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The Last Painting of Sara de Vos: A Novel Hardcover – April 5, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of April 2016: Across three continents and four hundred years, Dominic Smith has spun a stunning tale of forgeries and deaths, deception and love to reveal the lasting legacy of a fateful brush stroke. Akin to the page-turning greats like Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is held together by the gravitas of a single painting to tell the story of two women—their mistakes and love affairs, their devotion to art and their struggles to thrive in a male dominated profession. When Ellie Shipley, a young art student, agrees to copy the seventeenth century painting, “At the Edge of a Wood,” her future becomes irrevocably entangled with Sara de Vos, the artist whose work she forged. Weaving together the past and present lives of Sara and Ellie and their two paintings, Smith brilliantly transports readers from 1950s New York - the mahogany walls of Upper West side apartments and the grit of Brooklyn, to the moody Dutch countryside of the 1600s to Sydney Australia’s sun-soaked harbor in 2000. A vivid, enthralling novel that is as timeless and luminous as the painting itself. --Al Woodworth
From Kirkus Reviews
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Smith’s latest novel is a rich and detailed story that connects a 17th-century Dutch painting to its 20th-century American owner and the lonely but fervent art student who makes the life-changing decision to forge it. This is a beautiful, patient, and timeless book, one that builds upon centuries and shows how the smallest choices—like the chosen mix for yellow paint—can be the definitive markings of an entire life."
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Top Customer Reviews
The novel, set in New York City in 1957, Amsterdam/Haarlem in 1636, and Sydney/New York in 2000. The varying "faces" and places and times all circle around a painting created by a female Dutch artist named Sara de Vos whose works have been lost to time and non-recognition. Since most art was created by men, the most important art was credited to men. In Smith's book, a modern art historian - Eleanor Shipley - was studying Dutch women's art and was writing a thesis on Judith Leyster, an acknowledged artist of the 1600's. Shipley was living in New York in the mid-1950's and studying at Columbia University. She was also dabbling in artistic restoration to older paintings. She somehow gets mixed up with a man who wanted her to exactly copy a painting by Sara de Vos. The painting she is copying belongs to a Dutch/American lawyer who lives on the Upper East side and whose family has owned the painting for 300 years.
The story line set in 1636 concerns the woman artist Sara de Vos, who has lost her only beloved child to illness. Her husband has deserted her and In her attempt to assuage her pain, she begins to paint a scene of a village, with a young girl viewing the village life from a hill. It is this painting, "At the Edge of a Wood", that belongs to Martin de Groot. He sets out to find the original picture that had been swapped for the fake painted by Ellie Shipley. The story then turns to Sydney in the year 2000, when de Groot and Shipley and the paintings all meet up again in a special exhibition.
If the plot sounds complicated, it certainly is. But Dominick Smith juggles his plot and characters with such efficiency that the book comes together. There was very little misstepping that I could find, though may be some question of the painting on the front of the book. Smith's book is a masterpiece of both painterly and human love for a young girl depicted on a canvas.
Sara De Vos is a fictional artist who is brought to life in these pages. She paints still lives and landscapes in Amsterdam during the 17th century. She is the first woman admitted to the painting guild, sharing this honor with Rembrandt. She is married to Barent, also a painter, but he incurs debt and he ends up leaving her to save face. They had a child named Kathryn who died of the plague. Interestingly, what is thought of as Sara's last painting, hangs in the home of Marty de Groot, passed on to him from prior generations of his family.
Moving forward to New York City in 1957, Marty finds that his Sara De Vos painting is missing and a forgery has been hung in its place. Ellie Shipley, a painter and art historian living in Brooklyn, is earning money by copying masterpieces. One of the paintings she has been asked to copy is De Vos's 'At the Edge of a Wood', the same painting that has been stolen from Marty. Marty and Ellie become involved and the outcome of this will echo through time.
It is now 2000 and Ellie Shipley is an art historian and curator. Ellie is curating a show of female painters of the Dutch Golden Age that is about to be hung at the university where Ellie teaches. She is aware that there are two copies of 'At the Edge of the Wind', both the original and the one she forged. She is waiting to be found out and have her life come tumbling down around her.
This is a marvelous novel, one I savored and treasure. It has everything I love in literature - great characterization, intrigue, complexity, and excellent writing. I have ordered all of this author's previous works. I don't know how I missed out on reading him until now.
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