The Last Painting of Sara De Vos

Title:  The Last Painting of Sara De Vos

Author:  Dominic Smith 

Publisher:  Sarah Crichton Books, April 2016

 Summary/Review:  This fictional book is the shifting time-line story of art restorer Ellie Shipley in the 1950’s, Sara De Vos , who in 1631 becomes the first woman to be admitted to the Master Painter in the Guild in Amsterdam, and Elanor Shipley, who has become a respected woman curator and art historian in 2000 in Sydney Australia.

At the heart of the book is talented painter, Sara, who has only one painting credited to her name:  At the Edge of the Wood.  What is unusual about this painting is that it is a landscape.  In this period of history, women painters were limited to still lifes:  flowers, food arrangements, items in the home….they were not landscape painters. Landscapes were the domain of male painters.  It is a famous and haunting painting, but alas Sara appears to have painted only one landscape in her life.

Ellie Shipley, a PhD. candidate (her PhD. is about the women painters of the Dutch Golden Age) now living in New York, is an art student and is also gifted as a repairer of paintings. A man for  whom  she occasionally does painting restoration brings her multiple and professional photos of the At the Edge of the Wood.  He asks her to reproduce it.  To forge it.  She, at first, has a difficulty with the idea of forgery.  But forge the painting she does– and beautifully–and spends the rest of her life in regret over this act of forgery.

Many years later, as a curator at a museum in Sydney in 2000, her forgery has come back to haunt her.

In the end,  though, it is Sara’s narrative  of a woman in the 1600’s that is spell binding.  Her story of losing a child to the plague, of being abandoned by her husband, but eventually finding work and eventually love.   Did this incredibly gifted painter have only one painting to her name?  What, in fact,  was the last painting of Sara de Vos?

Who will like this book: Anyone interested in art or history or who just wants to read a beautifully written novel. 

If you like this, try thisThe Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. 

Recommended by: Sue Z., Reference

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