The Last Painting of Sara De Vos (Hardcover)
Sarah Crichton Books, 9780374106683, 304pp.
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
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.
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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?