Sunday, April 3, 2016

Forgeries and Fakes: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

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. 
Ellie was a twenty-six-year-old grad student working in art conservation when she was asked to make a copy of a 17th c painting by a female Dutch painter. The copy is her masterpiece. Ellie is complicit when the original painting is stolen and replaced with Ellie's copy. 

The painting's owner Marty recognized that his heirloom had been replaced with a forgery. He hired a private detective who leads him to Ellie. Marty assumes a fake identity to get close to Ellie. Each is hiding a truth, but find themselves drawn to each other. Their deceptions bring ruin into both their lives.

Forty years pass and Ellie and Marty are reunited when he loans his painting to the exhibit she is curating. Marty is full of regret as he faces coming death. Ellie's complicity haunts her; she knows she has built a house of cards and is certain her youthful indiscretion will be revealed.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith is related in three time periods, tracing the history of a painting over four centuries. The struggles and losses of Sara de Vos, painter during the Dutch Golden Age, is told interspersed between the story line of Marty and Ellie in the late 1950s when Ellie forges Sara's painting, and in the 2000s when Ellie and Marty are reunited.

I enjoyed reading this book. The writing is beautiful with lovely turns of phrases and memorable epigrams. Rooms 'bloat with darkness', a lie 'comes effortlessly, a deadbolt sliding into a groove." Ellie 'tries to uncover a breadcrumb trail of moral failure" in her history. 

There is psychological depth to Marty and Ellie as they struggle with moral decisions and their consequences. Regret, Marty says to Ellie, doesn't eat you alive; it keeps you alive. Marty's reflections on old age are darkly humorous. I do wish there had been a fourth time period in the novel; the missing 40 years would have been profoundly interesting, a time when Marty and Ellie hit rock bottom and had to rebuild their lives.

Sara de Vos was inspired by a real Dutch female painter. Sara's paintings are vividly described. Descriptions of the craft of painting in the 17th c and when Ellie makes her copy reveal the fatal flaw in Ellie's forgery. 

To read more about Dutch female painters of the 17th c. check out

I realized I had read this author's book The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre some years ago and had enjoyed it.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
Dominic Smith
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
$26.00 hard cover
ISBN: 9780374106683
Publication Date: April 5, 2016

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