Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Steal art, not books! (Actually, steal neither): The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, by Dominic Smith

http://us.macmillan.com/
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
ISBN: 9780374106683

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a wee smidge bit fascinated by art theft. The definition of wee smidge bit in this case could also be defined as “crazy enough to have a would-steal hit list.” But can you blame me? That art is mesmerizing, and I grew up in a city with a ridiculous unsolved art heist! This, I believe, probably played a small role in my decision to initially major in art history when I started college (just yesterday guys, it wasn’t over a decade ago or anything…). It was a fling that didn’t last for practical reasons, but we’ve kept a small flame burning as part-time lovers. The initial tete a tete lasted a course or two long enough to leave me with lasting curiosity, appreciation, and the sense that had I stayed the course, I may have specialized in Flemish works. Those colors, you guys!

The plot to The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, therefore, is right up my alley. Flemish painting? Check. Stolen painting? Check. Forged painting? Check. Spanning centuries, decades, continents? Check. Female painters? Ummm...rare and wonderful check, please. Did I mention I really enjoy art theft stories yet? So yeah, I RSVP’d yes to this party, and I wasn’t disappointed by anything but a lack of an explanation as to how said thefting actually went down, but you know what? The rest is pretty solid, and has bonus meta-con-artistry, beautiful imagery, adeptly drawn characters, clear yet elegant language, the timeless sense of a piece of masterful art, and a patina of mystery. Because it is summer and I don't want your brains to rot,  I'm assigning you a grown up book with some big words.  And because the publisher description is what grabbed me and there's some sun I want to get after, I am sharing that below!
"Amsterdam, 1631: Sara de Vos becomes the first woman to be admitted as a master painter to the city's Guild of St. Luke. Though women do not paint landscapes (they are generally restricted to indoor subjects), a wintry outdoor scene haunts Sara: She cannot shake the image of a young girl from a nearby village, standing alone beside a silver birch at dusk, staring out at a group of skaters on the frozen river below. Defying the expectations of her time, she decides to paint it. 
New York City, 1957: The only known surviving work of Sara de Vos, At the Edge of a Wood, hangs in the bedroom of a wealthy Manhattan lawyer, Marty de Groot, a descendant of the original owner. It is a beautiful but comfortless landscape. The lawyer's marriage is prominent but comfortless, too. When a struggling art history grad student, Ellie Shipley, agrees to forge the painting for a dubious art dealer, she finds herself entangled with its owner in ways no one could predict. 
Sydney, 2000: Now a celebrated art historian and curator, Ellie Shipley is mounting an exhibition in her field of specialization: female painters of the Dutch Golden Age. When it becomes apparent that both the original At the Edge of a Wood and her forgery are en route to her museum, the life she has carefully constructed threatens to unravel entirely and irrevocably." (Jacket)

Rule of thumb: if a book description contains the word irrevocably, I'm can't say I'm not going to read it...thanks for nothing, Stephenie Meyers, original irrevocable overuser of irrevocably.  My only quibble is that at time it seems as though Dominic Smith uses language or phrase patterns too contemporary or feminist in his depiction of Ellie in 1957 (I mean, I was totally there...if there means watching Mad Men). 

If there’s any real misstep its that it is truly cruel to write books about paintings we will never see! I recommend this to all art and word lovers aged 16 and up (sophisticated younger teen readers who can hang with a haunting pace can give it a try).

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