In 1631, Sara de Vos was admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St. Luke’s in Holland, the first woman to be so recognised. Three hundred years later, only one work attributed to her is known to remain – a haunting winter scene, At the Edge of a Wood, which hangs over the bed of a wealthy descendant of the original owner.
Unbeknownst to the owner, Ellie Shipley, an Australian student struggling to stay afloat in New York, agreed to paint a forgery of the landscape. In Sydney a further 50 years later, she curates an exhibit of female Dutch painters, and both versions of the painting arrive. As the three threads of the story intersect, the novel explores how the deceits of the past can forge the present.
Given how ignorant I am of the history of painting, I was surprised how easily I was drawn into the worlds of Sara de Vos and Ellie Shipley. There are always stories behind stories and the author has ably drawn them out to create characters that aroused sympathy, anger and sadness from me.
I chose to read this story because one of those “if you like X, read Y” suggestions on a website pointed to it. I couldn’t understand the relationship between the two books until I was well into The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. Dominic Smith’s writing about grief is poignant and the way loss shapes lives shows the humanity of the characters.
You can read more about The Last Painting of Sara de Vos on Goodreads.