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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 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 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. Velázquez (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 Velázquez 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 Velázquez 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 Velázquez 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.


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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 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 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. Velázquez (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 Velázquez 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 Velázquez 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 Velázquez 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.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jayson

    (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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”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 ”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 the painting but you.” It has been twenty plus years since I was last in the Prado, but I do still remember this painting. It wasn’t a scene that would usually be of much interest to me. At first glance, there is nothing really going on in this painting, barring a princess getting ready for a ball or a dinner party or to meet some dignitaries from another court from another country. It would be easy to pass it by, except for the scale of the painting. It is huge. Instead of scurrying on past, I suddenly found myself trapped under the gaze of the painting. These people, all long dead but very much alive, are looking at me as if I just interrupted their activities by walking in the room. These sensations I felt that day all come back to me when I read Laura Cumming’s description above. I, without intention, have fallen into 1656. Of course, in real life we can’t stare at people like I stared at the people in this painting. I think that at any second the little girl would lift a hand to her face and giggle, or Velazquez himself would raise an eyebrow at my imprudence. They are so guileless and welcoming. Velazquez has immortalized all these people from the dwarfs to the ladies in waiting, from the artist to the king and queen reflected in the mirror, as if everyone in this painting were, at least in paint, equal. For Velazquez everyone is unique, and by him showing us their remarkableness, they become indispensible to the rest of us. ”He finds a Venus and a Mars in the humble people around him, sees a king as compellingly ordinary and is able to make an old man selling water seem like an ancient prophet. There is an extraordinary equality to his empathetic gaze.” If Velazquez had only painted Las Meninas, he would have been immortal, but luckily for the rest of us, he shared his gift in a number of paintings, not enough, mainly because he became so successful in the court of Philip IV that his duties to the king, beyond just painting portraits, were taken up with tasks that would have been better left to others. The story may have begun in the 17th century, but the second act happened in the 19th century when a bookseller by the name of John Snare bought a painting at a liquidation sale. Take it from me, booksellers are always trouble, and Snare was no exception. Now just being in the book business, we can assume that Snare was “gently mad.” There is something about art, books, and race horses that take the gently mad to the certifiably insane. This painting, luminescent beneath the grime of dust and smoke, is of the Prince of Wales, the future Charles the first, significant in the fact that he is young, but sports the beard he grew while he was petitioning Philip IV for an alliance with his daughter. In 1649, Charles is overthrown by Oliver Cromwell and his supporters and very publically beheaded. He wore two shirts to the execution so that a morning chill would not be misinterpreted as a shiver of fear. He put his head on the block and signaled the executioner he was ready by spreading out his arms. Regardless of whether history sees him as a good king or a terrible one, his courage in his last moments was incontestable. Could the painting be the long lost Velazquez portrait? It could be a Van Dyck, who painted Charles many times. There is something though about the eyes and the deftness of the brush that convinces Snare that it must be Velazquez. He sets out to prove it. Laura Cumming found herself consulting the same exact sources that Snare did almost a hundred and seventy years earlier. He displays it and makes some money off people coming to see this painting by a Spanish painter rarely seen in England. Snare has a lien that doesn’t exist slapped against the painting by unscrupulous people in an attempt to steal and sell the painting before the court system can prevail. He survived that near parting with his precious; and yes, there is a bit of Gollum in Snare. He is later sued by an estate believing that the painting was stolen from a private collection. He goes bankrupt defending his right to own the painting, but even though he wins the court case, he leaves for America. He doesn’t run away, like a normal man, with a young doxy. He runs away with a painting. Snare leaves a wife and children. One child is born after he leaves. His paterfamilia responsibilities are superseded by his responsibility to art. He could have sold the painting for a handsome sum and avoided bankruptcy. I can imagine he considered it, but who he is, by this time, is so defined by being the owner of this “Velazquez” that he can’t give it up. It would be like selling Secretariat or selling a building with your name on it or selling a Gutenberg Bible. You know that by selling something that precious that you will never be able to own it again. Cumming not only expanded my knowledge of Velazquez exponentially, but also introduced me to a 19th century, mad as a hatter version of myself whom I understood completely. I knew that Velazquez was an important painter. I learned that at the Prado, when I laid my eyes on Las Meninas, the people of the Spanish court laid their eyes on me. He was such a humanist. He depicted dwarfs and poor people and famous people and royalty with the same deft brush strokes. He held no one up for ridicule, but showed each of his subject with the power of their uniqueness, evident for all to see. He was a maestro. ”Even now one wonders how he could know where to place that speck of white that ignites a string of flashing glints across pale silk, how to convey the stiff transparency of gauze with a single dab of blue on grey, how to paint eyes that see us, but are themselves indecipherable. How could he lay paint on canvas so that it is as impalpable as breath, or create a haze that seems to emit from a painting like scent, or place a single dab of red on the side of a head so that it perfectly reads as an ear?” Velazquez sold this painting of The Water-seller, but then when he had the chance, he bought it back and kept it for the rest of his life. It would have made everything so much easier if Velazquez had signed all of his paintings, but then the more that I get to know the man, the more I realize that he was saying something by not signing them. He was but an instrument of his talent. His paintings belonged to the world. