Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Portrait by Iain Pears

The Portrait (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Iain Pears

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5982616,394 (3.36)59
Title:The Portrait
Authors:Iain Pears
Info:HarperPerennial (2005), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:novel, historical, reprint, paperback, given away

Work details

The Portrait by Iain Pears (2004)



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 59 mentions

English (23)  French (2)  German (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Good book. Surprising ending. ( )
  Big_Blue | Sep 29, 2015 |
  srwinkler | Sep 20, 2015 |
A very disappointing Iain Pears for me. Probably in part because the subject of art, and to a lesser extent the art world, is one that is important to me, but I never managed to identify with any of its aspects in the book.

It's hard to say more without spoilers, so you should probably not read the rest of this review if you intend to read the book.

I hated the narrator from the beginning, as was probably intended, and even though I came to understand him better, the ending fully justified my dislike. And talking about the ending, it just doesn't work. But I really can't say more about it. ( )
  FlorenceArt | Dec 27, 2014 |

A few months ago I read and adored Pears's big fat science-historical mystery-type novel An Instance of the Fingerpost and adored it so much I went out and bought a better copy than the somewhat battered one I had so that Pam could read the book the way it ought to be read -- and, now I face it, so that I could have a nicer copy if ever I re-read the book myself, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility. Whatever, when I spotted The Portrait in the library the other day, there was no question but that it go home with me.

It's a very much slighter book in every sense of the word -- indeed, it's more like a very, very long novella than a novel, all narrated as he paints by early-20th-century portraitist Henry MacAlpine to his subject, critic and heartless bastard William Nasmyth. Slowly, as the past history of the two men -- and more importantly of the undervalued (because female) painter Evelyn -- unfolds, we discover why MacAlpine has lured Nasmyth to this remote island off Brittany for the portrait, and what he hopes to achieve with that portrait.

I'm not sure Pears quite pulls off the endeavour. At the end of the book I felt thoroughly satisfied by the last fifty pages I'd read, but the buildup to those last fifty pages had far too often seemed to drag. Had this been published as an ordinary-length novella -- say, 25-35,000 words -- rather than an (at a guess) 55,000-word shortish novel, I think it would have been artistically more successful. As it was, I had the sensation I was looking at one of a master's interesting but decidedly lesser paintings. ( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
I've tried to read this book a couple of times before, but stopped reading when I realised that this was a book that I need to read in one sitting, so I've used this Good Friday well by finally reading the book.

It's an interesting idea, a story told in the first person during a series of sittings for a painting. The artist, Henry MacAlpine, and his subject, William Naysmith, are old friends who lost touch when MacAlpine left London for Houat several years previously. The relationship between the friends is complex, especially when we realise that Naysmith is an art critic. But, as with any long-standing friendship, that is not all and as the sittings progress MacAlpine relates a story made up of a series of betrayals set against the background of bohemian fin de siècle Paris and London, and finally revenge.

There are some difficulties with the story, neither of the main protagonists is likeable, they are ambitious and self-centred, seemingly unable to see the world from anyone else's perspective. This limits the life in the story as the best first person narrators, unreliable as they are, are usually at least able to imagine how other characters may feel. But Henry is so self-absorbed none of the other characters in the book, even those who turn out to be key players in the story, can ever be anything but two-dimensional characters fluttering around MacAlpine and Naysmith. ( )
1 vote riverwillow | Apr 6, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Features of the paperback presentation of this wonderful, grimly entertaining novel are fold-out endpapers like a miniature gallery, showing paintings by artists as diverse as Velázquez, Géricault and Whistler. They give promise of the high aesthetic tone which the novel duly fulfils.
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
To Alex
First words
Well, well, well.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159448175X, Paperback)

An art critic journeys to a remote island off Brittany to sit for a portrait painted by an old friend, a gifted but tormented artist living in self-imposed exile. The painter recalls their years of friendship, the gift of the critic's patronage, and his callous betrayals. As he struggles to capture the character of the man, as well as his image, on canvas, it becomes clear that there is much more than a portrait at stake...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:36 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"An influential art critic in the early years of the twentieth century journeys from London to the rustic, remote island of Houat, off France's northwest coast, to sit for a portrait painted by an old friend, a gifted but tormented artist living in self-imposed exile. Over the course of the sitting, the painter recalls their years of friendship, the double-edged gift of the critic's patronage, the power he wielded over aspiring artists, and his apparent callousness in anointing the careers of some and devastating the lives of others. The balance of power between the two men shifts dramatically as the critic becomes a passive subject while the painter struggles to capture the character of the man, as well as his image, on canvas.". "Reminiscing with ease and familiarity one minute, with anger and menace the next, the painter eventually reveals why he has accepted the commission of this portrait, why he left London suddenly and mysteriously at the height of his success, and why now, with dark determination, he feels ready to return."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
16 avail.
10 wanted
5 pay5 pay

Popular covers


Average: (3.36)
0.5 1
1 7
1.5 2
2 10
2.5 8
3 52
3.5 12
4 47
4.5 6
5 14


2 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 100,950,036 books! | Top bar: Always visible