The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

IMG_2596“…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.”

Inspired by female Dutch painters of the Golden Age, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is composed of stories from three different time periods, which center around a painting created by the fictional Sara de Vos. In the author notes, Dominic Smith explains that he used “biographical details from several women’s lives of the Dutch Golden Age” in creating the character of Sara de Vos, and her story and the time period are brought to life through beautiful and expressive detail.

As mentioned, the book moves back and forth between three different time periods chapter by chapter. The first one being Amsterdam in 1631 when Sara de Vos becomes the first female painter to be admitted to the Guild of St. Luke as a master painter. We are taken through momentous moments of her life including how she came to create the painting called At the Edge of a Wood, which becomes the centrepiece and connecting thread in the novel. The second time period is set in 1957 New York, where we meet Marty de Groot who is the owner of At the Edge of a Wood and what has come to be known as the only surviving work of Sara de Vos. A grad student, Ellie Shipley agrees to create a forgery of the painting for an art dealer and her story inevitably becomes interconnected with the owner of the painting. Lastly these stories converge in the year 2000 in Sydney, Australia where Ellie is a successful art historian and curator, and her past involvement in creating a fake Sara de Vos painting may become exposed.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is an intriguing novel that weaves together three interesting stories and brings to life a fascinating figure in Sara de Vos and an historic part of the art world in the Golden Age. It is very well written with characters that are full of depth and nuance. The stories and time periods weave together seamlessly, with each being captivating and engrossing in its own way. I enjoyed delving into the various aspects of the art world and particularly learning a little about female painters during the Dutch Golden Age, which I am interested in learning more about and exploring further. This is a well written and researched novel that I would recommend to those with an interest in art and history.

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