A masterful new story charts the circuitous course of the sole surviving work of a female Dutch painter.
This is what we long for: the profound pleasure of being swept into vivid new worlds, worlds peopled by characters so intriguing and real that we can't shake them, even long after the audio's done.
In his award-winning earlier novels, Dominic Smith demonstrated a gift for coaxing the past to life. Now, in The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, he deftly bridges the historical and the contemporary, 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.
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 audiobook includes a reading group guide read by the author.
©2016 Dominic Smith (P)2016 Macmillan Audio
There have been a rash of 'forged painting stories' on the bookshelves in the last few years. All had a similar 'feel' to them, and as a painter myself, perhaps I bring a different 'ear' to the stories, than a non-painter listener. I found myself just not intrigued quite enough to excite me and in the end, they all lacked the 5-star spark.'The Last Painting of Sara de Vos', however, had my attention immediately. The description of the painting itself, the fullness of the main characters - all worked together to create a mood and 'palette' which was quite complex . . . and spoke to me as an artist. It 'rang true'. And I appreciated the smattering of Dutch history - revolving around the period in which the Dutch greats painted. I recommend this book highly, to artists and non-artists, alike.
The mood - all parts working together to the same aim. Each part, the works of art themselves, the characters, the plot - all seemed to take the stage to create a wonderful novel.
Edoardo Ballerini did a stellar job with this one. I believe I have heard him before - 'Beautiful Ruins', perhaps.
Extreme Interest? Does that count as an extreme reaction? :)
I don't know what I'd do without 'my' Audible. It takes one out of their own life and its troubles - and when I put down my iPod - I find myself able to address my own world anew. In this overly self-absorbed world, it is nice to have a respite to turn to. Thank you, Audible!
Though it might be an obvious maneuver to compare this book about a piece of art to standing in front of an actual masterpiece and observing its brilliance and story come alive, Dominic Smith has written a book that reveals itself similarly, if you'll pardon the analogy. In this elegantly constructed story about history, beauty, loss, and morality, Smith layers each element as meticulously as a master craftsman -- the stroke of the brush, the stroke of the pen -- bringing history alive and present in an intrigue of forgery (on many levels), revenge and revelation. His talent and intelligence are reflected in dazzling atmospheres, detailed histories, and the arc of three intertwining worlds inhabited by perfectly nuanced characters.
The 17th century painting , "At the Edge of a Wood" is privately owned, passed down through 300 years as part of the fortune of the de Groot's of Amsterdam, where it now hangs above the Park Avenue "marital bed" of one Martin de Groot and his wife Rachel. An affected lawyer with generations of bequeathed wealth, the painting holds more than just monetary value to Marty. Beyond it's beauty, he sees in its provenance the generations of de Groot's that suffered from "gout, rheumatism, heart failure, intermittent barrenness and stroke," and early death that began after Pieter de Groot purchased the painting at an auction by the Delft Guild of St. Luke in 1637, to benefit the “Chamber of Orphans”. The artist, Sara de Vos, was the first woman allowed to be a member of the prestigious guild which counted among its members Rembrandt and Vermeer. But for Marty, the painting is equally a reminder of his wife's own inability to conceive over the many years, his stagnate job, his own health, in a life too used to the comforts and luxuries of money.
In an ironic twist that seems to bear out the painting's curse, the art is stolen from the couple's apartment while they are hosting a benefit dinner for... the orphans’ aid society. The theft is not realized until several months later. Marty uncovering the forgery also has an epiphany--since the theft he and his wife's lives have improved exponentially. From this point of realization, the narratives expand and move through history, seeming effortlessly in their complexities in Smith's hands, intersecting the people effected by the painting, from 17th century Amsterdam and finally to Australia in 2000. Marty reluctantly pursues the return of his heirloom, and in his own effete manner, echoes the subject of another cursed painting he once compared to his own -- that of the dark-souled Dorian Gray.
