"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"--
The second panel occurs in 1950’s Manhattan. Marty de Groot, a wealthy patent attorney, has inherited Sara’s landscape, which he thinks has been a jinx for his family. When he discovers that his painting has been switched with a clever forgery, he goes in search of the thief, but only finds the forger. Ellie Shipley is a struggling graduate student who has agreed to forge the painting. Although complicit, she knows little about the actual theft. DeGroot plays a game of deceit and betrayal with Ellie that seems to be more about retribution than an honest attempt to actually retrieve his stolen property.
The setting for the final panel is Sydney in 2000. Ellie is now a successful art historian and DeGroot is an octogenarian widower. They meet after a 40-year hiatus because DeGroot has unresolved guilt feelings about how he treated Ellie. He personally brings the recovered De Vos landscape to an exhibit of female Dutch painters that Ellie is curating in Australia. A problem arises when the forgery, masquerading as the original, also arrives from a Dutch museum. If she confesses to being the forger, her career will undoubtedly be destroyed.
The plotting is wonderfully complex; the outcome is satisfying; the main characters are well developed and nuanced; and the details about art forgery and 17th century female Dutch painters provide a deft narrative and an agreeable read.
This is almost time travel story. In 1631, Sara de Vos is the wife of a landscape painter, and is a talented painter in her own right, the first woman admitted to Amsterdam's Guild of master painters. Although women usually only paint indoor still lifes, Sara is mesmerized by a scene she has witnessed of a lone girl standing beside the river, watching skaters at dusk, and decided to paint it. After the sudden death of their young daughter, the life that Sara and her husband lead begins to unravel and eventually, comes apart. The painting, however, survives. Fast forward to the 1950s, where a wealthy New York lawyer, Marty de Groot, has owned the painting that has been in family for generations. It hangs over his bed until one day, he suddenly discovers that it has been replaced by a forged copy. The mystery of how or even when, this happened, or where the original might be, obsesses him and he hires a private detective to try to find out. The events that lead him to the truth haunt him in ways that he could not have expected. It isn't until the year 2000 that the circle closes, that the forger and Marty make peace.
Throughout the book, the chapters alternate between Sara's story and Marty's story (as well as Ellie -- the forger's -- story). I have to say, the reader of this audiobook, Edoardo Ballerini, is excellent. His voice is quiet, understated but eloquent and he is masterful at accents and giving voice to the characters. But most of all, the writing is beautiful. I want to include just 2 short excerpts here, from the very end of the book, as a sample:
"The cold air burns her cheeks as she skates along, pushing into long glides, her hands behind her back, the sound of her skate blades like the sharpening of a knife on a whetstone. She wants to skate for miles, to fall until midnight into this bracing pleasure. The bare trees glitter with ice along the riverbank, a complement to the inking stars. The night feels unpeeled, as if she's burrowed into its flesh. Here is the bone and armature, the trees holding up the sky like the ribs of a ship, the ice hardening the river into a mirror too dull to see the sky's full reflection. Everything flits by except the sky and her thoughts, both of which seem to widen and gyre in a loose, clockwise procession...Everything is strung together on the line of her skates, swooping curves and perfect delineations of her wistful thinking. She is light upon the ice, a weightless passenger."
"Every work is a depiction and a lie. We rearrange the living, exaggerate the light, intimate dusk when it's really noonday sun..."
This novel is two stories: one of Sara de Vos, a 17th-century painter in Amsterdam, and the other of Ellie Shipley, also an artist but working as a painting restorer, and Marty de Groot, the owner of a painting by Sara de Vos. The story of Ellie and Marty is during the 20th century, beginning during the 1950s in New York, then skipping to Australia in 2000. We move around among these three periods--the 1600s, the 1950s, and 2000—throughout the book.
While this devise Dominic Smith uses of skipping around from one story to another and one of three periods to another may seem difficult to pull off, he does so. This method is so effective that most readers will love the stories in all three periods. And they will think about these three characters even when they are not actively reading the book.
My book group at the Romeo (Michigan) District Library won copies of THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS from BookMovement.com/AuthorBuzz.com.
A good mystery and much about the art world. Well written, descriptive, and believable.
Late 1950's Ellie Shipley is a young woman working on her thesis of Dutch woman painters, she is also working as a cleaner and restorer. She is asked to do something that will come back to haunt her in the near future and culminate in a near disaster decades later.
