The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith (♦♦♦♦)

Marty de Groot comes from old money, his ancestors having made their fortunes in the Netherlands around 1600s. He lives with his wife Rachel in a penthouse apartment in Upper East Side, New York City in 1957. Marty is a lawyer and works at a law firm but suspects he'll never make partner. But he does. In fact, a lot of good things, both big and small, start happening after he discovers that a painting he owned has been stolen and replaced by a copy.

Ellie Shipley is an Australian twenty-something who lives in a cheap apartment in Brooklyn. Ellie is writing a dissertation towards her doctorate in history of art with an emphasis on female Dutch painters of the seventeenth century. When a partner brings her the privately-owned, only painting attributed to Dutch painter Sara de Vos for her to copy, Ellie is more than intrigued, she is hooked.

Forty three years later in present day Sydney, Australia, Ellie is about to come face to face with the folly of her youth, because she is curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters of the 1600s and both paintings by Sara de Vos, the original and the copy, are heading her way and threatening with unraveling her carefully constructed professional life.

I took forever (a month in fact) to read this book due to all sorts of things happening in my life in the last month, but I managed to finish and like very much this rather small tome.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith is a multilayered story on several fronts. The de Vos’ paintings being carefully built (when painted) or deconstructed (when forged) from the ground layers up made me visualize the processes as if they had been unfolding in front of my eyes. This level of painstaking detail reminded me of Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes and The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos moves back and forth between the years 1957-1958 in Marty’s and Ellie’s lives and 1636-1637 in Sara’s life, then fast forwards to present day (year 2000) and the year 1649. I’ve found books in which the shifting focus complicates the plot but it isn’t an issue in this novel thanks, in part, to the well defined periods when the story takes place, and to the deftness of Smith to steer the reader through the story.

DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Comments

  1. I have heard a lot about this book. Sounds like one I would like. Nice review! Hope your life calms down soon!

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    1. Thank you, Judy. I enjoyed the book but I think I read it two pages at a time (or so it seemed).

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  2. I had heard this novel was good and I'm glad you liked it. It sounds like it was worth it. Good historical fiction is often that way for me -- it can take a long time to finish but then stays with me for a good while too.

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    1. Yes, Susan, it was very good, plus it was about art, which I love to read and learn about.

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  3. I think novels featuring artwork are frequently quite interesting. As I read your review I found myself thinking of The Girl With the Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch both of which I found to be enjoyable reads. I bet I would like this one as well.

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    1. I think you would like it, Dorothy.
      I read The Girl with the Pearl Earring many years ago and found it meh, but I want to re-read it because I enjoyed Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, which like most of her books is written in the same style (i.e., writing about ordinary lives touched by someone else's genius). I think I would like it very much now.

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