The Last Painting of Sara De Vos
By: Dominic Smith
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
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 1950s Manhattan, and a celebrated art historian who painted a forgery of it in her youth.
In 1631, 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.
I found out about this book from Mel @ Book Musings and had it on my wishlist for a while. I then encountered it again for a very good price and decided to pick it up. I enjoy reading about art and discovering the world of art dealing and whatnot through these thriller/suspense/historical fiction novels.
The novel was very interesting in that there are three storylines–one set in the 17th century with the painter herself, 1957, and 2000–surrounding a particular de Vos painting. I found myself more invested in Sarah’s story and the struggles she and her family faced not only with the times, whether it be life expectancy or the pitfalls of the labour market and the struggle to have food at the table at the very least. I was pretty ugh at what her husband chose to do but at the same time I understand that he didn’t want to burden her any further. At the same time she was still left to fend for herself and still deal with the consequences of her husband’s financial decisions.
I admit, the mystery that was the central focus of the 1957 and 2000 storyline with Ellie was a bit perplexing. Marty’s motives in seeking out Ellie was a little convoluted, it didn’t convince me thoroughly; in a way, and I think Marty mentioned it himself, he wasn’t sure hmself what he was doing and then the lie just grew and grew until he was lost in his own feelings towards Ellie, his feelings about everything else happening in his life. And then the culmination of all of these events–the mystery of the forgery, the unresolved feelings of that fateful night in 1957, the collision of past and present–sort of fizzled out. I don’t mind quiet penultimate moments but in the end it was more like a final tour of an old man where the tension was lost somewhere along the way…It all worked out though, minus the lie all those years ago.
Overall I enjoyed reading The Last Painting of Sara De Vos. I guess I was expecting more from the story but it was a beautifully written novel.