The Last Painting of Sara De Vos Book Review

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos: Book Review by Dinh.

4.5 stars

Synopsis:

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 on route to her museum, the life she has carefully constructed threatens to unravel entirely and irrevocably.

 

the last painting of sara de vos book review

Review:

Be prepared to be bowled over by this captivating book that entwines the lives of Sara de Vos, Ellie Shipley, and Marty de Groot. It was a pleasure to read this book and I enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Here’s what I liked:

Writing

Smith’s book is beautifully written and easy to read.

Australian born Dominic Smith has written three other novels, and although I have not read them, this being my first of his, I would definitely want to check out his other works based on his writing style of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. 

I enjoyed reading about the painting techniques and was enthralled with the whole process. Much of the story is about the original painting and the forgery, and whilst there are lots of descriptive parts on art, I did not find it verbose.

 

She’s thinking about the impossibility of warmer days while she stares out at the brittle world from the cottage window, at the pendants of ice hardening along the barren fruit trees, the vapor of hoarfrost against the fence palings.”

 

Plot

At first I thought this was going to be another art heist story like The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro. However, it doesn’t turn out to be that way.

Marty’s painting of At the Edge of a Wood does get stolen but the story itself is not about just the painting but the 3 lives that are connected to the painting. It’s about the fate and choices made by these people.

Smith uses the three time periods to show what happens to the original painting and how it connects to the characters.

The plot is not linear as we travel from New York in 1950s, back to Amsterdam 1600s and to Sydney 2000s. This could have been confusing with it jumping back and forth but it was done extremely well by Smith.

The separation of time with different narratives made the book interesting and easy to follow.

 

The last painting of sara de vos novel by Dominic Smith

 

Characters

Smith’s decision to have the painter, the art historian and the owner of the painting as the focal point of the book was a smart move.

The three narratives were interesting. I liked Ellie’s and Marty’s story but it was not as fascinating as Sara’s.

I particularly liked Sara de Vos’ story and wanted to learn more about her and her life in the Dutch Golden Age and was eager to get back to her story whenever it moved away from her.

Smith’s characters were developed well, complex, and believable.

 

Ending

I also enjoyed the ending. As I was nearing the end of the 287 page book I was wondering how it would all come together. It didn’t disappoint.

It’s satisfying to say the Smith tied it up nicely and didn’t leave me wondering. Everything came full circle.

 

 

The last painting of sara de vos Review

 

Was there anything I didn’t like?

Yes.

I didn’t like the weird/awkward relationship between the two main characters Ellie and Marty.

Their relationship was a bit fuzzy. I didn’t get the sense of Ellie being in love with Marty, or falling in love with him, and vice versa.

Their feelings were too vague and we don’t really know how they felt about each other until the end of the book. I would have preferred not to have this ambiguity in the middle of the book.

 

My Final Thoughts:

Aside from the uncertainty of Ellie’s and Marty’s relationship in the middle of the book, I found The Last Painting of Sara de Vos a highly enjoyable read. The book is well written and reads like a knife cutting cake.

The interesting story line together with the great characters, which are complex and well developed, makes it a captivating read.

I would recommend anyone to read this book, especially someone who has a penchant for art. (See The Goldfinch or The Art Forger).

 

Buy the book here. Like audio books? Check out Audible trial and listen to it for free!

Check out the book club discussion questions for The Last Painting of Sara De Vos.

 

Did this book appeal to you? I would love to hear your thoughts on historical fiction books that tie in art.

16 thoughts on “The Last Painting of Sara De Vos Book Review

  1. As per usual, another good book review. Well done Dinh. I like the idea that the story allows me to experience different places and that it is easy to read. I wonder though, did it say enough about these places, so that the reader would get a feel of the cultures?

    1. Hi Josephine!
      I found the part about Sara the most interesting and invocative of Amsterdam and that time period. I did get a good feel for these other places, especially the historical aspect. Smith did a good job in connecting the reader to the historical place. It felt real. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and Happy New Year!

