Cover image for The last painting of Sara De Vos
The last painting of Sara De Vos
First edition.
Physical Description:
290 pages ; 24 cm
Amsterdam, 1631: Sara de Vos, the first female master painter in the Guild of St. Luke, defies convention by painting a haunting landscape. New York City, 1957: Her only known surviving work, At the Edge of a Wood hangs in the bedroom of a wealthy lawyer descended from the original owner. Ellie Shipley, a struggling art history student, paints a forgery for an art dealer. Sydney, 2000: Now a celebrated art historian and curator, Ellie mounts an exhibit of female Dutch painters and finds that both versions are en route to her museum.


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"Written in prose so clear that we absorb its images as if by mind meld, "The Last Painting" is gorgeous storytelling: wry, playful, and utterly alive, with an almost tactile awareness of the emotional contours of the human heart. Vividly detailed, acutely sensitive to stratifications of gender and class, it's fiction that keeps you up at night -- first because you're barreling through the book, then because you've slowed your pace to a crawl, savoring the suspense." -- Boston Globe

A New York Times Bestseller

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice


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

Author Notes

Dominic Smith grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Austin, Texas.

Smith earned an MFA in writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. His writing has been nominate for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly.

Dominic's writing has received several awards including the Dobie Paisano Fellowship, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize, and the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize. His debut novel The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. It also received the Steven Turner Prize for First Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. Dominic's second novel, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, was optioned for a film by Southpaw Entertainment. His third novel-Bright and Distant Shores was published in 2011 and was shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year and the Vance Palmer Prize, two of Australia's foremost literary awards. His most recent book is The Last Painting of Sara De Vos (2016). It won the 2017 2017 Indie Book Award for Fiction.

Dominic serves as a faculty of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and has taught recently at the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

The Dutch golden age is reimagined through a haunting landscape painting and three interwoven characters, timelines, and locales in this luminous audio adaptation of Smith's novel. In 1636, while grieving the death of her young daughter, artist Sara de Vos paints At the Edge of a Wood. The painting remains in the De Groot family for 300 years until it is stolen from wealthy Manhattanite Marty De Groot in 1958 and replaced with a forgery. An investigator leads Marty to Ellie Shipley, a local art history student and the creator of the fake. As Marty embarks on a deceptive relationship with Ellie, reader Ballerini's brilliant execution conveys the hesitancy, awkwardness, tension, and guile. Decades later, Marty and Ellie are reunited in Australia, where the appearance of both the original and the fake paintings threatens Ellie's career. Ballerini's versatility with intonation and timing convey the thrill of foreboding. His voice travels easily, equally confident in 17th-century Dutch life and in a 1950s New York jazz bar; he also segues seamlessly between American and Australian accents. This is an excellent audio. An FSG/Crichton hardcover. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In this wonderfully engaging novel, centered on the paintings of fictional seventeenth-century Dutch artist Sara de Vos, Smith immerses the reader in three vibrant time periods. In 1950s New York, a wealthy lawyer discovers his prized de Vos painting has been replaced with a fake, while the forger of the painting grapples with the moral complexities of her recent choices. Both characters reappear in the present day, as the profound effect of the painting on their lives becomes clear. Woven among these scenes are glimpses into the tragic life of de Vos, the first woman master painter admitted into the Guild of St. Luke in Holland. When the story begins, only her haunting winter landscape is known, but as the story progresses, more is revealed, including the inspirations for her greatest works. Rich in historical detail, the novel explores the immense challenges faced by women in the arts (past and present), provides a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of the art world across the centuries, and illustrates the transformative power and influence of great art. An outstanding achievement, filled with flawed and fascinating characters.--Price, Kerri Copyright 2016 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS, by Dominic Smith. (Picador, $16.) A 17th-century Dutch painting and a forgery of it kick off a highbrow mystery. After the painting is stolen from Marty de Groot, whose family had owned it for generations, Marty's streak of bad luck comes to an end. Years later, the hidden commonalities between him, the artist - the only female painter in a Dutch guild at the time - and the painting's forger come into full view. WHITE TRASH: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg. (Penguin, $17.) This masterly cultural history traces the United States' changing relationship to white poverty - from Britain's desire to banish its undesirable citizens to North America, to the stigmas and epithets attached to the underclass, to racial anxieties about becoming a "mongrel" nation. EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN, by Chris Cleave. (Simon & Schuster, $16.) In 1939 London, Mary North is given a teaching job just as the city's students are evacuated, leaving behind only those who are mentally impaired, disabled or black. Cleave drew upon his grandparents' correspondence for his novel, which our reviewer, Michael Callahan, praised for its "ability to stay small and quiet against the raging tableau of war." OPERATION THUNDERBOLT: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History, by Saul David. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $18.99.) In 1976, hijackers forced the pilot of an Air France flight en route from Tel Aviv to Paris to land in Entebbe, Uganda, and took the plane's passengers hostage. David recounts the episode in thrilling, minute-by-minute detail, with attention to the masterminds behind the hijacking and the Israeli government's decision to carry out the dangerous rescue mission. THE SUN IN YOUR EYES, by Deborah Shapiro. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $14.99.) It's been 10 years since Viv and Lee, the daughter of a musician who died when she was a child, lived together in college, and nearly three since Lee all but dropped from view. But when she suddenly appears, asking Viv to join her on a quest to recover her father's unfinished album, the trip offers both women a chance at closure. THE RETURN: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, by Hisham Matar. (Random House, $17.) Matar's father, a prominent Libyan dissident, disappeared into a notorious regime prison in 1990; his fate remains unknown. This memoir, one of the Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2016, examines the grief of a family left in the dark, with meditations on dictatorship and art's capacity to console.

