Author Dominic Smith delivers beautiful prose and a melancholy mood in “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos”. Spanning three different time periods, the book tells the tale of a 17th century artist and the 20th century forger who copies one of her paintings.
Sara de Vos is a (fictional) Dutch artist who, it was thought, produced only one surviving piece, a sad but compelling painting that had been part of Marty de Groot’s family’s collection for centuries. In the late 1950’s, the original is replaced with a well-executed forgery and Marty sets out to identify the forger, Ellie Shipley, and exact his revenge, an effort that takes an unexpected turn.
Mr. Smith explores life in 17th century Holland by giving readers a glimpse of gender norms, the stifling power of guilds, the folly of speculating in tulip bulbs and the devastating effects of the plague. It’s a pretty grim time and place and Sara does not escape unscathed. I’ll just leave it at that.
Fast forward to the 20th century and the author gets a little more personal with the characters, delving into unhappy childhoods, an indifferent marriage, frustrated career aspirations and decades of carrying guilt.
This is no ordinary work of fiction for a couple of reasons. First, the language the author uses really is quite exceptional and he uses it well to create atmosphere, develop characters and build mild suspense. The second reason has to do with creativity. This is one of those books where I found myself asking “how did he come up with that idea” several times. And it wasn’t about the plot (although it’s good). It was more about some of the situations the characters found themselves in as well as some of the details of their lives.
The only downside to this book is that it’s as gloomy as an overcast winter day. But good literature often is a little heavy, right?
Have you read “The Last Painting of Sara de Vos”? Share your opinion.
3 thoughts on ““The Last Painting of Sara de Vos”, by Dominic Smith”
Such a beautiful book. Thanks for sharing! 😊
Finished the book today, just in time! I also found the book to be a bit gloomy, but find myself more knowledgeable about 17th century Dutch art, life for the guild artists of that era (including women), and production of “unauthorized copies” of their work.( I am beginning to love historical fiction!) When I began the book, I wanted a visual of the well-described work-of-art, but later pictured it with my imagination due to the author’s beautiful descriptions. Later, I was tested again with the same desire and in the end, I was given a nice surprise. I’ll leave it at that!
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I especially enjoyed this book because, ironically, just prior to reading it I had received volunteer-training for the Art Literacy program at my sons’ elementary school, and the lesson was “Still Life” including works from 17th century Dutch artists.
The author is especially adept at creating atmosphere and including details. Favorites passages were those describing the workings of the Dutch guild, the process of forging the painting, the art auction that Marty and Ellie attended, and the receiving/unpacking of the paintings at the museum. I felt that some scenes detracted from the pace of the book, though, such as Marty and his assistance in the jazz club.
The self-imposed impact of Ellie’s forgery on her life was thought-provoking, especially contrasted with Marty’s infidelity — which seemed to be more of a regret than a shut-down of his ability to live. Perhaps that’s due to his lifestyle and the “cushioned guardrails of abundance”? (My favorite phrase of the book!)
I rate all the books I read on a 5-star scale, and I give this a 3 / “enjoyed.”