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    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 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 visited the Spanish court as a young prince to woo King Philip IV’s daughter. At this point in time virtually no one outside Spain has ever seen a Velázquez. Snare buys the painting for £8. He removes some of the grime from a corner of the picture with a moistened finger and loves what he uncovers. His quest now is to prove to the world it’s the Velázquez painting. The other subject of this book is the largely mysterious Velázquez himself, a man who left virtually no written account of his life and didn’t even sign his paintings. Velázquez was my old history of art teacher’s favourite painter and I know she would love the eloquence of praise Cummings heaps on the Spanish painter. The author Laura Cummings does a great job of intertwining the two narratives – Snare’s story is a tale of obsessive, self-destructive love, of the little man fighting the establishment, of class prejudice and inequality. Just as he is beginning to convince the world his painting is the Velázquez it is “repossessed” by its supposed former owners, an aristocratic Scottish family, and a protracted court case begins, in the process of which Snare goes bankrupt and has to auction all his belongings, leaving his wife and children in poverty. The only thing of worth he doesn’t sell is the painting, even though the proceeds would have solved all his financial difficulties. He can’t bring himself to part with the picture. Instead he flees with it to New York. At this point the painting (and his sense of injustice) has become more precious to him than his wife and family. The outcome of this book’s investigations is a bit of a let-down. We don’t get a happy or tidy ending. No reproduction of this painting exists and the painting which caused John Snare so much suffering has vanished without trace. Rather like Velázquez the man. I enjoyed this for several reasons. The insights it gave into the snobbery and sense of entitlement of the upper classes in Victorian Britain and the virtually insurmountable obstacles placed in the way of the common man with cultural aspirations were especially fascinating. Also it’s a fabulous detective story at times. It also offers an inspired and inspiring evaluation of the art of Velázquez.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    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 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 & Martha and thanks to this book I learn that many of those pictures are war loot, captured by the Duke of Wellington from the abandoned baggage of Joseph Buonaparte - lately King of Spain after his defeat at the battle of Vittoria (1813), as celebrated by Beethoven, Velázquez was not it seems particularly valued by the Buonapartes, a painting by Leonardo, and some by some other guy I've forgotten were packaged up and sent under escort back to Paris, but not the Velázquezs which had been just dragged from Madrid across country and then abandoned in the town of Vittoria, one might have thought that Wellington would have returned the looted art works to a newly liberated Spain, but good old Albion didn't get the reputation for being perfidious for nothing. So I'm a soft audience for any book about Velázquez and easily impressed. Cumming plainly loves Velázquez too, her writing about his work glows off the page, so much so I am convinced that I could read the book in the dark. The problem is, the story of John Snare, it is interesting enough and it would make a great five or seven page article in the colour Sunday supplement to your newspaper of choice (forgive me for assuming you are as ancient old as myself and as fond of leafing through a newspaper as me) but there's not enough to it I feel to sustain half a book, so reading I was completely wowed and happy for the first hundred pages, then I met my Waterloo, or Vittoria, and read on with a limp. It is a tale of Nomen ist Omen John Snare was attracted by an advert for an auction, spotted a picture at a viewing that captivated him, bought it, and caught by it became convinced that it was a portrait of Charles I as Prince of Wales, painted by Velázquez while the Prince was attempting not nearly well enough, to win himself a Spanish royal bride. But at least he left with the painting, and on the rebound picked himself up a French princess instead. Snare had the painting cleaned, he researched it as well he could to establish a provenance for it, exhibited it and had various adventures with it. He is in Cumming's telling mildly obsessed with the painting, sleeping with it (in the same room, not curled up under it or with it in his loving arms (view spoiler)[ as I said mildly obsessed, not completely infatuated (hide spoiler)] ) Cumming eventually disappears, presumably dying in the USA, the painting also disappears - last seen loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1880s. Cumming's thinks that it might have returned to Britain and could have ended up in the vaults of a county bank later bought out by Barclays, in which case it could be in the mega-castle that the Barclays Brothers had built for themselves on the Island of Sark. Then again it could be in the USA or anyway really. Well I won't spoil the entire story, there are various interesting stories about the lives of paintings, and their misattributions, the leading English expert on Velázquez at the time of John Snare believed that Diago was an artist of such sobriety and dignity that he would never have painted a dwarf, this expert had perhaps seen one genuine Velázquez - it was an age when many paintings were safely getting mildewed in stately homes, there were few reproductions and much less reliable information about artists available (view spoiler)[ but this is perhaps, unforgivably, giving away far too much about the book (hide spoiler)] than today. There's a nice story of how an art dealer had a picture cleaned to convince an expert (in order to get his endorsement) that a canvas was a Velázquez, but since it was being sold to a wealthy American who had never seen a Velázquez, but had a pretty certain idea of how a Spanish old master ought to look, the dealer then had a restorer tone down the painting so it looked suitably grave. It's a nice book but I felt the writing about Velázquez was of newspaper Art critic standard, rather than Art historian, which is to say I felt the love, but have my doubts about the expertise, with all due respect to Mme Cumming.