Bookseller Publisher Review

It's the late 1950s and a young Australian post-grad student, Ellie Shipley, agrees to make a copy of a little known work by the 17th-century Dutch painter Sara De Vos. Titled 'At the Edge of the Wood', it has been in the family of New York lawyer Marty De Groot for hundreds of years. Sara's copy is almost perfect and in fact it's months before Marty realises that his original has been replaced by a fake. Forty years later, Ellie Shipley is a professor of fine arts at Sydney University, and curator of an exhibition of Dutch female painters at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. One of the works she has selected for showing is 'At the Edge of the Wood'. However, there's a slight problem as the gallery has been offered two paintings and one of them has to be Ellie's fake. With great skill, Smith weaves three interconnecting stories of Sara De Vos, the young Ellie and her final confrontation with her past in Sydney. While there are a few gaps in the story, it's a wonderful narrative masterfully told and absolutely compelling. It will appeal to a wide range of readers, accessible yet complex in the manner of Geraldine Brooks or Anthony Doerr. I predict it will be one of the big books for 2016. Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings

Kirkus Review

Smith's latest novel (Bright and Distant Shores, 2011, etc.) is a rich and detailed story that connects a 17th-century Dutch painting to its 20th-century American owner and the lonely but fervent art student who makes the life-changing decision to forge it.Marty de Groot, a Manhattan lawyer plagued by infertility and the stuffiness that comes from centuries of familial wealth, has one special thing to his name: a collection of 17th-century Dutch paintings, including rare pieces by female artists of the era. At the Edge of the Wood is the only work attributed to Sarah de Vos, and it's hung above the marital bed in Marty's Park Avenue triplex for generations. Until one fall day in 1957 it's plucked off his wall and replaced by a meticulously executed forgery. Behind this deception is not a mastermind but an Australian graduate student named Ellie Shipley, who was approached by a secretive art dealer to replicate the painting. Ellie lives and thinks like a member of the Dutch golden age, boiling rabbit pelts in her claustrophobic Brooklyn apartment for glue, pulling apart antique canvases to understand their bones, and building them up again layer by layer. This is a woman who sees herself in de Vos and would do anything to merge their legacies together. In showing how this is a monumental occasion in Ellie's life, a truly intimate experience for her, Smith turns forgery into art, replication into longing, deceit into an act of love: Ellie works in "topography, the impasto, the furrows where sable hairs were dragged into tiny painted crests to catch the light. Or the stray line of charcoal or chalk, glimpsed beneath a glaze that's three hundred years old." The narrative stretches from a period of grief in de Vos' life that compelled her to paint At the Edge of the Wood, to 1950s New York to the year 2000 at a museum in Sydney where original and forgery meetin turn reconnecting Ellie with Marty. "Here comes Marty de Groot, the wrecking ball of the past": just one example of the suspense Smith manages to carry throughout his narrative, suspense bound up in brilliant layers of paint and the people who dedicate their lives to appreciating its value.This is a beautiful, patient, and timeless book, one that builds upon centuries and shows how the smallest choiceslike the chosen mix for yellow paintcan be the definitive markings of an entire life. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.