When I first started reading The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, by Dominic Smith, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. The first chapter felt like it was about dissatisfied rich people and I was not in the mood for that nonsense. Happily, it is not about dissatisfied rich people, nor is it about the theft and forgery of a Dutch painting, which is what I thought it was about after I decided it wasn’t about rich people. Really though, it’s about three very different lives that were impacted by the painting in very different ways.
We first meet Marty de Groot, the current owner of the painting. It was interesting, because the painting, like most of Marty’s life, had been inherited from his Dutch ancestors. Marty hung the painting over the bed in his home on the Upper East Side because his father and grandfather had hung the painting over their beds when they lived in that home on the Upper East Side. The painting didn’t seem to necessarily bring Marty any joy, but, then again, he didn’t seem to get any joy from any of his wealthy life on the Upper East Side. His relationship to his wealth and his entire lifestyle was pretty interesting.
And then we meet the artist who forges the painting, who is a bit odd, though her dedication to her craft is definitely interesting. She creates the materials used to restore (and sometime forge) 17th century works from scratch. But, she’s definitely odd and not in a super appealing way. She has an immense amount of talent, but she eventually gives up painting after the forgery, which I sort of understand. But, she also seems to give up a lot and it’s frustrating to read at times.
Finally, we meet the artist who created the painting, Sara de Vos, a Dutch master at the time when all Dutch masters were men. This part of the book was most interesting to me because I had no idea how being admitted as a master painter worked. Or how the paintings were controlled by the Guild of St. Luke. It was these parts of the book (the book switches between 1600s Amsterdam, 1950s NYC and 2000 Sydney quite well) that made me realize that I did, in fact, like this book.
It’s definitely a different book, but a thoughtful one and one I eventually really enjoyed.