present-day reproductions artist, specializing in Degas' work. The action of the novel bounces from Isabella's experiences, Claire's troubled past, and the heist, and combines them all in a most rewarding tale.
Claire Roth was a graduate student when she fell in love with her professor Isaac, a well known artist in his own right. Through a series of events, we discover that something happened concerning Isaac that rendered Claire "The Great Pretender" and ostracized her from the art community. Trying to hold onto the hope of resurrecting her career, she takes a job at Reproductions.com, an online company that pays her to copy great works of art for resale. Her specialty is Degas.
When Isaac's former art dealer, Aiden Markel, reappears in her life offering her an opportunity, one that will surely help her pay the bills and possibly get her own show, she is intrigued to say the least. He needs her to agree to "copy" a painting, without knowing what the painting is or where it came from. Her curiosity piqued, she agrees. The painting, it turns out, is Degas' After the Bath (a fictional painting), that was stolen in the Gardner heist. Aiden wants her to "copy" the Degas so that he can sell the copy to an investor overseas, and return the original to the Gardner - give the people back the masterpiece. Throughout what transpires we learn the process Claire uses to recreate After the Bath, what really happened between Claire and Isaac, why Claire is an outcast, Isabella's great secret, and more. We are thrown into the art world on all sides, from the artists' struggles and process, to the inner workings of galleries and museums, the definitions of "copy" and "forgery" and why there is a difference (it is much more complex than I knew), to the collector's world, art appreciation, and more.
This book does for art what The Eight does for chess - a total immersion into an unknown (to me) subject that leaves me hungering for more. After reading The Art Forger, I spent a lot of time on the magical Internet, researching the actual Gardner Heist, Degas, art techniques, etc. and I find myself yearning for a day at MOMA, to experience the art through this new lens of discovery. I am even half-tempted to pick up a brush and paint something of my own (though that would be for my exploration, not for public consumption) just to experience the process of painting.
The plot was a bit predictable, though there are some aspects that took me by surprise, but its predictability does not take away from the enjoyment. Yes, we can guess where everyone will end up, and even the final reveal, but the journey to these places is engaging enough to go along for the ride.
All-in-all, this was a really fun read.
If you are interested in the Garder Heist, check out this article from Mentalfloss.com: http://mentalfloss.com/article/53527/biggest-unsolved-art-heist%E2%80%94and-detective-who-came-close-cracking-it
If you are interested in chess (and even if you're not), check out The Eight, by Katherine Neville (there is a sequel as well, thought it's not as good as the original).