A Wall Street Journal Top 10 Nonfiction Book of 2016 From one of the world's most expert art critics, the incredible true story--part art history and part mystery--of a Velazquez portrait that went missing and the obsessed nineteenth-century bookseller determined to prove he had found it. Read more...
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A Wall Street Journal Top 10 Nonfiction Book of 2016 From one of the world's most expert art critics, the incredible true story--part art history and part mystery--of a Velazquez 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 Charles I that defied any explanation. The Charles of the painting was young--too young to be king--and yet also too young to be painted by the Flemish painter to which the work was attributed. Snare had found something incredible--but what? His research brought him to Diego Velazquez, whose long-lost portrait of Prince Charles has eluded art experts for generations. Velazquez (1599-1660) was the official painter of the Madrid court, during the time the Spanish Empire teetered on the edge of collapse. When Prince Charles of England--a man wealthy enough to help turn Spain's fortunes--ventured to the court to propose a marriage with a Spanish princess, he allowed just a few hours to sit for his portrait. Snare believed only Velazquez could have met this challenge. But in making his theory public, Snare was ostracized, victim to aristocrats and critics who accused him of fraud, and forced to choose, like Velazquez himself, between art and family. A thrilling investigation into the complex meaning of authenticity and the unshakable determination that drives both artists and collectors of their work, The Vanishing Velazquez travels from extravagant Spanish courts in the 1700s to the gritty courtrooms and auction houses of nineteenth-century London and New York. But it is above all a tale of mystery and detection, of tragic mishaps and mistaken identities, of class, politics, snobbery, crime, and almost farcical accident. It is a magnificently crafted page-turner, a testimony to how and why great works of art can affect us to the point of obsession.
- ISBN-13: 9781476762159
- ISBN-10: 1476762155
- Publisher: Scribner Book Company
- Publish Date: April 2016
- Page Count: 304
- Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-01
- Reviewer: Staff
Hapless Victorians, bizarro royal courts, and incisive art criticism all feature prominently in Cumming’s (A Face to the World) lively account of a small-time bookseller who acquired a portrait of King Charles I of England and made it his lifelong mission to determine who painted it. After purchasing the painting at liquidation auction in 1845, the bookseller, John Snare, develops a complex theory that the portrait, despite being credited to a famous Flemish painter, is actually the work of Diego Velázquez, the 17th-century Spanish artist. Snare begins to publicize his theory through an exhibit at his shop and then at a hotel in Edinburgh, where the painting subsequently seized and declared stolen property. An absurd trial concerning the authorship and ownership of the painting ensues; meanwhile, the bankrupt bookseller abandons his family and flees America with his treasure in hand. Alongside the main story, Cumming describes Velázquez’s life, the “spectacle” of his career as a court painter, and the remarkable evolution of his work. Cumming peppers the narrative with vivid descriptions of art, referring to the “spellbinding vision” and “compelling humanity” of Velázquez’s empathetic depictions of the court dwarves, for example. Snare’s story is noteworthy, but it is Cumming’s spirited and clever narration that makes this enigma utterly engrossing. (Apr.)