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Sergio Kokis: L’art du maquillage (The Art of Deception)

There have been quite a few books about art forgeries. My two favorites are William GaddisThe Recognitions and Robertson DaviesWhat’s Bred in the Bone. And now here’s another Canadian one.

The English title of this book does not quite get the flavour of the French, as maquillage means both deception and make-up. The story might be what could be called a lite version of The Recognitions. There is none of the seriousness, none of the philosophy you will find in the Gaddis novel but a pretty good story about forgery and trickery. Max Willem, a French Canadian of Belgian origin, is a student and a painter. To make a bit of money he almost accidentally forges some paintings by a couple of Quebec artists and is able to sell them. Like Kokis himself, he is interested in becoming a painter in his own right but, when he falls into the clutches of an art dealer, he soon takes up forging as a career. His forging consists of painting works in the style of a famous artist such as Egon Schiele and Mark Rothko.

In order to train him, he is sent to Europe where he can learn the best techniques and where he is assisted by a couple of art dealers who obviously want to use him for their own ends. There is a complicated plot involving a young woman who seduces him (much of the book is about his seductions), betrayal and, of course, clever trickery on his part to avenge himself on the two dealers. Kokis tells a fine story and gets somewhat into the nature of art and forgery, as you might expect from a painter. But, if you really want to read a novel about forgery, The Recognitions is the book.

Publishing history

First published 1997 by XYZ
First English translation Simon & Pierre 2002
Translated by W. Donald Wilson