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The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,343 ratings  ·  259 reviews
From one of the world’s most expert art critics, the incredible true story—part art history and part mystery—of a Velázquez portrait that went missing and the obsessed nineteenth-century bookseller determined to prove he had found it.

When John Snare, a nineteenth-century provincial bookseller, traveled to a liquidation auction, he stumbled on a vivid portrait of King Charl
Hardcover, First Hardcover Scribner Edition, 304 pages
Published April 12th 2016 by Scribner (first published January 7th 2016)
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Sarah The point is that the painting is lost, there are no images of it. The book is really about the obsession people have about the lost painting, both th…moreThe point is that the painting is lost, there are no images of it. The book is really about the obsession people have about the lost painting, both the book publisher of the title and the author. If you like Donna Tartts Goldfinch, or the Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Sue Vreeland, you might like this. Or if you want to learn about a lesser recognized master and contemporary of Rembrandt and VanDyke, or the Hapsburg court, or the New York art scene at the turn of the last century before the industrialists built their museums, etc... then you might like this book.(less)

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(B) 73% | More than Satisfactory
Notes: Like a box too big for its baubles, it’s profuse in puffy packing peanuts: padding out vacuities with filler art analyses.
Jeffrey Keeten
Apr 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: artists
”They were like guests at a surprise party waiting for your arrival and now you have entered the room---their room, not the real one around you---or so it mysteriously seems. The whole scene twinkles with expectation. That is the first sensation on the threshold of the gallery in the Prado where Las Meninas hangs: that you have walked into their world and become suddenly as present to them as they are to you.

And what keeps them here, what keeps them alive, or so the artist implies, is not just t
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it

Two enigmatic men are the subject of this book. John Snare, a bookseller and printer, is an ordinary Victorian man who in 1845 attends an inauspicious auction of artefacts from a boys’ school that has closed down. There he sees a painting which casts a spell over him. It’s a portrait of King Charles I, listed in the catalogue as possibly by Van Dyck. However Charles is so young in the picture that Snare believes it might be the rumoured but never seen painting by Velázquez, executed when Charles
Hmm, a nice book.

Chapters mostly alternate between the story of one John Snare, a mid-ninetenth century bookseller, stationer and printer from Reading who bought at auction a painting that he became convinced was a portrait of Charles I by Velázquez, and chapters generally about Velázquez.

If I may be so bold, I like Velázquez, and one of my pleasures is to admire his works as presented in the National Gallery in London, where I might see his Majesty King Philip IV, or Christ visiting Mary & Mart
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
An excellent overview of the work of Diego Velazquez and his standing among the Old Masters. It's also the story of one man transfixed to the point of monomania by one of Velazquez's works, John Snare, a 19th century bookseller and collector. Highly recommended. ...more
TBV (on hiatus)
“There is something intensely romantic in the fact that while walking up Broadway in the midst of a busy noonday crowd – made up of Bulls and Bears, rattling omnibuses, express wagons, Fifth-avenue carriages, railroad ticket offices, big hotels, big coaches hurrying passengers to steam on water or land – in a few moments, and by passing through a rather slim and dusty hall, you may shut yourself out from the present. In this silent place … may be seen a magnificent painting, a portrait of Charle
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: Laura Cumming charts the obsession of a 19th century Reading bookseller with a portrait of Charles I - painted when the Monarch was a young man on a visit to Madrid. The Spanish genius Velasquez painted very few pictures, so did John Snare discover a long-lost treasure? And if so, where is it now?

This is a story about the intense emotions that great art can provoke - passions that sometimes verge on the irrational and which transcend consi
Connie G
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
An obsession with a work of art led to the ruin of a British man, John Snare. In 1845, Snare purchased an old painting at an auction. He thought it might be a painting of Charles I, painted by Velazquez when the future English king visited Madrid. In this true story, author Laura Cumming tells about Snare's infatuation and eventual financial ruin. He lost his bookstore and print shop, left his family, and devoted his life to researching and showing the painting. The book also discusses Velazquez ...more
Viv JM
In 1845, a humble bookseller named John Snare bought a painting at an auction, which was listed as being "probably a Van Dyck" but which he was convinced was a Velazquez. This book tells the story of how that purchase took over Snare's life, not always for the better! Along the way, Cumming writes a good deal about Velazquez's life and especially his art. It is a very interesting story but where the book excels, for me, are the passages where Cumming writes about Velazquez's paintings. She write ...more
Stephen Goldenberg
Feb 15, 2017 rated it liked it
I love Velasquez and I like true detective stories but, for me, this book has been a bit overhyped. The basic problem is that, despite all the research Laura Cumming has done, ultimately there is very little known about Velasquez life and background. A masterful painter he may have been but as a personality he's no Carravagio or Van Gogh. Likewise, John Snare, the Reading bookseller, who becomes obsessed with the portrait of the young Charles 1 that he believes to be by Velasquez is also a shado ...more
Feb 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english, art, biblioteca
The vanishing Velazquez

