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.

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

IMG_2420“It was indescribable what she wanted. She was restless. She wanted to work. She wanted to be thirty people. She wanted to wear a cap of pearls and a coat of bright blue diamonds. To live as nature does, in many ages, in many brains.”

Margaret the First is a dramatization/re-imagining of the life of the 17th-century duchess, Margaret Cavendish. She was a writer who published works that included plays, poetry, and science-fiction that tackled topics of gender and power during a time when it was something women did not do, at least not under their own name. Margaret is a fascinating historical figure and Margaret the First covers her life, mostly through first-person perspective, with Margaret recounting her own story. This changes towards the end of the book where it switches to third person perspective as it wraps up.

“Yet how hard it is to point to a moment. To say: there, in that moment, I changed.”

This is an interesting book that depicts the life of a historical figure in a unique and intriguing way. With short chapters and captivating prose, the author provides a fascinating perspective of Margaret’s life and her writing and accomplishments during the challenging times of the 17th-century. It is a compelling dramatization and a good read for fans of Margaret Cavendish and also for those who maybe are not familiar with her, but are interested in a brief introduction. I myself do not have extensive knowledge of the duchess but thoroughly enjoyed this depiction and perception of her life and career, and found it to be a great starting point for further research on the subject.