  5. 5 out of 5

    William2

    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. 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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    TBV (on semi-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 “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 Charles I painted by the great Vélazquez. This is truly superb." (New York Times, March 1860) Laura Cumming, art critic and author of this non-fiction book, says: ”Or rather, in the drowsy shadows of a library in winter, I came upon a curious Victorian pamphlet stitched into a leather-bound miscellany between a quaint history of the Hawaiian Islands and a collection of short stories ominously titled Fact and Fiction.” The pamphlet had been written and published by John Snare, a bookseller in Reading, England. It referred to a portrait of Prince Charles, the future Charles I of England, painted in 1623 by Diego Vélazquez. And thus began a quest to discover more about said painting. This is a story within a story within a story. Ms Cumming renders homage to artist Vélazquez (1599-1660) and provides a biographical sketch of him. Her paean of praise alternates with the story of what the bookseller found, where he found it, how he became obsessed with the find and what the consequences were. Then as the third story we learn about Ms Cumming’s search for further details of the Charles I portrait. All in all an interesting labyrinth of a book. In fact, it seems that Vélazquez’s personal information is rather sketchy. Ms Cumming suggests that we get to know him through his art and then she discusses several of his works, including the magnificent Las Meninas (1656). However, much is known about Vélazquez’s professional life. A memoir had been written during his own life, and subsequently in 1739 Antonio Palomino’s ‘Works of the Most Eminent Spanish Painters’ had been published. The section on Vélazquez detailed several of his paintings. The artist was an instant success. In 1623 he travelled to Madrid to promote himself and his work, and his portfolio consisted of his painting ’The Water Seller of Seville’. An influential person, Juan de Fonseca, immediately bought the painting, sat for his own portrait to be painted and a day later: tra-laaa - it was ready and met with much acclaim. Before long Vélazquez was the Court painter. A contemporary of “Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens and Poussin” he held his own in exalted company. Artist Édouard Manet was apparently an ardent admirer of Vélazquez’s work. Self-portrait of Diego Vélazquez, 1643 John Snare’s story reads like a thriller. Not much was known in England about Vélazquez at that time (he was referred to as Valasky, Velasco and various other permutations) and the portrait in question had been attributed to Van Dyck. Without going into any details and spoiling the book for you, let me simply mention that Snare ran into all sorts of problems, not least because he was a mere tradesman who was held to merely be dabbling with things that he oughtn’t have bothered with. He was up against money, nobility and a well established art critic, the polymath William Stirling Maxwell. (view spoiler)[ It cost him his marriage, his family (including a newborn baby whom he might not have seen as a child) as well as his bookstore and all his belongings other than the Vélazquez). (hide spoiler)] Ms Cumming brings the stories of Vélazquez and Snare together with that of her own very extensive research. In addition she provides interesting historical snippets, such as the art lost/found when Joseph Bonaparte fled a Spanish battlefield as well as some delightful details about Spanish theatre during the reign of Philippe IV, the Spanish ruler and Vélazquez’s employer. We read that Spanish theatres at that time already had sophisticated lighting and machinery for special effects. There were spectacular productions on the lake at El Retiro Park, and “On a single spring night in 1632 Count-Duke Olivares laid on three productions for the king and queen on temporary stages in the bosky gardens of a villa outside Madrid. A few weeks later, on Midsummer’s Eve, they returned for Francisco de Quevedo’s crackling satire He Who Lies Most Prospers Most, and then progressed through to the gardens of the villa next door to watch Lope de Vega’s Midsummer’s Night.” Here are some of the paintings discussed: (all pictures courtesy of Art Authority www.artauthority.net) Old Woman Frying Eggs, 1618 “The whole tableau was visibly made to bewitch, and so it does. But at the quick of it is a feat of staggering veracity: the star-spangled pan of eggs coalescing from translucent fluid to opaque white flux, a moment in which liquid becomes solid, acquires visible form –just like the magical illusion of painting itself.” The Water Seller of Seville, 1620 (as mentioned above) Villa Medici, Grotto-Loggia Façade, 1630 - this was done during one of two trips to Italy. The Dwarf Francisco Lezcano, 1643-1645 Las Meninas, 1656

