As promised, my Year of Discovery is off to a fast start with “The Antiquarian” by Alfred Balm. Balm is a terribly interesting author from the Netherlands who built a multinational business and then turned away from that to get a degree in Art History and begin writing historical fiction novels, many of which are based on his experiences while growing up in Nazi occupied Holland.
This book revolves around the most stolen piece of art in the world, the Ghent Altarpiece. Its history includes being stolen by Napoleon and then the Germans, and which was repatriated to Ghent by the Treaty of Versailles, only to be stolen a few years later. Balm’s book tells the story of Berend Bouters who has a talent for painting that is discovered at a young age. Trained in the naturalist school of painting he is rocked by the death of his parents and mentor which eventually lead him to be a war profiteer during WW1. But after the war he faces hard times until he concocts the scheme to steal artwork and become a forger.
This is a really good story and read, because so much is unknown about the 20th century thefts of 2 of the panels of the altarpiece and Balm’s knowledge of art and art history really shine in the easy to read and extremely plausible work of historical fiction.
While there are one or two chapters in the book that really add little to the story, most all of this book is so well written that I can overlook those chapters. By the end Bouters has changed his identity numerous times to stay ahead of authorities, and the last few chapters provide a dynamite ending to this story.
This book was a great way to begin my 2023 Voyage of Discovery, and is an inexpensive way for you to discover the works of this rather unknown European author.