Friday, July 25, 2008

Art Thief - Book Review

Art Thief
by Noah Charney
published by Atria - September 2007
Amazon website
Video You Tube (3 minutes)

I LOVE Art History. I love reading books about Art, Stolen art, Art crimes and Art auctions.

The premise of the novel is that three paintings are stolen from 3 different countries at (more or less) the same time. A Caravaggio disappears from a church in Italy. One Malevich disappears from the Malevich Society in Paris and another Malevich is stolen from the National Gallery in London. Also a small unnamed Suprematist painting disappears from a collector's house in London. All of these thefts are related somehow.

The key characters in this book are the French police, in the form of Jean-Jacques Bizot, as well as Genevieve Delaloche, the Director of the Malevich society in Paris and Elizabeth van der Mier, Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art in London. Other major characters are Gabriel Coffin (an American art professor presently teaching at Cambridge University), and lastly Profesor Barrow.

There is a lot of art history done in the form of lectures by Barrow and Coffin, but I enjoyed them very much. Barrow does art history and iconography. Coffin does art crime and profiling.

One very detailed and interesting lecture was about the iconography of The Marriage Contract by Jan Van Eyck. Another lecture was about oil paints and how to tell which families (who comissioneed the painting) were rich and who were poor. The answer is lapis lazuli.I apologise for going on about the details, but I do love art.

Back to the novel. Do these three missing paintings ever turn up? Well...Yes and No. It turns out that two of the main characters were involved in the thefts. But the author did a very good job of not giving things away until the very last moment. The twist was totally unexpected - by me anyway.

The Amazon reviews say that this book is written very chunkily. If that means there is a lot of long boring parts done in the forms of spoken lectures, well yes of course there is. The author is an art historian himself, educated at Cambridge. Of course he wants to show off his knowledge. IMO only a person who really likes Art History would enjoy this novel. I certainly did.

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