  2. It seems like the relationship part was a bit iffy but that everything else was done incredibly well. I’m glad the plot could surprise you a little by not going the way you thought it would, and that you were able to really enjoy the writing style as well. It all sounds so positive!

    1. Hi Olivia!
      I did really enjoy this book and pretty much everything was good except the one ambiguous part.
      The characters, and the intricacies of the painting and its story, was very interesting.

      Thanks for stopping by at Arlene’s book club!

  3. …”a knife cutting cake.”

    How interesting. I just had a chance to read the synopsis and then your review and what a sharp storyline. I’m not a big fan of jumpy timelines, largely because I get easily confused. But, it seems be written simply and very well. I’ll make sure to add this to my TBR.

    1. Hi Lonna!
      Smith’s writing is very clear and wonderful and I hope you enjoy his book when you get a chance. I really enjoyed it.

      I borrowed “a knife cutting cake” from Mique. Just trying it out; though not sure if that was a good way of using it.
      Hahaha, I knew you’d pick up on it. You don’t miss a thing.:)

  4. I am glad you enjoyed this book.
    It does sound interesting with the historical weave and the painting connecting the characters. Is it as good as Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch?

    1. Hi Becky!
      This was a interesting book and wonderful read.
      The story line are different between The Goldfinch and The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. I liked both of them for different reasons.
      The Goldfinch I found was a bit too wordy for my liking. It’s very descriptive but at some point I thought it was too verbose. Smith’s book however was descriptive enough for me and had a pace that I enjoyed. I have to say that The Goldfinch was a bit better because of the story line and great characters.

      Thanks for stopping by at Arlene’s Book Club!

  5. Thanks for the great review Dinh, this sounds like a really interesting storyline and the kind of book that my sister likes to read so you’ve solved a problem for me because I always struggle to find a Christmas present for her. Great work!

    1. Hi Diego!
      If you’re sister likes to read historical fiction then I would recommend this book to her.

      It’s a great read and I really enjoyed it. Books are wonderful gifts for any book lover.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. This sounds like a unique book. The fact that it follows three different timelines I find very interesting. Did each character get about equal focus, or did one timeline seem to get more attention? I think with the book jumping between different years it would help keep my attention, it would be fun to read how each characters decisions affect each others down the road.

    1. Hi Summerly!
      This book was unique as Smith’s concept of the fictional character Sara was taken from bits of various people that were part of The Guild in the 1630s. He did a good job in making her come alive and interesting.
      I didn’t think that there was equal focus on each character but that was because of the plot. Sara has the least because she was the one that painted At the Edge of a Wood and although her story is told it was not connected to Marty and Ellie physical time frame. They are linked only by the painting.
      Ellie and Marty share more focus because of Ellie’s decision to reproduce the painting. Her decision to do that had consequences and implications go forth.

      It’s amazing how one decision can open up and change the fate/future…

  7. What an interesting book you have here. The story line takes you to so many different eras, very neat. I do like the characters that are very involved and captivating so I will have to check out this book! Thanks for your detail review!

    Best,
    Grace

    1. Hi Grace!
      I loved the parts that were to do with Sara who lived in 1630s Amsterdam and her life. Smith depiction of that time period was very well done and I was completely taken in and mesmerized.

      The characters are what make books and this book was an interesting look at the fate of one painting.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I love historical fiction so I’ll have to check this one out. I also like stories that have different narrators because I enjoy reading the different perspectives. Admittedly, I am so behind on my book reading! I have to travel out of town for work and I’m planning to take a book to read on the plane because I’ll have some time to myself (it’s hard to pick up a book with two small kids around :)) Thanks for the review!

    1. Hi Teresa!
      I really enjoyed this book and it was such an easy book to read that I think you’ll like it too. 🙂

      Do let me know what you think when you’re done!

      I took up your suggestion of The Fall of Giants by Ken Follett, and wow, that was a great pick! I absolutely loved it. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

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