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

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“As compelling and entertaining as a detective novel” (The Economist), 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 found 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 whom the piece was attributed. Snare had found something incredible—but what?

His research brought him to Diego Velázquez, 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—proposed a marriage with a Spanish princess, he allowed just a few hours to sit for his portrait, and Snare believed only Velázquez could have been the artist of choice. But in making his theory public, Snare was ostracized 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 is a “brilliant” (The Atlantic) tale of mystery and detection, of tragic mishaps and mistaken identities, of class, politics, snobbery, crime, and almost farcical accident that reveals how one historic masterpiece was crafted and lost, and how far one man would go to redeem it. Laura Cumming’s book is “sumptuous...A gleaming work of someone at the peak of her craft” (The New York Times).
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About the author

Laura Cumming has been the art critic of the Observer since 1999. Previously, she was arts editor of the New Statesman magazine, literary editor of the Listener, and deputy editor of Literary Review. She is a former columnist for the Herald and has contributed to the London Evening Standard, the Guardian, L’Express and Vogue. Her book A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits was widely reviewed to critical acclaim.

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Reviews

3.8
4 total
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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Apr 12, 2016
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9781476762166
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / History / Baroque & Rococo
Biography & Autobiography / Artists, Architects, Photographers
History / Europe / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Laura Cumming
Focusing on the art of self-portraiture, this effortlessly engaging exploration of the lives of artists sheds fascinating light on some of the most extraordinary portraits in art history.

Self-portraits catch your eye. They seem to do it deliberately. Walk into any art gallery and they draw attention to themselves. Come across them in the world’s museums and you get a strange shock of recognition, rather like glimpsing your own reflection. For in picturing themselves artists reveal something far deeper than their own physical looks: the truth about how they hope to be viewed by the world, and how they wish to see themselves.

In this beautifully written and lavishly illustrated book, Laura Cumming, art critic of the Observer, investigates the drama of the self-portrait, from Durer, Rembrandt and Velazquez to Munch, Picasso, Warhol and the present day. She considers how and why self-portraits look as they do and what they reveal about the artist’s innermost sense of self – as well as the curious ways in which they may imitate our behaviour in real life.

Drawing on art, literature, history, philosophy and biography to examine the creative process in an entirely fresh way, Cumming offers a riveting insight into the intimate truths and elaborate fictions of self-portraiture and the lives of those who practise it. A work of remarkable depth, scope and power, this is a book for anyone who has ever wondered about the strange dichotomy between the innermost self and the self we choose to present for posterity – our face to the world.

Jonathan Harr
An Italian village on a hilltop near the Adriatic coast, a decaying palazzo facing the sea, and in the basement, cobwebbed and dusty, lit by a single bulb, an archive unknown to scholars. Here, a young graduate student from Rome, Francesca Cappelletti, makes a discovery that inspires a search for a work of art of incalculable value, a painting lost for almost two centuries.

The artist was Caravaggio, a master of the Italian Baroque. He was a genius, a revolutionary painter, and a man beset by personal demons. Four hundred years ago, he drank and brawled in the taverns and streets of Rome, moving from one rooming house to another, constantly in and out of jail, all the while painting works of transcendent emotional and visual power. He rose from obscurity to fame and wealth, but success didn’t alter his violent temperament. His rage finally led him to commit murder, forcing him to flee Rome a hunted man. He died young, alone, and under strange circumstances.

Caravaggio scholars estimate that between sixty and eighty of his works are in existence today. Many others–no one knows the precise number–have been lost to time. Somewhere, surely, a masterpiece lies forgotten in a storeroom, or in a small parish church, or hanging above a fireplace, mistaken for a mere copy.

Prizewinning author Jonathan Harr embarks on an spellbinding journey to discover the long-lost painting known as The Taking of Christ–its mysterious fate and the circumstances of its disappearance have captivated Caravaggio devotees for years. After Francesca Cappelletti stumbles across a clue in that dusty archive, she tracks the painting across a continent and hundreds of years of history. But it is not until she meets Sergio Benedetti, an art restorer working in Ireland, that she finally manages to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle.

