Jun 26, 12
Read from June 08 to 11, 2012
I’ll admit to a spoiler right off the bat. The book’s title refers to a painting that is indeed a true Vermeer. Be sure to look up the painting in an art book or on google images because as good as Susan Vreeland’s descriptions are, this painting should really be experienced visually. The novel progresses in reverse order as the continuing life of the painting is revealed in chapters backwards through the centuries in the Netherlands to its origins sometime around 1650-70. The characters in the first chapter, which takes place in the late 20th century, are not certain of the painting’s authenticity but believe it to be a Vermeer. The current caretaker of the painting, however, is tempted to burn it because he is so horrified that his father, a Dutch collaborator during the Nazi Occupation, stole it out of a Jewish household after he had already arrested the family and sent them to the death camps. Thus, at the end of the first chapter of the book (which is chronologically the last), we are still left in doubt not only about the authenticity of the painting, but also about its future. There are a few gaps in the painting’s provenance. For example, we are not told how the Jewish family came to possess the work. Earlier, the painting was bought by a newlywed couple who never knew its true value. Earlier still, the French wife of a diplomat in Holland sold the painting without its papers, and henceforth, its origins were never known. And earlier still, the painting survived a flood and saved a family from starvation. And before that, it was connected to a doomed woman who was executed for being a witch. But the most interesting chapters of all follow this amazing work back to its creator. Vermeer had a fascinating life, but like so many of his fellow artists, not a life during which his works were appreciated for their true genius. How he came to create this painting and the fate of young lady who posed for it make a wonderful conclusion to his creative and fascinating novel.