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The Last Painting of Sara de Vos: A Novel by…

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos: A Novel (2016)

by Dominic Smith

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3743128,918 (3.97)42

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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Well written and engrossing, this novel follows a painting done in the 17th century by a Dutch woman artist through time, theft and imitation. ( )
  pennykaplan | Mar 15, 2017 |
A great read. I loved how the different stories linked together, a bit slow to get going initially but very enjoyable. ( )
  Elizabeth-Gadd | Mar 10, 2017 |
Happy New Year and cheers to the first post of 2017! (I’m supposed to be publishing every week, so if you catch me slacking, please call me out!) I’m not big on resolutions since I am the queen of inconsistent but I did map out a general plan for the year concerning travel (my husband laughed at my ideas for this one and said to think smaller), business moves, and various gatherings and expected major expenses. I feel a little more like an adult now. I also resolved to get my toddler to bed before 11pm. (You think I jest.) So far, so good, although my little man knocking out at 8pm inevitably means a 5am sleep-eating marathon.

Was one of your resolutions to read more? How about to read better books? I can’t say that every novel I read in 2016 was a winner. I even selected and fought for a few book club selections which, upon completion, I was thoroughly embarrassed by. Oops. But such is the life of a reader and as with many things in life, we need the bad to help us appreciate how truly beautiful the good ones are.

Case in point: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. After suffering through Alice Adam’s Invincible Summer (my pick, sorry book club members), I was quite smitten with this work. Boasting not one, not two, but three protagonists, the story playfully unfolds, one layer at a time (like varnish on a painting). Typically, I am irritated with time-jumping within a narrative so one could safely assume that I would be downright enraged with three time-traveling narratives. And yet I was not. In fact, Smith’s characters are artfully crafted, I found myself looking forward to catching glimpses into their pasts while attempting to predict the way the separate threads would finally weave together.

Smith opens his story with Marty de Groot, an idealistic silver-spooner, who is the unsuspecting victim of a secret art heist. While on a mission to track down his family heirloom, Marty’s story steps aside to allow the back story of Sara de Vos, 17th century painter, to come to life. Even more interesting than this sub-plot, is the third narrative, that of Ellie Shipley, the graduate student commissioned to duplicate Marty’s priceless painting. Smith toys with discussion of artistic value (such as the value or lack of concerning a forgery), impact of class structure on artistic perspective, and gender bias. Marty, Ellie, and Sara though from very different worlds all share an unexplainable connection with painting and all seek redemption from an element of their past they wish they could “paint over”.

Despite being a card-carrying feminist, I found myself rooting for Marty. Admittedly, some of his action throughout the work are cowardly, even disgusting. Yet, I found him to be a hopeless romantic of sorts and couldn’t help but appreciate his optimism and self-deprecating humor in spite of his glaring faults. Out of the three intertwined stories, I found his to be the most interesting and “honest”, if you will. (This opinion was far from unanimous at book club, mind you.)

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos left me feeling the way a book should: equal parts wistful and inspired. I highly recommend it and plan to check out Dominic Smith’s other major works. As with the characters previously discussed, I too am seeking redemption with our first book club pick of 2017, Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Wish me luck!

If you’re looking to get into some good literature in 2017, here’s a list of our former book club selections as well as my 1-5 star recommendation for each:


December- The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith- 5/5 stars

November- Mothering Sunday: A Romance by Graham Swift- 4/5 stars

October- Invincible Summer by Alice Adams- 2/5 stars

September- Film Adaptation of The Light Between Oceans- 4/5 stars

August- (Off for Travel)

July- I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

June- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr- 5/5 stars

May- The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman- 5/5 stars

April- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah- 3/5 stars

March- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff- 3/5 stars

February- Descent by Tim Johnston- 3/5 stars ( )
  Bookwormshawn | Mar 2, 2017 |
Fairly enjoyable story but I felt the writing was too passive and descriptive. The author would describe the conversation more often than just let the characters speak or even think. Therefore it was hard to really get to know the characters or sympathize with them well. I also found the plot to be lacking in momentum. Even though there was a mystery about how the forgery would come to light, i didn't feel there to be enough crescendo leading up to the reveal (maybe again because I didn't care for the characters very much. Though I enjoyed reading about the painter, the rest of the book seemed rather ho-hum ( )
  nicole_a_davis | Feb 16, 2017 |
I listened to this book in audiobook format, unabridged. About halfway through, though, I did something I rarely do: I borrowed a hard copy from the library as well, as there were parts I wanted to look back at and that is the one thing that is not easy to do with an audiobook. This proved to be a good decision.

This is almost time travel story. In 1631, Sara de Vos is the wife of a landscape painter, and is a talented painter in her own right, the first woman admitted to Amsterdam's Guild of master painters. Although women usually only paint indoor still lifes, Sara is mesmerized by a scene she has witnessed of a lone girl standing beside the river, watching skaters at dusk, and decided to paint it. After the sudden death of their young daughter, the life that Sara and her husband lead begins to unravel and eventually, comes apart. The painting, however, survives. Fast forward to the 1950s, where a wealthy New York lawyer, Marty de Groot, has owned the painting that has been in family for generations. It hangs over his bed until one day, he suddenly discovers that it has been replaced by a forged copy. The mystery of how or even when, this happened, or where the original might be, obsesses him and he hires a private detective to try to find out. The events that lead him to the truth haunt him in ways that he could not have expected. It isn't until the year 2000 that the circle closes, that the forger and Marty make peace.

Throughout the book, the chapters alternate between Sara's story and Marty's story (as well as Ellie -- the forger's -- story). I have to say, the reader of this audiobook, Edoardo Ballerini, is excellent. His voice is quiet, understated but eloquent and he is masterful at accents and giving voice to the characters. But most of all, the writing is beautiful. I want to include just 2 short excerpts here, from the very end of the book, as a sample:

"The cold air burns her cheeks as she skates along, pushing into long glides, her hands behind her back, the sound of her skate blades like the sharpening of a knife on a whetstone. She wants to skate for miles, to fall until midnight into this bracing pleasure. The bare trees glitter with ice along the riverbank, a complement to the inking stars. The night feels unpeeled, as if she's burrowed into its flesh. Here is the bone and armature, the trees holding up the sky like the ribs of a ship, the ice hardening the river into a mirror too dull to see the sky's full reflection. Everything flits by except the sky and her thoughts, both of which seem to widen and gyre in a loose, clockwise procession...Everything is strung together on the line of her skates, swooping curves and perfect delineations of her wistful thinking. She is light upon the ice, a weightless passenger."

"Every work is a depiction and a lie. We rearrange the living, exaggerate the light, intimate dusk when it's really noonday sun..." ( )
1 vote jessibud2 | Jan 9, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
"Smith’s book absorbs you from the start."
"Apart from the story’s firm historical grounding, the narrative has a supple omniscience that glides, Möbius-like, among the centuries without a snag."
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For Tamara Smith, M.P. - beloved sister, loyal friend, trailblazer
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The painting is stolen the same week the Russians put a dog into space.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374106681, Hardcover)

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 reading's done. In his earlier, award-winning 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 30 Jul 2015 16:26:46 -0400)

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