THE VANISHING VELÁZQUEZ by Laura Cumming
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THE VANISHING VELÁZQUEZ

A 19th-Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A true tale that demonstrates the power and seduction of art.

Gracefully melding art history and biography, British art critic and editor Cumming (A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits, 2009, etc.) traces the life of John Snare, a 19th-century bookseller who became obsessed with a painting he happened to buy at an auction: a portrait, he came to believe, of King Charles I as a young prince, made when he visited Madrid—not by Van Dyck, to whom it was attributed, but, Snare was certain, by the eminent Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). Cumming traces Snare’s efforts to find evidence for his increasingly firm conviction, the furor over public displays of the work, and the effects of his obsession on his career, well-being, and family. Interwoven with chapters following Snare’s adventures is a discerning look at Velázquez, hardly known outside of Spain in the 19th century. “He left so few paintings—not more than 120 over a forty-year career,” Cumming reveals, that his art “was rare, unfamiliar, obscure” even to art lovers and critics. Analyzing his technique, themes, and compassion for his subjects, she makes a convincing case that his paintings “are both dazzling and profoundly moving all at once.” Snare, despite “no education, no social standing, no pedigree as a gentleman or an expert on painting,” recognized Velázquez’s greatness. He worked tirelessly to document the portrait’s provenance; poured his savings into mounting exhibitions in London, Edinburgh, and New York; and several times hired lawyers to counter suits contesting his right of ownership. His business went bankrupt, and, leaving his wife and children in England, he fled to America, hoping to earn money from exhibiting his prized possession, which he defiantly refused to sell. After his death, the painting was never again seen.

As fascinated as Snare with the portrait, Cumming has fashioned an absorbing mystery.

Pub Date: April 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6215-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015




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