The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
by Dominic Smith
Genres: Fiction / Literary
“By the time Gabriel came to her with the commission for At the Edge of a Wood, she had saved close to ten thousand dollars – so she technically didn’t need the money. He said the present owner wanted an exact replica made but couldn’t bear to part with the original. She remained skeptical and told him that copying an artwork was not the same as restoring it. But when he produced three high-resolution color photographs of the painting in its frame she felt her breath catch – it was unlike anything else painted by a baroque woman.”
Split narratives intertwine to reveal the path of Sara de Vos’ illusive 17th century painting, At the Edge of a Wood, and its forged copy. From Sara’s life, struggles and motives, to the most recent owner of the painting, a wealthy Manhattan socialite in the 1950’s, to the naive student skilled in art restoration and living in 1950’s Brooklyn, to the modern-day exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales which could be the setting for the truth to reveal itself.
The more time I have to think about this book since finishing it, the more dissatisfied I feel about it. I don’t even have a lot to say about it, because there’s really just not that much to say. Not much happened in this book!
There’s a painting from the 17th century, which has found its way into the home of a wealthy family in the 1950’s, only to be stolen and forged at the same time, and then in the 2000’s both the original and the forgery rise to the surface ahead of an upcoming exhibition on Dutch women painters of the 17th century at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Even after the reading the book though, there are still holes in my mind as to the movements of the painting, so that’s about the best I can do in outlining the story.
I heard about this book and actually assumed it might have a light thriller or mystery-type feel to it, and so I was excited when I found a competition to win an advance copy on the publisher Allen & Unwin’s site. And then even more excited when I actually won the advance copy! I bumped it to the top of my TBR list and started reading it, but I found it hard to stay focussed on the words. I realised I was bored, twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen, but I stuck with it because I was sure something would happen. It had the makings of an interesting and surprising story that I could get on board with – there were literary aspects, the touches of history and culture, museum life which is something to which I can relate to and understand…..all it needed was some kind of event or revelation. So I kept reading (slowly), and then when I got to the end, finally something semi-interesting did happen, but then the book finished quite suddenly in the middle of a scene, and what I thought could actually have been a great scene had it been allowed to continue! What the?
I can sniff undertones of feminism here, in both the scenes from the 1630’s featuring Sara de Vos, and the 2000’s when we follow Eleanor Shipley, but that’s something I’ve realised may have been there only since reading the book and trying to find some kind of message, they weren’t formed ideas that were clear during the reading of it.
It might seem an obvious recommendation to people who are into art or museum culture, but I’m not sure even those people would find this interesting. It wasn’t a total blowout. I didn’t hate it. It just didn’t leave any impression at all. Still, I’m going to stick with the rating I gave it on Goodreads straight after finishing it.
Did not like it – It was ok – Liked it – Really liked it – It was amazing