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06x8vq2 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 BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06x8vq2 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 considerations of value. John Snare's conviction about the painting he bought evolved into a dispute with those who had more money, power and influence. In a sense, the missing Velasquez became a battleground for class war and the individual against the establishment. But at the heart of the story lies a work of art, created with such skill and delicacy that it inspired the fiercest of feelings and continues to exert its mysterious pull to this day. Episode 1: An auction bargain ignites a humble bookseller with a lifelong obsession 2/5: It is 1847 and John Snare invites the public to admire his Velazquez portrait 3/5: The Lost Velasquez is put on show in Edinburgh at the beginning of 1849. But soon Snare finds himself having to fend off not just challenges over the portrait's authenticity,but also overownership. 4/5: The Velasquez has been restored to Snare but he has now vanished - until the portrait is advertised for show on Broadway in 1860. The Reading bookseller has fled to America. 5/5: In 1888 a Velasquez portrait of Prince Charles is reported as being lent to the Reading Art Museum by the widow of John Snare. Somehow the picture has returned to Britain. Laura Cumming: how Velázquez gave me consolation in grief – and set me on the trail of a lost portrait.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    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 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's artistic gifts, and his life as a painter and a courtier in the 17th Century. Cumming continued Snare's detective work with only written descriptions guiding her. The portrait of Charles I disappeared after Snare's death, and no one knows if it was destroyed or is now in a private collection. The book combines a mystery, a biography, and art history into an interesting story that art lovers should enjoy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    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 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 writes with a love and a reverence for his art, which I found inspiring and moving. I switched between the hardback edition and the audio for this book. The audio was very ably narrated by Siobhan Redmond, but I was glad to have the book as well, mainly for the beautiful colour plates of Velzquez's paintings, especially the iconic Las Meninas.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Goldenberg

