This Is What We Long For The Profound Pleasure Of Being Swept Into Vivid New Worlds, Worlds Peopled By Characters So Intriguing And Real That We Can T Shake Them, Even Long After The Reading S Done In His Earlier, Award Winning Novels, Dominic Smith Demonstrated A Gift For Coaxing The Past To Life Now, In The Last Painting Of Sara De Vos, He Deftly Bridges The Historical And The Contemporary, Tracking A Collision Course Between A Rare Landscape By A Female Dutch Painter Of The Golden Age, An Inheritor Of The Work In S Manhattan, And A Celebrated Art Historian Who Painted A Forgery Of It In Her YouthIn , Sara De Vos Is Admitted As A Master Painter To The Guild Of St Luke S In Holland, The First Woman To Be So Recognized Three Hundred Years Later, Only One Work Attributed To De Vos Is Known To Remain A Haunting Winter Scene, At The Edge Of A Wood, Which Hangs Over The Bed Of A Wealthy Descendant Of The Original Owner An Australian Grad Student, Ellie Shipley, Struggling To Stay Afloat In New York, Agrees To Paint A Forgery Of The Landscape, A Decision That Will Haunt Her Because Now, Half A Century Later, She S Curating An Exhibit Of Female Dutch Painters, And Both Versions Threaten To Arrive As The Three Threads Intersect, The Last Painting Of Sara De Vos Mesmerizes While It Grapples With The Demands Of The Artistic Life, Showing How The Deceits Of The Past Can Forge The Present Here we have it my authentic review It has not been forged in any way, but a 17th century painting has and it s about to come into contact with the real one 40 years later.The narrative starts with the artist herself and the inspiration or accurately, the grief, for the painting The story then moves to the latest owner, Marty, and the switcharoo that happens during a dinner party only to be discovered months later it s a fraud The story then moves to the artist, Ellie, who was hired to create the replica The story shifts in time from the 17th century to the 20th and 21st.Interesting and detailed focus on the process of painting and the suppression artists were under being members of the guild in the 1600 s..The writing was marvellous and the art itself fascinating Clearly, Smith has a talent as I could visualize these works as if they hung on my own wall I was most charmed by the artist s story and the feelings, emotions tied into the fluid strokes of a brush.Overall, it was 4 but could have been higher had it gained traction earlier on. This beautifully written book was a pleasure to read.When I was in high school back in the olden days of the mid eighties we had an art teacher named Mr Gonzalez He was a cool guy, would tell jokes and liked to hang out with my crowd of ne er do wells and also rans My senior year he talked me and a friend into using our last elective for his class But I don t know anything about art appreciation, and no talent whatsoever, I rebutted to his invitation That s why you should take the class, it ll be fun I mentioned to another teacher that I had signed up for Gonzalez class and they looked at me with a knowing smirk.The joke was on the students, the class kicked our ass Unbeknownst to most of us teenage rednecks and knuckle draggers in the small town Southern high school, Mr Gonzalez took his class and its subject very seriously I passed his tough assignments and later took an undergraduate level art appreciation class.The good news is that there is a generation of us running around in Middle Tennessee with at least a passable knowledge of and an appreciation for art This awareness helped me to a greater understating of this book s subject, but even a reader with no art history background would find Smith s writing entertaining.With its intricate description of art history and technical detail of art construction this reminded me of Geraldine Brooks 2008 novel People of the Book Author Dominic Smith uses alternating perspectives from three different place and time settings to tell his story of an obscure but important work from the 1600s Golden Age of Dutch Masters The painting, At the Edge of a Wood, was created by Dutch artist Sara de Vos and is a vivid illustration of loss and haunted mourning Smith tells de Vos story as well as the story from the 1950s of the paintings theft and forgery replete with an investigation and a complex relationship between owner and conservationist Finally, Smith describes the final confrontation of art historians in 2000 as the truth plays out.A great element of this novel is the writer s talented ability to paint a picture of a time and place Seventeenth century Holland breathes with life we feel the cold damp air and smell the simple, earthy atmosphere Smith reveals de Vos world of guilds and archaic laws, we can understand the economic loss of a tulip boom gone bust Likewise, Smith s account of 1950s New York is alive with jazz and the discordant sights of a metropolis vibrant with a history of its own, we can hear the lap of Hudson waters as they caress a riverboat floating north to Harlem and taste beer and pizza from a bench looking at the Brooklyn Bridge.The obvious parallels and connections between the times and places, and between the characters serve to fully frame Smith s narrative Using the separations in time, Smith creates a dramatic irony that