Posted by: montclairlibrary | June 14, 2016

Art Mystery & History Books

Novels about art crimes & mysteries, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

I finally finished plowing my way through The Goldfinch (FIC TARTT), Donna Tartt’s Dickensian tale of the twisting journey of a boy and a famous painting after an explosion at an art museum.

The story got me thinking about other books about art theft, forgery and obsession. Full of drama and intrigue, these stories make great summer companions whether you’re visiting art museums, reading by the pool, or just wishing you were on vacation.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin – Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) chronicles the contemporary art world through the tale of the rise and fall of a striving art dealer and the characters she meets along the way. Like The Goldfinch, the book includes reproductions of artwork referred to in the story.

Headlong by Michael Frayn (FIC FRAYN) (not at Montclair) – A hapless academic on vacation thinks he has discovered a lost Bruegel painting in his neighbor’s house, and concocts and elaborate scheme to acquire the painting in this sometimes amusing, sometimes educational novel.

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey (FIC CAREY) – A “feisty ironic comedy focused on a failed painter” (Kirkus Reviews) and other assorted misfits, set against the modern art scene in Australia and New York City.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith (FIC SMITH – NEW BOOKS) – “In 1631, Sara de Vos is admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St. Luke’s in Holland, the first woman to be so recognized. Three hundred years later, only one work attributed to de Vos is known to remain–a haunting winter scene…which hangs over the bed of a wealthy descendant of the original owner. An Australian grad student…agrees to paint a forgery of the landscape, a decision that will haunt her. Because now, half a century later, she’s curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters, and both versions threaten to arrive.” (Publisher)

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (FIC SHAPIRO) – Boston painter Claire Roth has survived financially by painting reproductions, so when influential gallery owner Aiden Markel arrives with a bizarre proposal–her own show if she will forge a copy of a Degas, one of the pictures stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum–she says yes.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (FIC BURTON) – Engaging the services of a miniaturist to furnish a cabinet-sized replica of her new home the wife of an illustrious merchant trader in 17th-century Amsterdam soon discovers that the artist’s tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways. (And Burton’s latest novel, The Muse, explores the history of a lost painting and the people it links together. Copies on order.)

A Nearly Perfect Copy by Allison Amend (FIC AMEND) (not at Montclair) – “A fast-paced, lively novel” (Kirkus Reviews) that draws parallels between forgery and cloning.

Faking It by Jennifer Crusie – “Matilda Goodnight has put her days of forging art behind her, but when her niece accidentally sells one of the six paintings she did as the fictitious daughter of a reclusive painter, she fears her secret past will be discovered.” (BookList)

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman (FIC GUZEMAN) – When a famous reclusive painter asks them to sell a never-before-seen portrait, an art history professor and an eccentric young art authenticator find their task complicated when they attempt to locate the two women in the portrait, who seem to have disappeared.

P.S. For kids who want to learn about famous art through mysteries, check out Blue Balliett’s series of chapter books, including Chasing Vermeer.

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