    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 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 shadowy figure. There is rather too much detailed analysis of individual paintings and not quite enough history although the book certainly made me want to revisit Velasquez paintings.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    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 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 that big dog around the princess María Teresa, who looks like a doll. What are they doing? What is going on here? Are they posing, frozen in time. The painting was an act, a slice of royal life, of the painter and the king’s court. So when I read a fine review of this book I wanted to know more. Velázquez studied under Pacheco and at an early age. He caught the attention of the king and began as the court painter at eighteen. He remained there until he died at age 61. Apart from two trips to Italy, he never left the court. He painted countless portraits of the king until the king himself could no longer handle his own aging look in these paintings. One needs to remember that this was two hundred years before photography. Velázquez was a very brilliant artist. His portraits evoke such realism that one feels they are looking at you. There were reports of people talking to the painting in low light, mistaken for real people. He stroke was light, almost non existent and his paintings were often done quickly without under paintings, sketches and repainted. Talented for any artist. The story behind this book is the 19th century bookseller, Charles Snare who came across a painting of the young English King Charles I. It was attributed to Van Dyck. The young Charles had gone to marry the daughter of the Spanish king, but plans went awry. During his stay, the court painter Velazquez captured the young prince, quickly in one sitting. Not an easy feat to do in oil paints. Laura Cummin, herself an art critic for The Observer, tells the sad story of Charles Snare’s obsession (or is a curse) with the Velazquez painting. A lot happens that seems probable and far fetched. It’s a good yarn. She ties it altogether with the life of Velazquez, which I thoroughly enjoyed. What I learned from this book was the intermediate period in the life of a painting. You know that part between when artist creates a painting to when that painting ends upon a museum. During the life of Charles Snare, museums were just in their infancy. In his case, he bought the painting at an estate sale, then charged admission for people to see it. He covered the advertising and got the word out in the papers. People came, then stopped. Then what? Often paintings are sold to museums often to get one out of debt, or sometimes if you are lucky, to make a profit. This was an interesting period for art. Sometimes they sank while crossing the ocean, or burned in a fire. The most notable was the fire of the Alcázar in 1665 when the beloved Las Meninas was thrown out a window to escape the flames, and another of Velzquez’s painting wasn’t so lucky. A great painting is never considered by the artist. It’s attention draws that name. But how a great painting survives is often just as important as its fame. One can add this book to a better understanding art and its appreciation even more. It is a funny thing our obsession with canvas and some coloured oils. After I read this book I pulled together a list of Velazquez paintings in various museums that I have seen. One surprised me. The Condesa de Monterey, painted in 1635 hangs in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. The countess stands before me, natural her hand rests on the back of a chair. She seems so much at ease. She is a countess but her pose and gaze reveals she is a just another person, like you or me. Nothing fancy. I snapped a photo. I really liked that painting. Perhaps this was the genius of Velazquez.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    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 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 great Spanish court painter, but not everybody is willing to agree with him. Episode 3: The Lost Velasquez is put on show in Edinburgh at the beginning of 1849. But soon Snare finds himself having to fend off not just challenges over the portrait's authenticity,but also overownership. Episode 4: The Velasquez has been restored to Snare but he has now vanished - until the portrait is advertised for show on Broadway in 1860. The Reading bookseller has fled to America. Episode 5: In 1888 a Velasquez portrait of Prince Charles is reported as being lent to the Reading Art Museum by the widow of John Snare. Somehow the picture has returned to Britain. This is a story about the intense emotions that great art can provoke - passions that sometimes verge on the irrational and which transcend considerations of value. John Snare's conviction about the painting he bought evolved into a dispute with those who had more money, power and influence. In a sense, the missing Velasquez became a battleground for class war and the individual against the establishment. But at the heart of the story lies a work of art, created with such skill and delicacy that it inspired the fiercest of feelings and continues to exert its mysterious pull to this day. Read by Siobhan Redmond Written by Laura Cumming Abridged by Isobel Creed Produced by Jill Waters A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06x8vq2 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/11/boo...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    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. 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael Elkon

    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 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 thing that PhD history students are trained to do (and part of why I went into law instead of history, as writing microhistory seems like a waste of time, especially when it is pushed by a Marxist bent). It is not something that an art critic is likely to be able to do. Thus, Cumming spends much of her time speculating or writing surface-level descriptions from obvious, public records. There are big gaps in the story, especially with respect to Snare after he went to the US. A professional historian could have teased out those details, but Cumming struggles in that regard. And this really hits home when Cumming introduces a twist at the the end that the 2nd Earl Fife (whose ancestors sued Snare, claiming that he had stolen property) never really owned Velazquez's portrait of Charles I, which is part of the history of the painting that Snare claimed. We are left with no idea as to how the painting went from Spain to the school where Snare bought it for a pittance at an auction. When she's writing about paintings, Cumming's talent is on display. She's great at describing them. I don't necessarily buy her interpretations, as there is a good amount of bullshit in her prose where she's seeing things and ascribing intent on the part of artists that may well not be there. However, this is her lane and it's certainly stronger than her attempts to tell us what Snare was doing in New York City in the 1860s. Her history of Velazquez is solid and she is adept at describing what makes his paintings so impressive. She also works in quotes from other great painters about how they are in awe of Velazquez's technique, especially his ability to have walls and floors blend into one another. Cumming is also strong when she is starting and closing the book. She opens with a riveting personal anecdote about how she was left adrift when her father died. She was wandering Madrid and then happened to come upon Las Meninas in El Prado. She describes how it had a profound effect on her, such that she could not stop staring at it. That story grabbed my attention and functioned as a useful description of how art can deeply affect a person. The book ends with a description of Velazquez "emphasizing the dignity of all people" and how he preserves the subjects of his paintings for eternity. "We live in each other's eyes and our stories need not end." That is the last sentence of the book and it closes the loop for Cumming on a project that was born out of her mourning for a dead parent. It had an effect on me as well, thinking about my grandfather who died in November. The rejoinder would be that Snare's story most certainly ended, as he died without a trace and his family did not continue past a couple generations. Perhaps if I were more of a fan of fine art then I would have liked this book more. A fan of Velazquez or one of the other masters could rate this book as a four- or five-star effort and I wouldn't disagree. I just know that I didn't really enjoy reading it and the main reasons are Cumming's tendency to describe paintings in a way that leads me to call bullshit and her limitations as a historian. Update: upon reflection, I came back and gave the book an additional star based on the fact that Cumming is willing to admit when she doesn't know something and/or when a person or event has been lost to history. That humility is often lacking in historians.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Richard Moss