Some of Smith's observations of art and artists were staggeringly powerful and passionate. When he is describing how the skillful forger (a young Australian - Ellie Shipley) painstakingly studies the painting for days, each stroke, each layer of color, the canvas and lacquer, the dust and mold of centuries -- but even the most talented forger can't paint the soul of the artist that makes it onto the canvas: “Only the real artist has the false beginning.” It is magic you feel when the two paintings (real and faked) meet and a heartbreaking fact is revealed about the authentic masterpiece. The characters are distinct and dimensional. Marty, as boorish as he needs to be, eventually redeems himself; Ellie evolves through the deceit that has haunted her for most of her life; and the tragedy of de Vors' life that has been swathed in a cloud of mystery for centuries, reveals a new legacy.
Comparable to The Goldfinch, The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Highly recommend.
As an avid reader and Audible listener, I feel like I have to"kiss a lot of frogs" before I find that special one... I couldn't quit listening to this book! It's been some time since I've been this impressed. The story was captivating and the writing exceptional. I can't wait to tell my friends about it.
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
I don't search out books about art or lost paintings; I rarely read historical fiction, and books that jump back and forth in time often leave me wishing for some nice linear storytelling, but The Last Painting of Sara de Vos surprised and enthralled me. Dominic Smith has combined three original story lines set in 17th-century Holland, New York in the 1950s, and Sydney in 2000, all revolving around At the Edge of a Wood, a fictional painting by Sara de Vos. Smith opens the book with a vividly beautiful description of the painting to set the stage.
"A winter scene at twilight. The girl stands in the foreground against a silver birch, a pale hand pressed to its bark, staring out at the skaters on the frozen river. There are half a dozen of them, bundled against the cold, flecks of brown and yellow cloth floating above the ice. A brindled dog trots beside a boy as he arcs into a wide turn. One mitten in the air, he’s beckoning to the girl, to us. Up along the riverbank, a village is drowsy with smoke and firelight, flush against the bell of the pewter sky. A single cataract of daylight at the horizon, a meadow dazzled beneath a rent in the clouds, then the revelation of her bare feet in the snow. A raven – quilled in violet and faintly iridescent – caws from a branch beside her. In one hand she holds a frayed black ribbon, twined between slender fingers, and the hem of her dress, visible beneath a long gray shawl, is torn. The girl’s face is mostly in profile, her dark hair loose and tangled about her shoulders. Her eyes are fixed on some distant point – but is it dread or the strange halo of winter twilight that pins her in place? She seems unable, or unwilling, to reach the frozen riverbank. Her footprints lead back through the snow, toward the wood, beyond the frame. Somehow, she’s walked into this scene from outside the painting, trudged onto the canvas from our world, not hers."
The author provides the reader with wonderful details about life in 1637, painting, and the Guild of St. Luke in Holland when telling Sara de Vos' story, and we learn elucidating details about how art forgers carry out their work during Eleanor Shipley's chapters. These storylines come together perfectly with that of the painting's owner, Marty de Groot. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos changed these three lives over centuries, and I'm fairly sure that the story of how it did this may be one of the best I read this year. Edoardo Ballerini is the perfect narrator for this book, enhancing, but never intruding upon this intriguing story.
So why did I give it such a high rating?
The novel is excellent.
I didn't quite discover that until I actually read it though.
Listening to this one is a bit of a slog. My mind wandered constantly and I missed many of the subtle points which make this story exceptional. I put it aside several times, actually, thinking I'd return it.
This is a story with a lot of nuance that builds to a quiet explosion at the end. Quite poignant. But it took me several re-listens and ultimately a reading to get there. So I can't recommend the audio format.
Edoardo Ballerini's narration doesn't really do it for me. I've listened to him countless times and appreciate his skill, but the quality of his voice just doesn't please me. I'm sorry Edoardo-- I'm sure you're a likable fellow!
