Book Review: – The last painting of Sara de Vos

It was generally agreed that ‘The last painting of Sara de Vos’ was an enjoyable and engaging book. The story is written in three time periods. In the 1600’s Sara herself is trying to earn a living through painting in a society where the Guilds’ control trade. Three hundred years on Marty, the owner of Sara’s only known work, realises his precious painting has been replaced with a forgery and sets out to discover who and how. And in 2000 Ellie, now a renowned scholar, curating an exhibition of the work of female artists of the Dutch Golden Age, realises that circumstances have conspired to bring the forgery and the original together and she risks seeing her career ruined. Despite weaving across these settings the story moves on effortlessly. Dominic Smith clearly did extensive research but it is worn lightly.

We learnt a lot about the art world: the process of painting, auctions, exhibitions and the love and appreciation of paintings – as one of the group commented ‘I’m not interested in art but the writing was so good I was fascinated.’ It was woven into stories of love and loss – another comment was that there was a lot of sadness but I felt the various characters all reached some degree of contentment.

We talked about the nature of art and forgery – is a forgery still art – possibly not as it lacks the original creative idea. But it still takes skill, and where the work is in the style of rather than a direct copy there is still an initial inspiration. Ellie’s painting is not the only fake in the story – Marty assumes a new identity in order to get to know her. Other themes included the chauvinism Sara and Ellie encounter in their respective careers.