The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Written by Dominic Smith
Review by Lorraine Norwood

This is a beautifully written, gripping historical novel centered on the forgery of a Dutch Golden Age painting and two women: the one who painted it and the one who forged it. Seventeenth-century painter Sara de Vos is the first woman admitted to the Guild of St. Luke as a master painter; 300 years later, the only remaining de Vos painting is a haunting landscape called At the Edge of the Woods hanging in the home of wealthy New York lawyer Marty de Groot, a descendant of the original owner.

In a shabby apartment in Brooklyn, Ellie Shipley, a talented but poor Ph.D. student, agrees to copy the original for a fishy art dealer. As she deconstructs the de Vos technique, she becomes transfixed by the painting. However, when de Groot discovers his painting has been stolen and a fraud hangs in its place, he exacts revenge on Ellie.

Fifty years later: Ellie is a prominent curator in Sydney preparing an exhibition on female painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Shocked, she learns that both paintings, her forgery and the masterpiece, are on their way to Sydney. Her long-ago crime is about to be revealed to the world.

Readers do not have to be experts in painting, the Netherlands, the Golden Age, or forgery to thoroughly enjoy this well-researched novel. Smith brings to life the vivid world of Amsterdam in the 1600s as well as modern Brooklyn and Sydney. The multi-layered narrative swings between the centuries with the grace of a master’s brush on canvas. The fictional Sara de Vos and her painting will remain in the reader’s mind’s-eye for days, along with a desire to learn more about women painters of the Dutch Golden Age – only a few – but their works, created while restrained by the rules of the male-dominated artistic community, are gorgeous.