Book Review: 'The Last Painting of Sara De Vos'

Apr 3, 2017

This review originally aired on May 16, 2017

Three time periods, three cities, and one gorgeous painting, in a smart and well crafted novel: The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith.

On the surface we’re reading about the theft of a fictional painting “At the Edge of the Wood” created by a fictional painter, Sara De Vos, during the 17th century. The painting has been in the de Groot family some three centuries, and no one who has lived with the painting has lived beyond 60--it is a rather portentous family heirloom. In 1957 the painting is stolen from Marty De Groot and replaced with a forgery. 

In alternating chapters, Smith takes us from the New York’s Upper East Side of the 1950s with the investigation of who stole the prized painting  to 17th century Holland into deVos’s world, and finally, to the year 2000, in Australia, where Marty meets the forger.

In the culminating scene of this novel, I was blown away by the power shift orchestrated between the art history grad student and forger Ellie Shipley, and Marty De Groot. The back story of Sara De Vos is as lush as her last surviving painting. She was the first woman admitted as a master painter in the Guild of St. Luke's in Holland.

Dominic Smith's haunting novel explores the legacy of a rare masterpiece, its pull on a family,  and the intimacy of painting and forgery. Also contrasted are the struggles--and successes--of women painting in the 17th century Dutch School of Art, and women finding their place in the art world of the last 50 years. Brilliantly plotted and historically rich, The Last Painting of Sara De Vos is a tour de force with lasting effect.

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