Velázquez was always a mystery to me. In art college I remember almost nothing of him except he was a good portrait painter and of course, for Las Meninas (The Maidservants).

I saw this magnificent painting in 2012 and stood amazed. It was really big, but haunting. The artist stared back at the viewer. He was painting a really big painting. In a mirror you could see the Spanish king Philip IV and his queen staring at him. And that odd assortment of maid servants, including
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Laura Cumming charts the obsession of a 19th century Reading bookseller with a portrait of Charles I - painted when the Monarch was a young man on a visit to Madrid. The Spanish genius Velasquez painted very few pictures, so did John Snare discover a long-lost treasure? And if so, where is it now?

Episode 2:
The portrait is set before the public and the press in the spring of 1847. Snare is determined that his discovery should be recognised as a work by the grea
Apr 14, 2016 rated it liked it
This is by far the strangest book I have ever read. The tenses switch randomly from past to present and back again. The writing style is almost mystical; the descriptions of the art reverential. Most odd is the elusive subject matter. Was there really a vanished Velázquez painting? Was it all a matter of mistaken identity? If you read the book, I'll let you decide, but I guarantee that you will never look at the artist's self-portrait in "Las Meninas" the same way again. ...more
April Cote
A marvelous, intriguing read about the great artist Diego Velasquez, a famous painting and the man who would do anything to prove its worth. If your a lover of historical books, art and a good mystery, I highly recommend you read this, for it has all three. I learned much about this mysterious artist and how the art world today still looks to Velasquez famous paintings for inspiration. Beautifully written and full of history, it kept me hooked from beginning to end.
Richard Moss
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
1623: the Spanish master Diego Velazquez apparently paints a picture of Prince Charles - later to become King Charles I - during the future Stuart monarch's visit to Spain in search of a bride.

1845: Reading bookseller John Snare buys a portrait of Charles I at an auction, convinced he has discovered the lost masterpiece.

These are the dual narratives of Laura Cumming's fascinating account of a great painter, and what may have been a great painting.

We begin by focusing on Snare. After picking up t
Michael Elkon
May 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Not my favorite book. The problem starts with the fact that Cumming is an art critic, not a historian. This becomes a problem because she is writing a work of microhistory, namely about John Snare, the Reading bookseller who purchased a Velasquez portrait of Charles I and then spent his life displaying and defending the portrait. It's not easy to write about a private person who was not powerful or famous, as one would need great ability to find and process remote records. This is the sort of th ...more
Jill Meyer
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
About 35 years ago, I noticed a painting in a window of a local art gallery/semi-curiosity shop in the Chicago suburb where I lived. It was a largish painting of a young girl in Spanish court garb, and looked for all the world like a painting by Diego Velazquez. The painting was priced at $2000 - well-beyond my budget at the time - but I would visit the shop window almost daily for a few months, until it was sold. Could this painting be a Velazquez? For a mere $2000? I never would know but I lat ...more
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The concept of the book is good but the execution is lacking. Without revealing any particular spoilers I was disappointed by the overabundance of supposition and the author’s excessive portrayal of Diego Velázquez as the greatest painter of all time and Las Meninas as the greatest painting ever. If you’re a big fan of Anthony Van Dyck’s work this book will flat out piss you off; he comes across as Burger King in a world of fine dining.

The John Snare story starts off well enough but there’s not
John Snare purchases a portrait of Prince Charles with the suspicion that the artist is Diego Valazquez. As the subtitle of this book suggests that painting became his lifelong obsession and ultimately his ruin.

