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BOOK REVIEW: The Last Painting of Sara de by Dominic Smith

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


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. 


This novel is like a nest of Russian dolls – it has a story within a story within a story. The first is the contemporary story of a young and brilliant Australian art historian called Ellie Shipley. In the 1950s, she was hired to paint a forgery of a rare winter landscape by one of the few known women painters of the Dutch Golden age. The owner of the painting, a wealthy New York lawyer, becomes obsessed with tracking down the forgerer. And the final point of view is that of Sara de Vos herself, the first woman to be admitted to the painters’ guild in Holland in the 17th century, and the creator of the hauntingly beautiful landscape that Ellie copies. Three historical periods, three narrative threads, all adroitly spun together to create an utterly suspenseful novel about love, art, lies and grief. I loved it!

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