Martin de Groot, inherited wealth also the owner of several Dutch paintings done by woman and passed down in his family from generation to generation. A discovery he makes will have a profound effect on himself and Ellie.
Like a finished painting all these layers will come together in a final, touching and brilliant uncovering.
Wonderful story, fantastic prose, descriptive, impassioned, even the alternating storylines are used to draw the reader in, heading for a amazing dénouement. Learned so much about art, forgeries, the art world on general and the life of women painters in early times. The character of Sara is actually a composite of all early women Dutch painters, as the author so nicely explains. Shows how one decision can effect our lives in unexpected ways. For me this book was absolutely brilliant.
ARC from Netgalley.
Written in a lyrical prose, the fictitious lives of a 17th century artist and a 20th century art forger come to life. The author takes the reader back and forth in time to develop each setting and character, including the owner of the painting, as he points out the parallel challenges of their lives in a language that is poetic, haunting and hypnotic as read by the narrator, completely capturing the reader’s attention and appreciation.
In the fall of 1957 as Sputnik is launched, highly pedigreed and pampered Marty de Groot and his wife Rachel host a boisterous charity dinner. Sometime during that eventful night, the only surviving painting by Sara de Vos, that had been in his family for generations, is stolen and replaced with a copy. When several months later, he finally discovers the theft of what he called “a meticulous” reproduction, de Groot hires a private investigator to locate the painting and also places an advertisement offering a reward for its return. When the identity of the art forger, an Australian named Ellie Shipley, becomes known to him, he devises a plan to get the painting back from her and to report the criminals to the police for appropriate punishment. He assumes the name of Jake Alpert and pretends to hire her to help him choose Flemish art work for his collection. At an auction she attends with him, he instructs he on the art of bidding and is soon enchanted by her innocence, utter love and appreciation for the paintings, and her beautiful descriptions of the messages they impart to the eye of the observer. Soon, he begins to court her, although he is married and there are two decades between their ages. His purpose of capturing her and recapturing his painting becomes muddied with his admiration for her. Soon, the path of both of their lives is altered by their meeting. For the reader, in the end, there will be the question of right and wrong, and also whether or not the crime actually benefitted the participants or injured them as time passes.
In the spring of 1635, as the plague begins to rage in the Netherlands, Sara de Vos, her seven year old daughter Kathrijn, and her husband Barent, set out to see the whale that has washed up on the shore. It is a unique opportunity for a landscape artist, and he is eager to paint it. Sara is also an artist, but it is not an acceptable pastime for a woman except in the genre of still life. She assists her husband sketching and painting, but he does not permit her to sign her paintings. On their return home from their outing, they stop on the roadside to eat and a poorly dressed boy about the same age as Kathrijn, comes in contact with her. He seems to be ill and in a few days, so is Karhrijn. She succumbs to the plague, and Sara and Barent are stricken with grief. As more and more people are stricken and die, the market for art dries up. To avoid being sent to debtor’s prison, Barent abandons his wife, leaving her to deal with his debts to the man who had commissioned paintings from him which he failed to deliver. That man is Cornelis Groen. Sara begins to work for him in an attempt to repay the debt. How her life plays out afterward defines the painting that is forged and also the fate of the rest of her art work and life. One will be left to wonder if her husband’s betrayal ultimately hurt or enriched her future life.
As the story plays out, the characters are very well developed. They become real, although they are not, and the life for each character, in their own century, is authentically portrayed. The art world and the art work is discussed with such descriptive language that beautiful paintings soon appear in the mind’s eye of the reader, and it is easy to imagine the de Vos painting, as well as other art works, hanging in a home or in a museum, or even earlier, in the act of its being painted by the artist. As the painting called At The Edge of a Wood is taken and reemerges, as its theft is unraveled, the tale travels to the Netherlands with the artist, to Australia with the forger and to the United States with the privileged owner where it had hung for decades in the bedroom of a fashionable penthouse in Manhattan.
I listened to the audio and had to turn to a print copy to clear up my confusion. In the reading, the time line and location sometimes became confused since chapters did not alternate between characters and time or place with a set pattern. It was, therefore, occasionally difficult to discern whose life was being detailed, Ellie’s or Sara’s. For that reason, the print version is preferred, even though the audio was read well, with a resonant and lyrical presentation appropriate to the narrative.