I LOVED THIS!!! Alternating between 3 eras propelled the plot and gave relief to the pervading melancholy as it occurred. Although some of the character's actions are cringe worthy and regrettable, Dominic's overall characterizations make them wholly sympathetic. My only criticism is that it felt sad to me throughout though it wasn't really a sad tale. Perhaps that was because the 2 main characters of the modern tale were weighed down for a lifetime with regret. Ah, but it doesn't end there. I can't think of a more imaginative and satisfying ending. And the writing is simply beautiful to listen to….poetic prose.
…and …for the life of me I can't figure out the bad reviews given to the narrator. I was a theater major in my young life and there's nothing about his performance that takes away from the written word.
interested in history, science, and pulp fiction
I will read anything about forgeries, so I eagerly downloaded. I found this to be a very satisfying experience, both story and performance. The characters are drawn with detail and particularity. No one is perfect, but everyone is complex and felt true. There may be some implausibilities in the story, especially in the ability of a forgery to go undetected, but I overlooked them with ease. I really enjoyed the imaginings of the artist's life in 17th century Netherlands. And applause to the author for writing a marvelously, believably awkward sexual scene. I will check out Smith's other books.
Addicted to books, both print and audio-.
What a gorgeous book! Beautifully written, fascinating story lines, and decent narration. The book follows three characters: the sixteenth-century artist Sara De Vos, the owner of one of her paintings in 1958 Manhattan, and the art restorer & historian Eleanor Shipley in 1958 & in Australia in the year 2000. As we divide our time between these time periods, we gain a deep sense of the painter and the history behind the painting, the painting's effect on its current owner, Marty, in 1958, and on Eleanor over the course of decades. It's a testament to Dominic Smith's writing that I was equally absorbed by all three characters and story lines, and that I feel that the painting has had a profound effect on me, despite never having seen it. It's a complex and deep story, and it's perfectly done.
My only quibble is with the narration. It took me a long time to get used to Edoardo Ballerini's cadence. I found it sing-songy, repeating the same inflections over and over . . . the narration did not really flow. He has a way of striking the first consonant and emphasizing the first syllable of words that results in his sounding almost petulant and bored. I do like the way he voices the characters, not trying too hard for differentiation, just reading them with a light touch, and he uses a good pace.
It's not an extreme problem, though, and, in my opinion, not a reason to avoid the audiobook. I'm glad I listened to this rather than read it; it increases the intimacy and connection with the characters.
I'm definitely going to look for more by Dominic Smith! Highly recommended.
For the most part, I enjoyed the story, especially the insights into 17th century Dutch painting & culture, the machinations of the art world & dealers, restoration & forgery. I found the characters engaging, though some were stereotypes, albeit pretty well rendered. The plot line was inventive, jumping back & forth in time, alternating between the experiences of the characters. IMO, the author's intention was to build in some additional suspense that wouldn't have been there in a linear timeline, and more importantly, to create fugue-like counterpoint between the characters lives both present and past that triggers reflection in the reader's mind. At times this felt too contrived. I could see the plot wheels turning to create a specific outcome & some coincidences passed the boundary of acceptable suspension of disbelief. Not a deal breaker, but it sometimes put me into a book critic analytical mode that undercut simple enjoyment of the story.
I found Mr Ballerini's narration distracting to the point of seriously undercutting my enjoyment of the book. While his rendition of character voices in dialogue was good (which is why I gave it more than 1 star), the lilting, breathless narrative persona he often used for the frequent & sometimes lengthy descriptive passages reminded me of an undergraduate reading Robert Frost with an over the top reverential syrupyness that screamed, "this is really art!" at the expense of the true sense of the passage. Too stagey & melodramatic. The story's narrator's POV is omniscient & anonymous, but the same ethereal affectations are used in the descriptive passages for the experiences of all the main characters. A more understated approach that let the words create atmosphere & drama without telegraphing portentous meaning through over acting would have yielded better results.
An interesting dual story centering on a fictional painting, and its impact on the lives of its owner and the woman who forges it. Very creative concept, excellent prose, and good narration (as always) from Edoardo Bellerini. If you are looking for something a bit different in literary fiction, this is a good pick.
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