‘The Last Painting of Sara de Vos’ review

Love art, cracking writing, and addictive mystery? Read on for a review of Dominic Smith’s newly released, already critically acclaimed new novel, and check out the book trailer below.

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The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

This book only reveals the genesis of its title in the final page, so it’s well worth the effort to read it. Not that much effort is needed. Dominic Smith, an Australian who now lives and works in the US, has drawn together his story from the 17th century to the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s all to do with art, and it’s an engrossing story.

Sara de Vos is a Dutch artist who in 1631 was admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St Luke but, as with most female painters of her time, social constraints limited her talents to the creation of still lifes. Because of straitened circumstances she expanded her range into landscapes, but only one seemed to remain by the 1950s, a haunting winter scene inherited by a New York descendant of the original owner.

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Dominic Smith

That was when Ellie, an Australian graduate art student in New York, was persuaded to paint a forgery of that landscape, working from a photograph, obviously taken secretly in the apartment of the owner. She never knew what happened to the forgery.

Half a century later, Ellie is a respected art historian back in Australia, curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters, and it seems that the two versions of the work by Sara de Vos are set to arrive for it.

Smith takes his story backwards and forwards to provide not only the background colour but also the final brushwork and the fine details in his picture, just as Sara de Vos did. The relationships between that 17th century artist, the skilled forger/art historian, and the man who had owned the original painting are real, and human.

There is a touching reunion in Sydney and a denouement in Holland, providing a highly satisfactory conclusion to a most interesting book.

4 stars – Allen & Unwin $32.99

Reviewed by Jennifer Somerville

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