The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

by Betsy Dominic Smith

Overview: 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.


Judy Stanton (02/07/17: It seems that I've read several novels about art forgeries past and present filled with intrigue and mystery. This book was no exception. I really enjoyed reading about the issues faced by Dutch women painters in the 1600s; who would have thought they wouldn't be allowed to paint landscapes? The book records the history of a young artist learning about repairing old paintings and being challenged by the opportunity to create a high quality replica. The reader can feel her struggle with that decision. Well developed characters and plot twists and turns keep you engaged with the story. Well done.
Rating: ****

Debbie Weiss (12/16/16): I agree with Gail that this was a very interesting and well-written book. It reminded me a lot of The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro in both the plot and the general mood of the novel. The Art Forger tended to include more of the technicalities of art restoration, but one need not be a professional artist to enjoy either of these two excellent novels. The characters were interesting and very likable. I did get confused a bit when the novel moved between the three time periods involved, but I usually have this issue with books written this way so it is probably not going to be a problem for anyone else. This book proves once again that anything you might do early in your life can have great, unexpected consequences later on. A good lesson to remember.
Rating: ****

Gail Reid (10/25/16): The Last Painting of Sara de Vos cleverly weaves together 3 story lines with a common thread. The first is the sad but inspiring tale of Sara de Vos, one of a very few women painters admitted to the 16th century Dutch art guild. More than 300 years later in the late 1950's, Sara's painting hangs in the home of a wealthy Dutch American lawyer in New York until it is stolen and replaced with a forgery. Unaware that the original painting has been stolen, Ellie Shipley a brilliant but angry young art historian and restoration expert is asked to make a duplicate for a client. More than 40 years later when Ellie returns from an esteemed career in Europe to her native Australia, the fake painting enters into circulation and threatens to ruin her career.

I really enjoyed this book and think it has it all: history, drama, intrigue, interesting characters, good plotting and seamless delivery. I was sorry to finish this book as it not only held my interest, it kept calling to me whenever I had to put it down!
Rating: *****

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