REVIEW: THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS BY DOMINIC SMITH

Due to time restraints while I work on my own novel, reviews on this site will now comprise a book blurb and a short response.

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I minored in art history at university, so The Last Painting of Sara de Vos reeled me in easily. From the opening, where the fictional painting’s description is entrenched in the mind of readers, I was captivated by the fascinating story of this painting, and the impact it had on three key characters. While I’d love to see a real version of this made-up painting, Dominic Smith’s writing created a vivid, enduring image through words, proving that if the imagery is strong enough, no real images are needed.

Here’s the blurb:

In 1631, Sara de Vos is admitted to the Guild of St. Luke in Holland as a master painter, the first woman to be so honoured. 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 Manhattan 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 exhibition of female Dutch painters, and both versions threaten to arrive.

As the three threads intersect with increasing and exquisite suspense, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos mesmerises while it grapples with the demands of the artistic life, showing how the deceits of the past can forge the present.

The story and its execution are extraordinary. Despite varying time and place, the characters’ stories meld and flow beautifully. There’s suspense as the day of reckoning approaches for Ellie; there’s an underlying emotive element underneath the often matter-of-fact scenes of loss, love, guilt and regret. On the one hand, Ellie feels loss for the father who was never really there, while Sara grieves the loss of her daughter, and is left with no choice but to get on with it. What Smith does is highlight the heart in the world of art, which often goes unnoticed by those who don’t appreciate what goes into creating an artwork of any form. He writes about art from the perspective of one who gets it, with a poetic touch that would make any of the referenced painters nod with pleasure.

A clever design choice was made with the yellow title – much reference is made to the lead tin yellow that ultimately sets the original and the forgery apart.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. One for lovers of art and precise prose.

Available from good bookstores (RRP $32.99AUD). My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.