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Autumn leaves aren’t the only things falling in the historic Virginia village of Taylorsford—so are some cherished memories, and a few bodies.
October in Taylorsford, Virginia means it’s leaf peeping season, with bright colorful foliage and a delightful fresh crew of tourists attending the annual Heritage Festival which celebrates local history and arts and crafts. Library director Amy Webber, though, is slightly dreading having to spend two days running a yard sale fundraiser for her library. But during these preparations, when she and her assistant Sunny stumble across a dead body, Amy finds a real reason to be worried.
The body belonged to a renowned artist who was murdered with her own pallet knife. A search of the artist’s studio uncovers a cache of forged paintings, and when the sheriff’s chief deputy Brad Tucker realizes Amy is skilled in art history research, she’s recruited to aid the investigation. It doesn’t seem to be an easy task, but when the state’s art expert uncovers a possible connection between Amy’s deceased uncle and the murder case, Amy must champion her Aunt Lydia to clear her late husband’s name.
That’s when another killing shakes the quiet town, and danger sweeps in like an autumn wind. Now, with her swoon-inducing neighbor Richard Muir, Amy must scour their resources to once again close the books on murder.
The Fine Art of Forgery
In researching SHELVED UNDER MURDER I learned a lot, as I always do, but I think the thing that amazed me the most was the prevalence of art forgery in the mainstream art world.
Of course, as a former student of Art History, I knew that copies of works of art have been created ever since the days of the Roman Empire—although in those days, individual artists were rarely identified, and copying original works was not considered a “crime.” Even during the Renaissance, master painters would often have their apprentices copy their works as a skill-building tool and again, this was not meant to deceive buyers. (However, some of these works by apprentices have been erroneously attributed to their masters over the years).
But when we move past the Renaissance period, and art begins to take on a commercial, as well as a purely religious or aesthetic value, true forgery begins to flourish. It is at this point that scammers—many talented enough to create exquisite art of their own—begin to create art works by directly copying pieces, or at least the style, of a named, more famous, artist. These fake works were intended to deceive buyers, and deceive they often did.
How common is this practice? Well, one respected art historian, Thomas Hoving, estimates that at least forty percent of the art market is comprised of fakes. An example of this can be seen in a small museum in the Elne community in France. They recently discovered that over half of the paintings in their museum dedicated to local nineteenth-century artist, Etienne Terrus, are fakes!
This is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg. Forgery is a big business, often involving unscrupulous dealers as well as the creators of fake art. The late Elmyr de Hory, who was featured in Orson Welles’s film F for Fake, became so famous that forgeries of some of his faked pieces have appeared in the art market! Other famous forgers from recent history include Han van Meegeren and his son, Jacques van Meegeren; Ken Perenyi; John Myatt, who worked in collaboration with art dealer John Drewe; and Otto Wacker, who commissioned and sold numerous Van Gogh forgeries.
Many of these forgers confessed to their crimes later in life—some claiming it was not just money that drove them, but also a desire to expose the avariciousness and exclusiveness of the traditional art world. It does appear that some talented artists who, for whatever reason, were never been able to achieve success in the traditional market, turned to forgery—partially for money, but also to “get back at” the art experts who had shunned them.
To me, one of the most interesting dilemmas concerning forgery is our own perception of the value of a piece of art. Given the statistics, I’m fairly certain that I have admired some forgeries in my many visits to art galleries over the years. This assumption makes me question my own relationship to art—are my opinions on “value” based on the name associated with the piece rather than the artist’s actual skill?
This also raises a question about the intrinsic importance of original vision versus a technically proficient copy of that vision. I believe we should discuss such questions whatever the artform, especially in a time when the “sampling” or wholesale reproduction of digital content—whether art, music, or literature—has become so ubiquitous. What makes art “art”? Why do we value one creation much more highly than another? What makes one creation live forever, while others—equally famous in their time—fade into obscurity? These are questions I’ll undoubtedly grapple with for the rest of my life.
About the Author
Victoria Gilbert, raised in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, turned her early obsession with reading into a dual career as an author and librarian. She has worked as a reference librarian, research librarian, and library director.
When not writing or reading, Victoria likes to spend her time watching films, gardening, or traveling. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers, and is represented by Frances Black at Literary Council, NY, NY.
Victoria lives in North Carolina with her husband and some very spoiled cats. This is her first Blue Ridge Library mystery.