AUDIO BOOK REVIEW: The Last Painting of Sara DeVos by Dominic Smith

Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Format: Audio
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Narrators: Edoardo Ballerini

Publisher: Macmillan Audio                
9 hours 57 min
Buy: Kindle | Audio


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.


I listened to this book for a book club.  Its not something that I would normally pick up and was actually really dreading reading it but I was pleasantly surprised.  Going between different time periods this book tells the story of a fictional Dutch painter Sara DeVos in the past and in the 1950's the story of Ellie who is an art forger turned art historian.  

I found this book to be very unique.  I was fascinated by the descriptions of art forgery and art restoration and see so many similarities between the two. When restoring a painting you need to preserve what is there but if parts are missing a restoration may entail filling in gaps thus forging pieces of the total work.

Martin (the paintings true owner) finds his life improved after the painting is found missing, it seems it lit a fire under him as he dove into finding out how his painting had been replaced by a forgery, who did it and where his painting was. Did the missing painting lead him to stop taking life for granted or was it in finding out who painted the forgery that changed him?  

Women's roles were also very prevalent throughout the book.  Sara DeVos wasn't as respected in her guild as she should have been and found it very difficult to navigate through the art world as a woman. Men were the only ones allowed to paint landscapes because women were considered too fragile and relegated to still lifes.  When her husband leave due to mounting debts Sara is the one who winds up having to sacrifice.  

Ellie also finds it difficult to find her place in the art world.  Turning from one career to another to find her place as an art restorer.  The descriptions of painting and the different ways in which paintings are authenticated was very interesting as was the fact that many museums have forgeries hanging in their halls and don't realize it until the true painting is discovered.  Forgers were and are masterful in their art having to make sure each brush stroke is the same, the canvas, and pigments match the time period etc.... 

The men in the book didn't really fair too well in my opinion however I did feel that Martin does redeem himself in the end and Sara does find someone who respects her. So for a book I was dreading I actually found a lot to like.  I wouldn't say I loved this book but I am glad I read it. 

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