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The Last Painting of Sara de Vos: A Novel Paperback – April 4, 2017
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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." --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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This is such a fascinating story, taking place in 3 distinct time eras: 17th century Netherlands, 1950s New York City and Sydney, Australia of 2000. What might potentially become dangerously confused in less sure hands, is here intriguing and pulls the reader on through the pages and years. The author is assured in taking us through these times and peoples' lives; learning their secrets, their inspirations, their pain and hope and love and loss. And it centers ultimately on painting and the painting of Sara de Vos, the first woman admitted to the Guild of St. Luke's in Holland. We see her difficult life, as well as the difficult early life of grad student Ellie Shipley, freelancing as an art restorer to make money while working on her dissertation in New York City, thousands of miles from her place of birth in Australia.
Along the way, Smith treats the reader to a minor course in the creation and restoration of classic art as well as some gorgeous descriptions of art theory through Shipley's later lectures on Dutch artists such as Vermeer. But there is the matter of the forgery! Why was it made? Who for? Where is it? And what repercussions will this copy made in the early 1950s have in present day Australia?
In an exquisite moment, one of the primary characters, Ellie, is giving a lecture on qualities of light in art and uses Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance to explain what she sees, what the artist has used and created. I think this book will affect the way I look at art in the future, how I think when I'm in a museum or a gallery. I also think I will read this book again and have added all of Smith's other books to my tbr.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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.