is endearing and hypnotic.Smith s use of the alternating perspectives and of the intricately drawn histories and interrelated dynamics of the players makes for a fascinating reading experience The reader is drawn into the lives of the characters and the drama surrounding both the creation of the painting and the evolution of its ownership is compelling, thought provoking and intoxicating I took my time reading this, enjoying every page The ending is quietly brilliant.A very well written and enjoyable novel. Update This just went on sale for 2.99 today Kindle special Great deal Gorgeous descriptions from the very beginning..to the very end At times I felt I was in the same room with Ellie..I could relate to her rebellious spirit Other times, I was completely enchanted by the framing restoration details itself The relationship between women prejudice when it came to art was such a puzzle and tragic I thought of The Blazing World , by Siri Hustvedt who went to great extremes in her novel to explore the deceptive powers of unfairness money fame and desire With two women linked from two different eras of historywe embrace their pain, feel their loss their love and understand their secrets The mystery we want to know why the forgery Who is it intended for And where is it I lost myself completely in this luminous historical tale Audiobook great 4.5 stars.As was the case in The Goldfinch, an enigmatic 17th century Dutch painting is the focus of everything that happens in this novel In three alternating narratives Smith provides us with a life of the painter, Sara de Vos, a life of its long time owner, Marty de Groot and a life of the young woman who is called upon to forge it, Ellie Shipley When the painting is stolen and replaced by a forgery Marty will forge a new identity in order to track down the people responsible for its theft and forgery These three lives, unfolding respectively in 17th century Holland and 20th century New York and Sydney, will interact on each other with the painting acting as a kind of truth serum This is very much a mystery story The first mystery is the enigmatic painting itself It s a depiction of skaters on a frozen river But there s a mysterious girl who has left footprints in the snow Somehow, she s walked into this scene from outside the painting and hovers there like a ghost What was the inspiration behind the painting The painting will be the summons to both Marty and Ellie to venture beyond the surfaces of their respective lives Smith is brilliant at using the layered nature of painting itself to suggest the hidden complexity of any surface She has no interest in the composition from ten or twenty feet that will come later What she wants is topography, the impasto, the furrows where sable hairs were dragged into tiny painted crests to catch the light Or the stray line of charcoal or chalk, glimpsed beneath a glaze that s three hundred years old She s been known to take a safety pin and test the porosity of the paint and then bring the point to her tongue Since old world grounds contain gesso, glue, and something edible honey, milk, cheese the Golden Age has a distinctively sweet or curdled taste She is always careful to avoid the leads and the cobalts The Last Painting of Sara de Vos very much embraces the traditional values of novel writing There s nothing innovative about it nor does it provide startling insights into the human condition But it s brilliant storytelling, a real page turner, a quality it achieves largely because of its consistently elegant and eloquent prose and a seamless continuity between the three narratives All three characters are compelling as individuals struggling to achieve identity I especially enjoyed the accounts of Ellie s restoration work on paintings and the fabulously detailed account of her challenge to forge a 17th century old master painting Smith describes the art of the forger as plucking a second self from the folds of history and this is what will happen to both Ellie and Marty, they will both pluck a second self from the folds of history. In 1631 Sara de Vos is the first woman painter to be admitted to the Guild of St Luke s in Holland It s the Dutch Golden Age, the time of Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals It s unusual for women to paint anything other than still life, but Sara has produced a haunting winter scene which will be known as At the Edge of a Wood.Skip forward to the late 1950 s, it s New York and the painting sits above the bed of a rich middle aged lawyer, a descendent of the original owner In Brooklyn, a young grad student is restoring paintings to earn some cash while she completes her doctoral thesis She is approached by her usual contact with a request to undertake a painting task but not a restoration this time.Skip forward again, it s post millennium and we are in Sydney, the home town of the young student we met earlier Events are about to catch up with her At the Edge of a Wood is being lent to the Sydney Art Gallery and events that were set in motion over forty years ago are about to come home to roost.The story moves back and forth between the dates as it slowly unfolds There s tension and a genuine feeling of not knowing how it s all going to play out, but the character