The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming


The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming

Category: Art
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Part historical mystery, part biography of an artistic great, this fantastically entertaining book shows how great art can entrance and enthral but also has the power to destroy reputations, finances and lives.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099587041

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Pitching up at an auction and picking up a lost masterpiece for a pittance is the dream for most art lovers. That seemingly happy circumstance happened to bookseller John Snare at a sale in 1845 and is the centrepiece to Laura Cumming's excellent The Vanishing Man – In Pursuit of Velazquez.

Spying a dirt-encrusted painting at a country house sale, Snare snapped it up for the not so princely sum of £8, believing it to be portrait of Prince Charles (later Charles I) by the Spanish artist Diego de Velazquez. Snare's apparent good luck proved anything but. The mysterious painting brought fame but also notorious court cases, financial ruin and family catastrophe.

The story of the humble bookseller from Reading who acquired a sensational work of art would be more than enough to carry a book in itself. Cumming skilfully weaves a second strand to the story, namely a superb profile and potted biography of Velazquez, one of art's best loved but least known masters.

Snare's tale is as pacey as a modern-day thriller. Was his painting really a Velazquez or was it in fact by Van Dyck? Just how did a supposed masterpiece end up being sold for relative pennies to a humble bookseller from a provincial town? Was it stolen?

With stops in the fashionable salons of London, ancient rural Scottish castles and eventually Broadway and New York, it's a tale full of passion and obsession. How great art can inspire, entrance and enthral but also destroy reputations, finances and lives.

Cumming's Velazquez adventure began in tragic circumstances. Following the sudden death of her painter father, the author headed to Madrid in a search of solace. On a visit to the Prado, she came across Velazquez's majestic Las Meninas. It proved a revelatory moment. Further investigation revealed the bones of John Snare's amazing history with the artist, a story superbly fleshed out here. This finely written book will appeal to serious students of art as well as to novices who have been intrigued by TV programmes like Fake Or Fortune or Britain's Lost Masterpieces. It's part page-turning mystery story, part historical biography and a generous hymn of praise to Velazaquez. The Vanishing Man was born out of tragic circumstances. Out of that loss has come a terrifically informative and entertaining book.

For more on Velazquez and life at the Spanish court, I suggest Bartolome: the Infanta's Pet by Rachel van Kooj and Siobhan Parkinson (translator).

Buy The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming at Amazon.com.


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Last modified on 9 January 2017, at 10:33