Vincent van Gogh’s paintings are the subject of this absorbing book about art forgery. The setting is Berlin between the years of 1923 and 1933. The spector of Nazism hangs heavily over the city and its inhabitants.
Forgery of van Gogh’s art was not unheard of: he produced at least 2,100 works of art within a decade before his death in 1890. HIs fame came mostly after his death, and the only other person who could verify his art, his brother, died not long after van Gogh. As works by van Gogh gained in reputation, good artists could reproduce his work and sell it abroad before the art could be doubly verified.
“In the Full Light of the Sun” by Clare Clark, is loosely based on the life of an art critic, Julius Meier-Graefe, also an author of a book about van Gogh that was popular in the 1920s. He was often asked to determine if the work of an artist was an original or a fake.
When a former dancer introduces a collection of van Gogh paintings ostensibly from a Russian nobleman, Julius determines many of them to be authentic. Some are sold abroad for thousands of dollars. Only after an exhibition in Berlin do others begin to question the veracity of the paintings.
The curators of the German museum in which the paintings are housed do not want to admit that the Germans may have made a mistake. Anything that makes Germany look bad in the eyes of the world is considered traitorous. This attitude makes it harder for critics to determine the true authorship of the paintings.
One of the characters in the novel is a Jewish lawyer. His defense of the person who forged the van Gogh’s puts him in even more jeopardy with German authorities. The lawyer’s discovery of the truth regarding the paintings changes his world and upends his values. Some of the artwork in line to be destroyed could be genuine.
In the world of art criticism, many differing viewpoints seem to make it nearly impossible to determine the genuineness of an art piece. In spite of the scientific methods that have been developed to decide the veracity of a painting, doubts can still exist.
“In the Full Light of the Sun” presents a mystery and an education to a novice learning more about the world of famous art. It also appears that even some of the majestic art that people flock to see in museums of the world have questionable history. Brochures distributed to eager patrons are not quick to point this out.