development is well handled too and by the end I really cared for all of the key players In truth, the story of Vos was probably the element I least enjoyed reading but I also felt it packed the biggest punch.This book put me in mind of Donna Tartt s The Goldfinch a book I loved , not just because the tracking of a well known painting is at the heart of the narrative, but also because the mood and the quality of writing is comparable It s a very different tale, but in terms of it s impact it had a similar effect on me There are some superb descriptive passages I can recall one depicting a jazz band as they perform a number in a 50 s jazz club and another of a man s feeling of being in synch with the street as he wonders along taking in what s happening around him It s a tale of what enriches a life, and of relationships and family It s about regrets and the long term impacts of decisions we make And it s about second chances It s all of these things and It s superbly done by an author new to me If you enjoyed The Goldfinch or even if you didn t but appreciate a well structured story with characters that have real depth, then give this one a chance I don t think you ll be disappointed.My sincere thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. I see the painting titled , At the End of a Wood in my mind from the perfectly detailed and beautiful description in the beginning of the book For a minute I forget what I just read about Sara de Vos s character being a blend of the biographical details of several Dutch women painters in the 17th century and I m ready to go find the image online I m immediately disappointed when I realize the only image I ll have of this painting is what s in my mind s eye That disappointment dissipates as the story unfolds because the painting plays such a prominent role I can always see it based on the description There s a mystery of sorts , a theft of a Sara de Vos painting from a New York apartment of a privileged couple in 1958, that according to the rules of The Guild of St Luke in Holland should not have been painted by a woman Women were only supposed to paint still lifes A forgery by a young woman , Ellie , trying to make it in the art world and centuries later, the men are still dominating it The story spans the globe Amsterdam , New York and Sydney and cuts across time the 1600 s , the 1950 s and finally 2000 with three narratives moving around these times and places I almost always enjoy the novels I ve read blending the past and present and for some reason I almost always enjoy the story from the past That held true for me in this novel as well Whenever I read the part from 1950 s or 2000, I couldn t wait to get back to Sara s story I just had of an emotional connection to Sara and I really wanted to know what happened to her Having said that the meshing of Ellie s story with Sara s in the end was perfect I don t know much about the art world but came away from this feeling as if I learned something about it as well as enjoying the skillful story telling of Dominic Smith, an author I have not read until now.Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is a beautifully written and expertly crafted novel that will leave you not only dreaming of the landscape of a mysterious painting, but also of the times and places that connect together throughout The austere backdrop of seventeenth century Amsterdam provides the setting for one thread to this story New York City and Manhattan during the late 1950s is wonderfully atmospheric, jumping between art galleries, universities, jazz clubs and the homes and offices of the upper crust The final thread takes us to the cosmopolitan landscape of Sydney, Australia during the year 2000.Sara de Vos is a fictional character but one who is shaped from a blend of known women painters from the Dutch Golden Age The first woman to be admitted as a master to the Guild of St Luke in Holland, Sara existed during a time when such famous artists as Rembrandt and Vermeer flourished However, unlike her male counterparts, Sara was limited to painting still life scenes as dictated by the guild When misfortune arrives at her doorstep, it seems that she can no longer put paint to canvas and continue her work under these stifling conditions And thenOne blue afternoon, she sees a young girl trudging through a snowy thicket above a frozen branch of the Amstel Something about the light, about the girl emerging alone from the wood, rouses her to the canvas Painting a still life suddenly seems unimaginableThus emerges her remarkable work of art entitled At the Edge of a Wood The reader is then propelled to the year 1957 and the borough of Manhattan At the Edge of a Wood has been in Marty de Groot s family for generations One evening, Marty and his wife Rachel host a charity dinner in their home Before crashing for the night, Marty notices the picture frame is slightly askew What he doesn t instantly realize is that his original painting has been swapped out for a forgery When he eventually makes the discovery, Marty will take it upon himself to not only hire a private investigator to sniff things out, but will also play detective himself Will he later regret some of his actions in his quest to uncover the truth Eleanor Shipley holds