Pablo Picasso is believed to have said, “Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things”.
The series of paintings titled After the Bath by Edgar Degas have inspired author B.A. Shapiro to do just that. She uses it as a stepping stone- rather, a diving platform in her book, The Art Forger to examine art, the artist and the value of art. What makes a piece of art valuable? Is it the art itself or the fame (or notoriety) of the artist? Can an artist get more value as a forger of a painting made by a famous artist while being ignored for her original work? How much do the experts really understand about what they assess and how much stock should a non-expert put in their recommendations and valuations? A struggling painter Claire Roth tries to reconstruct her shattered professional life and find answers to questions such as these in this brisk paced tale filled with intrigue and gorgeous details of place and time.
The main character is explored in detail and so are the myriad techniques of painting - Impressionist, classical and contemporary. The same cannot be said of the rest of the characters and the relationships Claire has with them. The detailed analysis of paintings and painting techniques, of Degas himself, of the world inhabited by artists,critics and collectors tilts the balance of the story away from the minds of its characters. There is a love interest in the story which is portrayed in a hurried and callous way, along with a lot of secondary characters and events that are unrelated to the main story. The ending is abrupt and leaves the reader feeling shortchanged.
In spite of these shortcomings, The Art forger is a fast read with exacting details and descriptions of works of art that will make you want to find out more about the intriguing world of artists and art collectors.