The book: The Art Thief, by Noah Charney
The edition: Simon & Schuster Pocket Books paperback, 308 pages, with reading group guide
The story: a Caravaggio altarpiece is stolen from a church in Rome; a Malevich painting disappears in Paris; and another (or possibly the same) Malevich is stolen from the National Gallery in London just a few hours after it was bought. In the world of art crime the three thefts may be linked, although the officials investigating may never know about it…
My experience with the book & my thoughts: while I like a good crime story, I am not a good judge of them. This one I enjoyed, but the plot is way too complicated for me, I still have to get my head around the details of what happened… Apart from that, I appreciated this book as a good balance of fact and fiction: the art history was good, and I later realized that art crime data were real too, because the author is a specialist in the field (his other published book is a non-fiction tome about the story of the most-stolen piece of art of all history) and created an association with the goal of bringing together the police force working on art crimes and the academy art experts. All in all a good read.
The part with spoilers: am I the only one who feels that everyone turning up in couples at the end was working out too fine?
What I liked: a well-constructed plot with many interesting characters.
What I didn’t like: the low consideration of Italians who are marginalized and described as people who botch up their jobs (e.g. the priest who leaves the alarm disconnected only to wake up to a stolen painting) and don’t care about investigating (e.g. the Carabinieri detective who dismisses all investigation because he has too many art crimes on his hands).
Language & writing: I don’t know if it is a trend or if I’m only happening to read several such books in a row, but what’s up with authors using foreign language dialogue in their books? Here you can find whole dialogues in Italian and French (and lucky me, I could understand both, but what if someone does not?). Unfortunately, the Italian sounded wrong to an Italian ear. I am not French, but even that didn’t sound right. If they want to use a foreign language (and I don’t get the reason for that), why can’t they try and get it right? Ask a native, maybe?
In the author’s own words: a secondary character is an art teacher, and while I didn’t like the character himself, I enjoyed the lessons. As here:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am taking you on the Barrow high-speed tour of the greatest hits of th National Gallery. Please show requisite awe, veneration, and subsequent enlightenment. […]
Bow your heads, children. You are in the presence of majesty. Screw the Mona Lisa, screw Whistler and his mother, screw the Water Lilies and every other painting that you’ve heard of but know nothing about because it’s famous for all the wrong reasons. This may be the most influential painting in the history of the universe!”
The students collectively rolled their eyes.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me, you ignorant cows! I’m here to enlighten you and, damn it, you will be enlightened! This is The Marriage Contract by Jan van Eyck. […]
It doesn’t look like a Jackson Pollock? You’re right, but for the wrong reason.
Ladies and gentlemen! Art repeats. The history of art is rife with allusion and self-reference. Art is cumulative. The most modern art comments upon, and reflects, everything that came before it.So, although this 1434 van Eyck does not look like a Pollock, Pollock would not exist without van Eyck, and every artist who came between them. Art that looks different is a reaction against, but it is nevertheless a reaction. I’ll give you a train of for-instance.
Ancient Greek sculpture influenced ancient Roman sculpture which influenced Cimabue who inspired Giotto who influenced Masaccio who influenced Raphael who inspired Annibale Carracci who taught Domenichino who worked alongside Poussin who influenced David who inspired Manet who was beloved of Degas who influenced Monet who inspired Mondrian who inspired Malevich who worked with Kandinsky who led to Jackson-goddamned-Pollock, thank you very much! Polydorus to Pollock in seventeen easy lessons.”
The students broke out into smiles and applauded.
Links to better understand this book:
- Kazimir Malevich
- Malevich’s White on White, from the MoMa
- the author’s Association for Research into Crimes against Art
Random thought: too bad the church of the first chapter does not exist, I had wished to visit it on our next trip to Rome!
Read this if: if you like detective stories with a very entangled plot.
Counts as: Italy in Books Challenge #6, One Two Theme Challenge – Art