I really enjoyed The Art Forger in 2015, even though it looks like I never took time to review it. So I requested The Muralist on Netgalley shortly after, and finally read it… last February! High time to review it!!
Not sure why this procrastination, as I really enjoyed both books of the author. They are both historical mysteries based on art, totally my alley.
One day in 2015, while cleaning her attic, Danielle discovers a cardboard containing a dozen paintings, apparently by Abstract Expressionists, possibly going back to the early 1940s and connected to the art division of the Works Progress Administration, one of Roosevelt’s New Deal employment programs.
She wonders if they could be by famous painters Rothko and Krasner.
Besides, smaller canvas are hidden in the back of the large ones, and they seem to be in the style of her mysterious great-aunt Alizée: according to family legend, Alizée, a talented painter, worked for the WPA, but she was mentally sick and sent to a mental institution. Then she disappeared under shadowy circumstances in 1940.
Danielle (herself a former painter) sets to discover if these paintings are really her aunt’s and if they could shed light on her sudden disappearance.
Chapters alternate between Danielle in 2015, in first person narrative, and her aunt Alizée in 1939, in third person.
Alizée paints in a warehouse in New York. She’d recently returned to the States after seven years in France. Her family is Jewish. Her parents are dead, but she still has a brother and cousins in France. However, she wanted to come to New York to practice abstract art, far from the constraints of Hitler.
As Hitler’s power grows, Alizé tries all she can to help the rest of her family come to the US as well.
I really enjoyed all that pertained to art and painting in this book, including the neat work details on how to date a painting.
There are fascinating debates on figurative vs. abstract art, for instance in a scene with Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Alizée’s workshop. The artist explains what abstract art is:
It goes deep. Much deeper than just a picture of what we can already see. It’s not easy to make sense of—or to paint—but when you do, there’s nothing like it. It’s magical, really. Interpreting what’s going on inside.
Real paintings are described, e.g. Guernica by Picasso, and Bryant Square by John Marin, and it was fun looking on Google what they looked like when I was not familiar with them.
And the historical background was well presented, with the rise of Nazism and the existence of organizations in the US trying to make people aware of what was going on and trying to help the Jews.
It was also quite enlightening on what Long, the infamous Assistant Secretary for immigration was doing, in violation of the Congress, not allowing the regular number of Jews to enter the U.S.
I actually read these passages the same week-end when the American president launched a ban on refugees from certain countries. We never learn from history…
VERDICT: Great mix of art and history. Will delight lovers of historical mysteries as well as artists.
Author: B. A. Shapiro
Publication: November 2015
Genre: Historical mystery / art / WWII
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I received this ebook for free through Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.