a lucrative position at Sydney University It is the year 2000, and she has been invited to curate a museum exhibit of female Dutch painters Eleanor, known as Ellie during her poor graduate student years, is far from being uninformed about this era of painters In fact, she was writing her dissertation on just this topic back in the late 1950s She once tried to make a name for herself in the world of art restoration and conservation, but her attempts were thwarted by her male counterparts who seemed to obtain the much sought after positions despite their lesser talent not unlike the frustrations of gender inequality that Sara de Vos had to endure centuries earlier When Eleanor hears that there are two copies of the same painting on their way to Sydney to be included in the museum exhibit, she will understand that she cannot escape her past Old memories come back to haunt her, as will some deep seated regretsFor two days she s had the sensation of seeing her own life as a painting under an X ray the hairline fractures and warped layers that distort the topmost image She sees her private history, the personal epochs and eras in foreign cities, with a keen, clinical detachment They have all led to the cracks on the surface and it s time to take responsibility for those flaws.The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is a slow burning but intriguing mystery It took a bit of time for me to warm up to the characters of Marty and Ellie, but I was immediately drawn to Sara and her portion of the story I was captivated by the descriptions of her painting and the aura of melancholy surrounding her early life Her sections were my favorite part of this novel Once the narrative moved forward in the 1950 and 2000 threads, I became engrossed with the novel as a whole The way Dominic Smith weaves the story together was quite masterful and not at all difficult to follow I didn t know the techniques of art forgery could be so interesting, but even that stimulated my hungry little mind And the ending well, that was perfect. Regrets come into our lives from our earliest moments until the very last Sometimes they are as light as the wings of a butterfly causing but a brief pause Other times they are heavy ladden with pressure forcefully leaning on the heart And the indescribable ache now takes up a permanent residence.Dominic Smith presents his remarkable novel in time spans that drift from 1631 to 1957 to 2000 Each time period is layered expertly like parchment paper that settles oh so lightly allowing the reader to experience what came before and what is yet to come The voice of this well crafted story shifts from the experiential situations of each of his main characters And those regrets are the framework upon which this canvas is spread.Sara de Vos is a master painter living with her husband near Amsterdam in the 17th century Although her husband is an artist as well, we come to realize what actually defines the term master Females were subjected to disregard in the field of art and were relegated to painting flowers But then a tragedy strikes in Sara s life that transforms the feel of the brush as it touches canvas Sara brings her gaze back from the low fire beneath the cauldron Will it ever go away The anguish What transpires here out is a masterpiece from the embers of her soul.In New York City in 1957 Marty de Groot, a prominent lawyer, stands and admires the rich painting that has been in his family for hundreds of years But it brings him no comfort and seems to drape a pallor over his marriage as well He feels dissatisfaction with his life and with this landscape rendering entitled At the Edge of a Wood Ironically, Marty will no longer stand on the edge, but will venture into areas that he will long regret.Unbeknownst to Marty, a young art historian grad student, Ellie Shipley, will no longer stand on the edge of her own existence and will leave footprints of regret as well She finds herself involved in a one time forgery scheme And this single action on her part will cast a gripping shadow from this time forward The seeds have been planted and the harvest is one tangled with the sins of deep transgressions.By 2000 the paths of Marty and Ellie will cross Ellie has become an expert in female painters of the Dutch Golden Age She often sees Sara in her dreams a woman in a bonnet, a sallow, slightly drawn expression, peering in through a window All of their lives are no longer adrift, but on the same course And you will view this collage of dark and light.This was my first book by Dominic Smith The writing is impressive and the storyline is multi layered and read with deep satisfaction Sometimes a book just speaks to you in its vivid language and in the artistry of the subject matter itself This is one of them and a most memorable read. This excellent novel took me somewhat by surprise I was expecting to be interested in this tale of the art world, theft and possible forgery, Netherlands and the art of the 17th century, but instead I was captivated 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.Highly recommendedA copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
- 304 pages
- The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
- Dominic Smith
- 06 September 2019 Dominic Smith