This book has three main themes; John Snare’s obsession with the painting and the impact it has on his life, art history featuring the times and works of Valazquez and the history between England and Spain. All of them interesting in their own right and the research Ms. Cumming did is ob
Belinda Del Pesco
Nov 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Loved, loved, loved this audio book. The story was fascinating, illuminating and full of delicious descriptions of paintings that sent me scurrying to find images online. The narrator - Siobhan Redmond -was superb. I'd recommend this audiobook to any artist - especially if you've painted the figure, and anyone interested in the history of Spain and England in the 1600's & 1800's as it relates to artists retained by Kings & courts. The book's passages on art history are relayed in an incredibly r ...more
Margaret Sankey
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
John Snare, Victorian printer, spotted a masterpiece at a country house estate sale--a painting of a young Charles I, cataloged as a Van Dyke, but by the age of the sitter, logically impossible to attribute that way. Before x-rays, professional appraisal, modern chemical cleaning and without the resources to track down its full provenance, Snare pieced together that the painting was a Velazquez painted during the disastrous Spanish Match visit of Charles and Buckingham to Madrid. Then, like so m ...more
Jan 07, 2016 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie
7 JAN 2016 - recommendation through Bettie. Thank you!
Joe Cummings
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th Century Bookseller’s Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece (2016) by Laura Cumming is an amazing book. It is a discussion on Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) a Spanish artist who was one of the greatest artist of all time. It is an extensive meditation of obsession of a English bookseller who believed he owned a genuine Velázquez portrait of Charles the First. The book also examines the obsession of many who collect, admire, and try to understand great art. Finally the ...more
Utterly fascinating. A page-turner mystery and Spanish art history and flawed character study all wrapped into one slightly awkward but engaging package. Now I need to visit the Prado in Madrid and see some Velázquez for myself :)
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The true story behind this book is interesting; but, for someone who doesn’t enjoy reading much nonfiction (me), the information is a bit too thorough. We follow the case of John Snare, a mid-nineteenth century, British bookseller. He buys a painting at an auction which he believes is a missing portrait of King Charles I as a young man painted on his visit to the Spanish court. Others say it’s by Van Dyke, Snare says “Velazquez.” It doesn’t help that Velazquez rarely signed
his work.

Trying to ve
Ann Olszewski
Dec 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is just a terrific book, all the way around. On the one hand, it's a mystery, and a tale of destructive obsession, detailing a 19th century man's life with his "lost Velazquez." But it's also the story of Spanish painter Diego Velazquez, lost to us in many ways - we know so little about his life, and how he came to paint in an almost magical way. Many of his paintings have been lost or destroyed, or otherwise disappeared. But what remains - specifically, the great "Las Meninas," have define ...more
nikkia neil
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Thanks Scribner and netgalley for this arc.

There is so much history and in depth research that went into this book. Laura Cumming's is a first rate historian who can make this very easy and exciting to read. I loved looking up the paintings online in color. Its crazy that people went to such lengths in the past for art and funny in a lot of parts of the book too.
Jul 06, 2016 rated it liked it
The subtitle should really be the title. We follow the narrator's thinking patterns which seem like the twisting and turning of rivers during a tech tonic plate shift. Ultimately very interesting and enjoyable, but along the way one wishes for some editing to excise unnecessary diversions. ...more
It's a lovely thing when a story finds its teller. The tragic tale of John Snare and his obsession with his Velázquez portrait of Charles I has found a keen and empathetic writer in Laura Cumming who intuitively understands Snare's mania and Velázquez's artistry. Snare, a bookseller who purchased the painting in 1845, spent his life trying to prove its artist was Velázquez, and his deep set passion seems to have infected Cumming as she delved into multitudinous sources to determine why Snare wou ...more
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book alternates between the story of John Snare and the painting he thought was the one Velazquez painted of Charles I while he was still a prince and the story of Velazquez's paintings. The mystery around Snare's painting is unresolved. That Velazquez is one of the greatest painters ever to live is not in question. I loved the Velazquez portion and plan to spend more time with Velazquez in the upcoming months. The Snare painting is certainly an interesting mystery -- was it Velazquez's pai ...more
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Art Lovers: Velázquez: His Life and Times 6 13 Apr 04, 2017 11:44AM  
Art Lovers: Velázquez 03: Ch 6-9 3 12 Feb 05, 2017 07:25AM  
Art Lovers: * Velázquez: Schedule & Resources 12 25 Jan 31, 2017 11:48AM  
Art History Readers: Discussion for The Vanishing Velazquez 3 9 Nov 30, 2016 07:23PM  

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Laura Cumming (born July 1961) the art critic for The Observer. In addition to her career in journalism, Cumming has written well-received books on self-portraits in art and the discovery of a lost portrait by Diego Velázquez in 1845.

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