    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 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 the painting, he begins to show it publicly for profit, but what could have been his fortune becomes a curse. Doubts over its identity, its provenance and the legality of his ownership will dog Snare, and eventually ruin him. But Cumming also looks at the life of Velazquez - what made his paintings so special, and why they still speak to us today. That second element is more challenging than it sounds. The biographical detail about Velazquez's life is pretty thin, and Laura Cumming has to do some skilful detective work to conjure up what she can. What she certainly does though is explain why Velazquez deserves to be considered among the masters. There are reproductions of some of his most celebrated works, and Cumming uses them to make a convincing case for his greatness. It certainly made me want to book a flight to Madrid, and tickets for the Prado. She also uses all her research skills to reveal the fascinating and rather tragic story of Snare and his royal portrait. There are twists and turns right to the end, as the painting and its owner disappear and reappear. The result is a fascinating tale, underpinned by scholarly research and Cumming's passion of for a great painter. I don't think you need much previous knowledge of Velazquez to enjoy the book, but an interest in art helps, just so you can share the passion as well as the intrigue.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jill Meyer

    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 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 later found out that several other people had eyed the painting, thinking, "maybe..." Now, I know that I should have found the $2000 from somewhere and bought the painting. Because, even if it wasn't a true Velazquez, it would have taken a large place in my heart. He and Albrecht Durer have long been my favorite painters, both because of their art, but also for the history they portrayed. British art historian Laura Cumming has written a book, "The Vanishing Velazquez: A 19th Century Bookseller's Obsession With a Lost Masterpiece", about John Snare, who purchased at an auction in 1845 a painting he thinks is a portrait of Prince Charles, painted by Diego Velazquez. Charles, heir to the British crown, made a trip to Spain to - maybe - marry a Spanish princess. The trip, which occurred in 1623, was the only time Charles was known to be in Spain, and Diego Velazquez - aside from two trips to Italy - never left Spain. But John Snare thought the painting was a Velazquez, bought it, and spent the rest of his life in homage to the painting. He displayed his treasure in England and Scotland for years - suffering through law suits - before leaving his family in Reading, and moving, with the painting, to New York City. He continued to show the painting, earning money that kept him in a precarious financial state til his death. He never returned to England and only once was reunited with a son, who was born after he and the painting absconded to the United States. John Snare truly lived his life in thrall of a painting. Laura Cumming writes about the hunt for both the provenance of Snare's painting, as well as the hunt for the painting itself. It seems to have disappeared into the mists of time and may have been destroyed physically or lost in the back rooms of a museum or in the attic of a country house. She takes the reader on a journey to both the courts of Kings James I and Charles I, as well as that of Spain's Philip IV. It was in this court where the genius of Diego Velazquez was seen in all it's glory; his paintings of court members and commoners alike give the Hapsburg Philip IV its place in history. Cumming describes both Velazquez's subjects and painting style and how that style influenced painters from then on. Laura Cumming's book is part mystery, part character-study, and part a history of the art and of the times the art was painted. My only complaint - and I'm not sure if its important - is that the display of the art plates in the Kindle version of the book is not great. I guess that most ebooks are lacking in adequate pictorial display. But Cumming's book is marvelous reading for anyone interested in history, art, and how art keeps its place in history.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

