The Last Painting by Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith– Audio
Amsterdam, 1631: Sara de Vos becomes the first woman to be admitted as a master painter to the city’s Guild of St. Luke. Though women do not paint landscapes (they are generally restricted to indoor subjects), a wintry outdoor scene haunts Sara: She cannot shake the image of a young girl from a nearby village, standing alone beside a silver birch at dusk, staring out at a group of skaters on the frozen river below. Defying the expectations of her time, she decides to paint it.
New York City, 1957: The only known surviving work of Sara de Vos, At the Edge of a Wood, hangs in the bedroom of a wealthy Manhattan lawyer,When a struggling art history grad student, Ellie Shipley, agrees to forge the painting for a dubious art dealer, she finds herself entangled with its owner in ways no one could predict.
Sydney, 2000: Now a celebrated art historian and curator, Ellie Shipley is mounting an exhibition in her field of specialization: female painters of the Dutch Golden Age. When it becomes apparent that both the original At the Edge of a Wood and her forgery are en route to her museum, the life she has carefully constructed threatens to unravel entirely and irrevocably.
My Review: 4 stars
The Last Painting by Sara de Vos is a book that was on my TBR for a couple of years. It’s a novel that made many ‘Best Of’ lists in 2016 so I definitely wanted to get to it sooner rather than later. I happened to be returning books to my local library and the audio version of Sara de Vos was sitting on the counter; I felt it was a sign.
Told in three time periods, each with his or her own narrator, this book could have read with much confusion. Dominic Smith somehow managed to have these three voices tell a beautiful story and seamlessly connect with one another. The painting itself, as well as its forgery, could be characters as well. Somewhat comparable to The Goldfinch or The Art Forger in regards to the art history and detail, but this one has its own unique plot.
I particularly liked the plotline of Sara in the 1600s. Learning the obstacles and joys as a woman, wife and mother in this time period was fascinating. How her work affected the lives of people centuries later made for an excellent story. I imagined exactly what the painting in question looked like. I’m sure each reader has their own version of this ‘last’ painting. Fans of art, art history or historical fiction will like this book.
Quotes I liked:
But everything is how it should be. How’s that for wisdom?”
-“What else is there to say? You carry grudges and regrets for decades, tend them like gravesite vigils, then even after you lay them down they linger on the periphery, waiting to ambush you all over again.”
-“He carries the past around like a bottle of antacids in his pocket. You outlive your wife, then your colleagues and friends, then your accountant and building doorman. You no longer attend the opera, because the human bladder can only endure so much.”
-“They covered their walls with beautiful paintings for the same reason they drank—to distract themselves from the abyss.”