The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
April 2016 Indie Next List
— Heather Duncan (M), Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO
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“Written in prose so clear that we absorb its images as if by mind meld, “The Last Painting” is gorgeous storytelling: wry, playful, and utterly alive, with an almost tactile awareness of the emotional contours of the human heart. Vividly detailed, acutely sensitive to stratifications of gender and class, it’s fiction that keeps you up at night — first because you’re barreling through the book, then because you’ve slowed your pace to a crawl, savoring the suspense.” —Boston Globe
A New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
A RARE SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY PAINTING LINKS THREE LIVES, ON THREE CONTINENTS, OVER THREE CENTURIES IN THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS, AN EXHILARATING NEW NOVEL FROM DOMINIC SMITH.
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.
Praise For The Last Painting of Sara de Vos: A Novel…
“An elegant page-turner.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Lustrous . . . skillful plotting and effortless prose . . . meticulously documents not only artists’ products but also their tools and labor.” —Chicago Tribune
“The genius of Smith’s book is not just the caper plot but also the interweaving of three alternating timelines and locations to tell a wider, suspenseful story of one painting’s rippling impact on three people over multiple centuries and locations.” —Ian Shapira, Washington Post
“Gorgeous storytelling: wry, playful, and utterly alive.” —The Boston Globe
“Rapturous . . . incandescent.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“This beautiful meditation on love, loss and art is as luminous as a Vermeer.” —People
“Equal parts suspense tale and exploration of beauty and loss, this vivid novel charts the journey of one 17th-century Dutch painting as it passes through time, nations, and the lives of all who touch it.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“The Last Painting of Sara de Vos does what the best books can do: sweep the reader into unfamiliar worlds filled with intriguing characters . . . [a] true pleasure to read.” —Bookpage
“Audacious . . . absolutely transporting.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR
“Art fans and historical fiction fans, this one’s for you . . . Get ready to be blown away.” —Bustle
“. . . a sublime tale of one woman’s lost art, another woman’s tragic mistake, and a privileged man’s link between the two . . . There’s a lovely, genteel beauty here.” —Dallas Morning News
“Lovely, quietly resonant . . . Smith [has a] singular gift for conjuring distant histories.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Laced with subtle tension and emotion . . . Smith’s novel illustrates why art remains a powerful force, both for those who create it and those who view it.” —Paste Magazine
“A beautiful, patient, and timeless book, one that builds upon centuries and shows how the smallest choices—like the chosen mix for yellow paint—can be the definitive markings of an entire life.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Just as a painter may utilize thousands of fine brushstrokes, Smith slowly creates a masterly, multilayered story that will dazzle readers of fine historical fiction.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“An outstanding achievement, filled with flawed and fascinating characters.” —Booklist (starred review)
“. . . a deeply researched, beautifully written, intellectually absorbing novel that also has the qualities of a page-turner . . . From the opening pages you know you are in the hands of a writer at the top of his game.” —The Australian
“Gliding gracefully from grungy 1950s Brooklyn to the lucent interiors of Golden Age Holland and the sun-splashed streets of contemporary Sydney, the novel links the lives of two troubled, enigmatic, and hugely talented young women, one of them an artist, the other, her forger. A page-turning book with much to say about the pain and exhilaration of art and life.” —Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord
“The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is a story told in layers of light. From afar, this novel is so beautiful, the prose so clear and vivid, that it seems effortless; on closer examination, one sees the rich thematic palette Dominic Smith has used. This is a novel of love and longing, of authenticity and ethical shadows, and, most compelling, of art as alchemy, the way that it can turn grief to profound beauty.” —Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and The New York Times-bestselling Arcadia
“As this story of art, beauty, deception, and the harshest kinds of loss ranged over continents and centuries, I was completely transfixed by the sense of unfolding revelation. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is, quite simply, one of the best novels I have ever read, and as close to perfect as any book I’m likely to encounter in my reading life. One of those rare books I’ll return to again and again in the coming years.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a National Book Award finalist
“In The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Dominic Smith moves effortlessly between his seventeenth century artist and those who fall under the spell of her work more than three hundred years later. Smith is a writer of huge gifts and his descriptions of the painting and of those who fall in love with it (and with each other) are rendered with wondrous intelligence and keen wit. The result is a novel of surprising beauty and piercing suspense. I couldn't stop turning the pages even while the last thing I wanted was to reach the end.” —Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Sarah Crichton Books, 9780374106683, 304pp.
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
What does At the Edge of a Wood mean to Sara, Marty, and Ellie? How did your reactions to the painting shift throughout the novel?
How does the memory of Kathrijn influence Sara’s art? What are Sara’s perceptions of mortality and the natural world?
What does the novel reveal about the distinctions between artists and art historians, and between collectors and dealers? Is art forgery a form of art?
What empowers Ellie and Sara despite the chauvinism they face when they launch their respective careers?
Would you want the Rent-a-Beats at your party? In their disdain for capitalism, do they do a good job of exposing the plight of someone like Sara?
As you read about the great lengths taken to transport the painting from the museum in Leiden, what came to mind about the value of a fake? What value should Ellie’s painstakingly created painting possess? How does the muddy nature of falsehood and illusion shape her relationship with Marty?
As you observed the stark difference between the Guild of St. Luke in the Netherlands and the modern auction scene in Manhattan, what did you discover about the economics of the art world? Has the patronage system that provided Sara with a benefactor (through Barent’s creditor, Cor- nelis Groen) disappeared?
If you had been in Ellie’s situation, would you have accepted Gabriel’s invitation to “restore” At the Edge of a Wood?
Discuss the three marriages portrayed in the book: Sara and Barent, Sara and Tomas, Marty and Rachel. When does love flourish in the novel? What causes it to fade?
What is Marty seeking on his sojourn to Sydney? What realizations emerge when he and Ellie are reunited? What misconceptions are laid to rest?
Beyond additional paintings, what is Ellie seeking when she makes the pilgrimage to Edith Zeller’s bed-and-breakfast?
Consider the author’s decision to make the Dutch Golden Age his backdrop. What particular qualities permeate the novel as a result of that choice?
Does At the Edge of a Wood convey any messages that endure across the centuries? What would Sara think if she could have known the fate of her work?
How does The Last Painting of Sara de Vos enhance the portraits of humanity presented in other novels by Dominic Smith that you have enjoyed?