Claire Roth is a young possibly up-and-coming painter who gets involved with her mentor-turned boyfriend, a guy who had sort of left his wife. Yeah, that kind of dude. Anyway, he had lost his edge, and his will, and had fallen into a depression and a painter’s block, if you will, with the opportunity looming of having MoMA pick up one of his works. But he can’t paint. In an effort to jump start his painting, Claire begins to paint, hoping to get him off his duff and a brush in his hand. But all he does is direct her, and they discuss the abstract elements of the work, and eventually, she ends up painting the entire thing. MoMA bites. They accept it, thinking it is his.
Eventually, the boyfriend begins to believe his own lies, and claims it is his. Claire tries to blow the whistle, and get it authenticated as her work. But you know how the art world operates. MoMA is already invested in it, and can’t reveal that they were fooled, and Claire becomes an outcast.
At some point, the boyfriend, having an inner crisis, kills himself, and she is further reviled for having been the cause of his despair.
So there she is, working away in her own place on a series of windows pictures, which definitely show some promise, but at this point, who will accept them in a show or gallery? No one. She is making a living of sorts by doing reproduction painting for Reproduction.Com, which pays her a decent amount of money, then sells them to collectors as copies, not as the real thing. Sometimes, she even gets her name attached as the repro artist. She takes courses on reproduction painting, and how to manufacture or create authentic canvas, etc., and becomes something of an expert in copying the works of Degas.
Then one day, Aiden Markel, owner of a big, famous gallery, comes to her studio ostensibly to look at her windows series, and then returns and offers her a Faustian bargain — he will bring her a Degas, and a work by some little known artist of the same period, she will use that other canvas and make a copy of the real Degas. He will then return the real painting to the Museum from which it had been stolen twenty-some years ago. He has a buyer for the repro who will think it is the real thing. Aiden claims there are layers and layers between him and the buyer, no one knows how he came to be in possession of the original, and all will be hunky dory. Win-win-win. And in addition to the money, which she desperately needs, he offers her her own show in his gallery of her windows series. That is the real lure.
As Claire is examining the original in preparation for copying it, she becomes convinced it is itself a forgery, and begins a search to unravel the mystery of why the museum has authenticated a fake as the real deal, and everything get very involved and complex.
Told in opposing chapters of current day, three years prior when she was with the boyfriend and those events, and interspersed with letters from the founder of the museum, we start to get the picture [see what I did there?] of just what might have happened.
It is an interesting examination of situation morality, ego, loyalty, and the lengths we will go to in order to achieve our heart’s desire.
Throughout the book we are offered a lot of interesting info on painting technique, aging techniques, how experts go about authenticating the provenance of a painting, and lots of other fascinating glimpses into the art world. Since the closest I have ever come to the art world is when my kids painted on my walls when they were little, I found the book fun and interesting. I always like a work of fiction which can also teach me something.