The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith is a slightly different story of art theft and forgery. It revolves around 17th C. artist Sara de Vos, her time and her art, 20th C. art history graduate student Eleanor (Ellie) Shipley and 20th C. lawyer Marty de Groot, wealthy American descendant of the original Dutch owner of a painting by Sara.
In 1958 Ellie, who restores and conserves paintings to support herself, is approached and agrees to make a copy of the de Vos painting. It is Ellie's one and only forgery. Exactingly done, except for one slight difference not detectable to the naked eye, the copy is switched with the original. It is not until several months later that de Groot becomes aware that what is now hanging in his apartment is no longer the original. So begins his quest to get it back.
Just as 17th C. paintings have layers of canvas, sizing, ground, paint, varnish and accumulated dirt, Smith builds the multiple layers of his story through the layers of his characters - their personal situations, their personalities, their surroundings and their times. He moves from late 1950s New York City back to mid-1600s Holland, as well as forward to Australia, circa 2000.
Smith does a good job of describing his settings. The reader can clearly picture the old, established wealth of de Groot's apartment, the grunge of Ellie's one-room Brooklyn apartment and the buildings, scenery and details of Sara's Holland. Each character has their own tensions and sadness which the reader is called upon to feel and understand. The complexities of this trio, how they parallel each other and intertwine, make for an enjoyable story.
While some reviewers of advance copies of the book have raved that it is compelling, the best they have ever read, "almost perfect," I cannot use such hyperbole. I felt it was competently done, of mid-level depth of character development and above average in setting the scene, whether on canvas or in the world of the protagonists.
I enjoyed it much more than The Goldfinch. Readers who liked Girl with a Pearl Earring or who like art/theft/forgery plots will likely enjoy this take on true and false art, which also questions what other things of life may also be true or false.: love, value, skill?
The book is due to be published April 5, 2016. This is Dominic Smith's fourth novel.