    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 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 enough written history about him to justify everything the author presents. Snare is portrayed as an obsessive and ultimately tragic figure but I didn’t find this storyline convincing or worth the space devoted to it. Velázquez gets the superstar treatment both personally and professionally. His body of work speaks for itself but, as she does with Snare, the author surmises he was a lovely man based seemingly on her intuition. The author fills gaps in the story and brings it to book length by devoting several chapters to the life and history of Velázquez but that’s better accomplished in a book simply devoted to a biography of the artist. The author writes well and her early descriptions of the various paintings she describes are very interesting and thought provoking. Later she just seems to heap one superlative onto another about the greatness of Velázquez’s various masterpieces. (I was most impressed with his portraits of Pope Innocent X and Juan de Pareja.) For anyone who does decide to read this book or any other book with art illustrations, go with a physical book. I read this in the kindle version and it doesn’t do justice to the pictures. I have read two books about classic art that I would strongly recommend: The Lost Painting (by Jonathan Harr) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... and The Forger’s Spell (by Edward Dolnick) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2.... Harr’s book deals with a possibly lost Caravaggio and Dolnick’s book deals with Vermeer forgeries. One last word of caution – Don’t bother with Dolnick’s book The Rescue Artist https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4.... It stinks.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    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 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 obviously extensive. She goes into great detail for all three of the themes. I found each interesting and enjoyed Ms. Cumming’s writing. The flow of this book is where I had some issues. It jumped around a little too much. I understand wanting to intersperse the history of the painting with Snare’s story but often the information didn’t quite mesh coherently. That aside it was an interesting read and anyone interested in Diego Valazquez and his works will enjoy this book. I would highly recommend purchasing a physical copy of the book because it does include photographic reproductions of the paintings that an eReader does not do justice. (I ending up reading the book and googling the paintings) I received this book at no charge from the publisher, Scribner via Netgalley in the hopes of an honest review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Belinda Del Pesco

    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 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 refreshing way, for the author's determined & articulate focus on the human elements in each part of the story. I feel grateful for Laura Cumming's amazing research and sleuthing to track the details and document this incredible story. She brought all the participants back to life, and left me in a state of fascinated wonder.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    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 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 many people, Snare ruined himself trying to prove it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joe Cummings

    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 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 there is a mystery concerning Snare's Veázquez that remains insolved even today. There'a a lot to admire in this book, and there's a lot to learn from it. lol Indeed this reader, who has stood before and admired Valázquez's "Las Meninas" in the Prado Museum has an even greater appreciation for the artist, especially of his seemingly effortless and quick oil sketches, after reading Cumming's homage to and history of this great Spanish artist and his work.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    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 :)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alger Smythe-Hopkins

    Things not known in detail: 1. The life of John Snare, especially the last decades 2. The life of Diego Velázquez 3. What exactly Charles, Prince of Wales, did during his time in the Spanish Court 4. The provenience of the painting Snare purchased at auction 5. The subject of the painting Snare purchased at auction 6. The artist who created the painting Snare purchased at auction 7. The current location of the painting Snare purchased at auction Somehow Cummings believed that taking all this uncertainty Things not known in detail: 1. The life of John Snare, especially the last decades 2. The life of Diego Velázquez 3. What exactly Charles, Prince of Wales, did during his time in the Spanish Court 4. The provenience of the painting Snare purchased at auction 5. The subject of the painting Snare purchased at auction 6. The artist who created the painting Snare purchased at auction 7. The current location of the painting Snare purchased at auction Somehow Cummings believed that taking all this uncertainty and mixing it together in a series of parallel narratives cataloguing what is known about each of these things will result in something substantial. It doesn't. Let's confront the biggest problem. The premise of this book, that John Snare identified an unrecognized Velázquez portrait of Charles I of England is entirely unproven. This doesn't stop Cummings from implying throughout the book that this painting that no one even suspected existed before Snare's claim was an authentic Velázquez masterpiece. In the absence of the painting there is no way for us in the present to assess either the quality of the painting, or make our own decisions about the likelihood that Snare accurately identified either the subject or artist. This absence of any concrete knowledge about the painting at the heart of this book is kind of obscured by the dust Cummings kicks up by rotating through some other fuzzy narratives: Did Prince Charles have a Velázquez sketch or painting done during his visit to the Spanish court? Did a Velázquez return with Charles to England? Where did Snare go after the Edinburgh arrest? Then to further obscure the lack of certainty about Snare's painting Cummings mixes in a sketchy biography of Velázquez as a device to introduce her real purpose, which is a piece by piece critique of Velázquez's paintings and his technique. The resulting volume is one that presents itself as a discussion of "a 19th century bookseller's obsession with a lost masterpiece", but really isn't. The sections directly related to Snare could be clipped out and reorganized into a long article, maybe 20 pages if you edited out redundancies and speculation. So the real meat of the book is the author's relationship with the Velázquez oeuvre, which is deeply felt and sincere. It just doesn't translate into print and prose. I too have stood before Las Meninas and been moved by the scale and force of the painting. The problem for Cummings is that the impact of that painting does not scale down onto a page in a book. Describing the surprising fluidity of a brush stroke is not the same as seeing it. I enjoyed the book, just not reading it

