Claire Roth received a bad name in the art world three years ago when she had a very public affair with one of her much older grad school professors. The scandal that followed Isaac Cullion and Claire was big enough that she has been having a tough time making it as an artist.
Claire sleeps in her art studio (she can’t afford an apartment) and tries to make ends meet by doing paintings for Reproductions.com, a website that sells high end reproductions of famous paintings. She doesn’t mind doing the reproductions because she is fascinated by Degas and the style he used.
But her passion lies in her original artwork and she is struggling to prove to the world that she is not the Claire Roth from three years ago. She is Claire Roth, the artist.
Claire is approached by Aiden Markel, owner of Markel G, a prestigious gallery in Boston. Markel makes a proposition – he wants her to use her skills of reproduction and her knowledge of Degas to recreate Degas’s After the Bath V – a painting that was stolen in the great 1990 heist of the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum.
Desperate to jumpstart her career, Claire agrees (without knowing many details) to do the painting in exchange for her own show at Markel G. The stolen painting, After the Bath V that was hanging at the Gardner for a hundred years before the theft, is delivered to her studio.
While working on the painting, she realizes she is in over her head. There is so much mystery surrounding the stolen painting that she delves deeper into her Degas research. At this same time, she is also working on her After the Bath V and trying to finish her own pieces for the gallery show, all while falling for Aiden Markel and starting an intense relationship.
Eventually things start to go wrong but Claire stays levelheaded and is able to use her knowledge as well as connections in the art world to try to sort everything out. If you are like me and know next to nothing about famous artists, art history, or modern painting techniques, you will still be drawn in by the mystery surrounding it all. The blending of fact (there really is the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum and Degas and Isabelle Gardner did run in the same social circles but their actual relationship is unclear; and After the Bath V is a made up painting but the theft of millions of dollars of art from the Gardner did happen in 1990) with fiction makes this novel flow through.
Most chapters are in the present, but some chapters are recollections from three years earlier and some are letters Isabelle Gardner sent to her beloved niece, Amelia. Past and present come together in The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro in a scandal that is much deeper than it appears.