Do you know the names of any seventeenth century Dutch women artists,  just off the top of your head? I googled it - three. What about male Dutch artists of the same period - twenty four. Did women paint any less than men then? Unlikely - the urge to paint is just that, a personal expression - when you gotta paint, you gotta paint I guess. Sara de Vos is a fictional character, an amalgam of several actual women artists of the time. In this novel she is the first woman to be admitted into the guild of master artists. Women artists existed, but their signatures were never on the works they did, they were signed by husbands or male artists.  Which is what happened to Sara: her husband and father of their daughter, being the earner, his signature was on her work as his own. Life takes a terrible turn for Sara, but she does  manage to paint a most beautiful and haunting picture, that survives down through the centuries.

This painting ends up being bought by a wealthy Dutch merchant, staying in the same family through the years, until it ends up on the wall of his descendant, Marty de Groot who lives in New York. It is now 1957, and one day Marty notices that the painting hanging above the bed is actually a fake. How did this happen? In a very clandestine and deceitful fashion, obsessed with revenge, he tracks down the forger - a young Australian fine arts restoration student, Ellie Shipley who is living in New York at a subsistence level, unhappy, disillusioned. Extraordinarily talented, her skill at restoration leads her down the path of making a forgery of the de Vos painting.

The story moves effortlessly between the seventeenth century, the late 1950s and the year 2000 as the lives of Sara, her family, Ellie and Marty, and the painting itself unfold. In 2000 Ellie, now in her sixties,  is a world renowned art historian living in Sydney. An exhibition of Dutch masters is taking place, and bizarrely, both of the paintings are on their way - the secretly reclaimed original back in the hands of Marty de Groot, and the fake which has been  hanging in a Dutch gallery. Will Ellie's forgery past come back to haunt her? And what will happen when she and Marty meet up again after so many years?

This is such a good story - the plot alone is enough to compel one to pick it up and read. But it is also so extremely well written. Carefully paced, and moving effortlessly across time and back again, it's strength lies in the way relationships between the key characters develop, and how the plot hinges on these relationships. The author has also researched most thoroughly old Dutch masters, guilds, painting techniques, women artists . What was most fascinating was the secret world of stealing/forging/onselling stolen works of art, how these old and valuable works are forged so perfectly, the processes museums and art galleries go through to verify and restore works of art.

Very, very good. 

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