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alarie

    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 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 verify and document art provenance was much more difficult back then. There were no photographs of existing works. Most paintings by Velazquez were in Spain, a long and expensive journey. Snare becomes obsessed. The painting becomes his life’s passion, pushing out concern for family, self-preservation, everything. What I liked best were the color painting reproductions and Cumming’s and other artists’ descriptions of why Velazquez is a genius. She made him one of my favorite artists, too.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ann Olszewski

    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 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 defined art as we know it today. I was lucky enough to visit the Prado in Madrid a few years ago, and spent hours wandering amongst its many riches, particularly room after room of Velazquez. Cumming's writing makes me yearn to return, to see these paintings again with the additional insights she has given me. This is the very best writing about art - lucid and non-pretentious, and the writer is clearly wide-eyed with wonder. If you didn't already deeply admire Velazquez' work - if you didn't already think he was the greatest painter of all time - Cumming will easily convince you.

  27. 5 out of 5

    nikkia neil

    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. 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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    E.

    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. 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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    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 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 would upturn his orderly and successful life for a work of art. She also tries to get to the root of who Velázquez was as a man, but he is as enigmatic as Vermeer. Like Vermeer, he left behind a limited output in a style of painting that leaves others befuddled as to how he did it. While this book is primarily about John Snare and the tragedy of his life with his portrait of Charles I (another person who lost his head), it's the byproducts of the narrative that makes this book so interesting, because, to be honest, my heart hurt reading about Snare-- he was so cavalierly used by art critics and the upper class who used his working class background against him. One of the byproducts that was so interesting is exactly how hard it was in the past, before photography and electronic records, to establish the provenance of a painting. If someone wanted to determine if a painting was done by a certain artist, they had to rely on critics, historical sources, and other people's eyes-- all that were fallible and at the whims of subjectivity. It was so easy for someone "in the know" (and who in fact actually may know very little) to declaim someone else who thought they found something. Also, during this time, art was not on display as it is today; museums did not exist, and one could only see it if its owners put it on public display for a limited period of time. This reminded me of the 2013 Vermeer and Music exhibition at the National Gallery in London. There I was placed in a similar position as people in the past; two Vermeers displayed there are from private collections, one from the Queen's. If they hadn't allowed their paintings to be part of the display, I would have never have seen them or would have to wait a long time before ever seeing them. I also learned that back then hearing music performed was a special treat because the ONLY way to hear it was when it was performed; it wasn't at everyone's fingertips as it is today. This is analogous to art. Today we can look up just about any piece of art on the internet, see it in color, and read about its history, impact, and influence. Back then one could see art copied in a print or wait to see it on display. Art was temporary and ephemeral-- either you went to it or waited for it to come to you. Considering most people could not afford to travel, there was a lot of waiting. This book is also a biography (as much as it can be) of Velázquez, and he could not have wished to have a more nuanced studier of his art and life. Cumming is no dilettante; she studies his art closely to take full measure of both the artist and the man. She speaks with great reverence about him as she explains how "if the art of Velázquez teaches us anything at all it the depth and complexity of our fellow human beings" and their "unparalleled dignity" from Popes to paupers (264). She seems to agree with Edouard Manet as he wondered, "why anyone would ever bother to paint anymore-- himself included-- because his art could not be surpassed" and that he took the new medium of oil paint "as far as it could go" (262). Cumming presents us with many meditations on his art, what it means to be seen by him, what it means to look at his work and our role in it, the interplay of both; he was an artist with an honest eye and he painted people as they were, not as what they would be. She infects the reader with her love of his art. I look forward to getting to know Velázquez more and letting his art become a passion in my life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    LindaJ^

    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 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 painting of Charles I? does it still exist? Snare himself seems to have been completely captivated by his painting, to the point of giving up his family and his livelihood. Fascinating book. My second non-fiction book read in 2019 non-fiction November.

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