‘The Last Painting of Sara DeVos’ – The Mendocino Beacon
“The Last Painting by Sara DeVos” by Dominic Smith is the story of a painting and the people around it. It’s a winter scene that DeVos painted in oil in the 17th century. It has been in the De Groot family for generations and now hangs in their Manhattan apartment. One night at their charity party, it was stolen and Marty De Groot hadn’t noticed the fake in its place for months.
In 1636 a whale went ashore in Amsterdam and Sara, her husband and daughter went to see him die. Berendt is an artist and makes sketches of it. On the way home they stop to buy apples for a boy with yellow eyes. Four days later, her daughter is dead. When winter ends, Sara sees a girl in a snow field. She paints it.
In 1957, Ellie Shipley worked in her Brooklyn kitchen. She studied art history in Colombia and her dissertation deals with Dutch painters of the Golden Age. She’s also studying restoration. Gabriel Lodge makes them copy “On the Edge of a Forest” and says the owner will not part with the original. He tells Ellie that De Vos is the first woman to be inducted into the Guild of Luke and this is her only surviving job. Ellie buys old canvas from antique stores and discarded frames from auction houses.
In Amsterdam, Sara is working on a painting of a child’s funeral.
In 2000, in Sydney, Australia, Ellie threw a party to celebrate the new edition of her book. She bought a house on Scotland Island and loves its isolation. She is waiting for a copy of the painting “Edge of the Wood”, although the gallery owner has found the new owner. The donor is Martin De Groot. He insisted on bringing the painting to them himself. She knew Gabriel had both paintings, the original and the copy, but she assumed the copy had been destroyed. She imagines being arrested and labeled a crook. When the pictures arrive, they open a box and five curators step forward three feet away. In the second box there is a painting of a child’s burial, dated 1637 and signed.
In 1637 Sara and Barendt were deeply in debt. He leaves Sara a note that he shipped on a barge and left her instead of going to the debtors’ prison.
In 1958 Marty had hired a private investigator. He had seen a frame dealer who made frames for a regular customer. He kept a log book and receipts. He finds Ellie’s name several times. She makes lists of forgery techniques. The author describes these in detail. Ellie’s college counselor tells her it’s a man’s world at university and that she should keep De Vos on the sidelines and get on with her life.
Now Marty is on her way to Sydney, Australia. The painting is wrapped in a blanket on the seat next to him. Marty is in his 80s and writer Smith describes his ailments as an old man. Years earlier, Marty had decided to call Ellie using a pseudonym Jake Albert. He arranged to meet her to take part in an auction of old Dutch masters. In 1637, Pieter De Groot had taken part in a local guild auction and bought a painting of a young girl in the snow.
At the auction with Ellie, Marty teaches her how to bid on paintings. When they go away for the weekend, she looks through his suitcase and finds shirts with monograms and a phone number. Does she call the number and find out who he really is?
In Sydney, Ellie meets with Helen Birch, the museum’s chief scientist. She goes to Adobe Photoshop on her computer. If she looks at X-rays of both “Edge” paintings, she sees in the original that Sara painted the outlines of a woman who is standing on the edge of the wood. Without forgery, the forger would not have known about it. “Only the artist knows the wrong beginning.”
Ellie lays both the copy and the original on her bed. She calls Gabriel and tells him to come and get it. Does she tell him which one is the original? What happens to Marty’s and Ellie’s relationship? Find out in this beautiful, action-oriented novel in your Mendocino Community Library.