Thanks to Goodreads via Giveaway and the Author for the copy.
Ellie Shipley is curating a show of the female artists of the Dutch Golden age at a Sydney art gallery in 2000. An art gallery in Holland has lent “Girl at the Edge of the Wood,” believed to be de Vos’ last painting. An American collector, de Groot, is also lending the same painting to the gallery. Shipley is about to be faced with the step out of bounds she committed in 1957 when, following a theft at the de Groot home, she make a copy from the original painting.
The plot is intriguing. It reads like a mystery, how will she be found out and what will happen to her. Is it really de Vos’s last painting? What happens to de Vos? I recently started to paint and I appreciate the part that is an art lesson in light. How it creates shadows in the snow, in the folds of drapes, how to determine where it will come from. It has a lesson in how to create a forgery from aging the canvas to how paints were mixed by de Vos and then by Shipley to create the same aging effect. It also moves back and forth in the time periods and characters well.
This is a great premise for a novel and this is a great read.
This book is close to flawless, and has some beautiful writing. The evocation of the three different time periods is excellent, though I felt most convinced by the seventeenth century scenes. There are some exquisite insights into life, love, pain and art, but the 20th century plot completely threw me out of my enjoyment.
What happened? Sara's painting is bought at a clearing sale after her husband abandons her to their debts. It is bought by Piet de Grootin the 1600s. Marty de Groot, the painting's 20th century owner, realises that he's been duped after thieves substitute a forgery in the painting's place. With limitless riches, he's able to hire help to find the forger - Australian Ellie. Instead of reporting her to police, he embarks on a devious course of revenge - to dupe Ellie in her turn that he is a wealthy widower in love with her. So far, OK, and I had quite liked Marty and the tender relationship he had with his childless wife.
Then, unaccountably, he lures Ellie into a weekend away at a small hotel, and takes his time over the most godless sex I've ever read. No joy or sweetness or even great desire. Strange - and then he leaves, his revenge complete, after what amounts to a gratuitous rape (having intercourse with someone while pretending to be someone else? what would you call it?). His revenge would have been complete had he just abandoned Ellie in the hotel, leaving her to discover the returned forgery on her own. Totally revolting. Changed my view of Marty, and nearly made me stop reading!
Forty years later, Marty and Ellie meet again at an art show, where both the forgery and the genuine painting are briefly in the same place at the same time. Marty explains his conduct 40 years before as the result of his having fallen in love with Ellie while trying to wreak revenge on her. Hmm, strange kind of love, mate - do you mean lust? Marty regains some dignity by making all right for Ellie and not unmasking her from her successful career (he still has buckets of money to throw around), but I find myself still very resentful that his selfish 'taking of her virginity' as it is phrased is allowed to pass as if it was nothing.
I had to read on because I wanted to find out what happened to Sara, and I was not at all disappointed by these sections of the book. They are lovely, and I found Sara and her new husband Tomas the most likeable characters in the book.
I confess I'm a bit disappointed. I began this book with very high expectations, and these were realised well into the book, but then there was this sudden twist of surprising rape. It may not strike other readers so strongly, and the book is very worth reading for its other diamonds of expression and philosophy.
The novel's second period is NYC 1957. The painting, which has been in Marty de Groot's family for 300 years, has been stolen replaced with a faked copy. During the investigation of the theft, the married Marty becomes enamored with a 20 years his junior, Ellie Shipley, art historian, restorer and forger.
The third time period is Sydney 2000 when Marty and Ellie are reacquainted after she receives the painting (and the forgery) for a museum expedition.
I'm not sure whether or not it the cold I had when I first began reading this book but I had a difficult time getting into it. For almost half the book, I toyed putting it down unfinished. However, it became engaging as I read the interweaving stories and I was glad I stuck with it.
This is a book that ranges over time, geography, and questions of morality. Perhaps as a result of its epic ambition it falls short of landing anywhere sufficiently to give readers a sense of "being there." So, it's difficult to sink into the story, which in its parallel plot structure possibly jumps around too much. In the midst of "trying" to be too many novels this one probably flew too close to the sun.
I enjoyed the novel in a mostly didactic sense but am afraid I won't find it memorable as a story or moving experience. However, I can recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, intellectual mysteries, and psychological intrigue, especially if they want to learn some arcana concerning the construction of oil paintings.