Told with consummate skill by the writer of the bestselling, award-winning A Civil Action, The Lost Painting is a remarkable synthesis of history and detective story. The fascinating details of Caravaggio’s strange, turbulent career and the astonishing beauty of his work come to life in these pages. Harr’s account is not unlike a Caravaggio painting: vivid, deftly wrought, and enthralling.
". . . Jonathan Harr has gone to the trouble of writing what will probably be a bestseller . . . rich and wonderful. . .in truth, the book reads better than a thriller because, unlike a lot of best-selling nonfiction authors who write in a more or less novelistic vein (Harr's previous book, A Civil Action, was made into a John Travolta movie), Harr doesn't plump up hi tale. He almost never foreshadows, doesn't implausibly reconstruct entire conversations and rarely throws in litanies of clearly conjectured or imagined details just for color's sake. . .if you're a sucker for Rome, and for dusk. . .[you'll] enjoy Harr's more clearly reported details about life in the city, as when--one of my favorite moments in the whole book--Francesca and another young colleague try to calm their nerves before a crucial meeting with a forbidding professor by eating gelato. And who wouldn't in Italy? The pleasures of travelogue here are incidental but not inconsiderable." --The New York Times Book Review


"Jonathan Harr has taken the story of the lost painting, and woven from it a deeply moving narrative about history, art and taste--and about the greed, envy, covetousness and professional jealousy of people who fall prey to obsession. It is as perfect a work of narrative nonfiction as you could ever hope to read." --The Economist


From the Hardcover edition.
Sebastian Smee
Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic Sebastian Smee tells the fascinating story of four pairs of artists—Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, Freud and Bacon—whose fraught, competitive friendships spurred them to new creative heights.

Rivalry is at the heart of some of the most famous and fruitful relationships in history. The Art of Rivalry follows eight celebrated artists, each linked to a counterpart by friendship, admiration, envy, and ambition. All eight are household names today. But to achieve what they did, each needed the influence of a contemporary—one who was equally ambitious but possessed sharply contrasting strengths and weaknesses.

Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas were close associates whose personal bond frayed after Degas painted a portrait of Manet and his wife. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso swapped paintings, ideas, and influences as they jostled for the support of collectors like Leo and Gertrude Stein and vied for the leadership of a new avant-garde. Jackson Pollock’s uninhibited style of “action painting” triggered a breakthrough in the work of his older rival, Willem de Kooning. After Pollock’s sudden death in a car crash, de Kooning assumed Pollock's mantle and became romantically involved with his late friend’s mistress. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon met in the early 1950s, when Bacon was being hailed as Britain’s most exciting new painter and Freud was working in relative obscurity. Their intense but asymmetrical friendship came to a head when Freud painted a portrait of Bacon, which was later stolen.

Each of these relationships culminated in an early flashpoint, a rupture in a budding intimacy that was both a betrayal and a trigger for great innovation. Writing with the same exuberant wit and psychological insight that earned him a Pulitzer Prize for art criticism, Sebastian Smee explores here the way that coming into one’s own as an artist—finding one’s voice—almost always involves willfully breaking away from some intimate’s expectations of who you are or ought to be.

Praise for The Art of Rivalry

“Gripping . . . Mr. Smee’s skills as a critic are evident throughout. He is persuasive and vivid. . . . You leave this book both nourished and hungry for more about the art, its creators and patrons, and the relationships that seed the ground for moments spent at the canvas.”—The New York Times

“With novella-like detail and incisiveness [Sebastian Smee] opens up the worlds of four pairs of renowned artists. . . . Each of his portraits is a biographical gem. . . . The Art of Rivalry is a pure, informative delight, written with canny authority.”—The Boston Globe

“Bacon liked to say his portraiture aimed to capture ‘the pulsations of a person.’ Revealing these rare creators as the invaluable catalysts they also were, Smee conveys exactly that on page after page. . . . His brilliant group biography is one of a kind.”—The Atlantic

“Perceptive . . . Smee is onto something important. His book may bring us as close as we’ll ever get to understanding the connections between these bristly bonds and brilliance.”—The Christian Science Monitor

“In this intriguing work of art history and psychology, The Boston Globe’s art critic looks at the competitive friendships of Matisse and Picasso, Manet and Degas, Pollock and de Kooning, and Freud and Bacon. All four relationships illuminate the creative process—both its imaginative breakthroughs and its frustrating blocks.”—Newsday


From the Hardcover edition.
Laura Cumming
Velázquez desaparecido, una emocionante indagación en el complejo significado de la autenticidad, rastrea la inquebrantable determinación que impulsa a artistas y coleccionistas, y viaja de la extravagante corte española de la década de 1700 a las despiadadas casas de subastas de Londres y Nueva York en el siglo XIX.

En 1845, el librero inglés John Snare se topó con el retrato ennegrecido de un príncipe. Al sospechar que podía tratarse de un Velázquez perdido mucho tiempo atrás, compró el cuadro y se propuso averiguar su extraña historia. Cuando Laura Cumming tropezó a su vez con la historia de John Snare, emprendió su propia búsqueda, cuyo objeto incluía tanto la vida del librero como la vida y obra de Velázquez, un pintor tan maravilloso como escurridizo.

Velázquez desaparecido recoge esta enigmática historia y, además, constituye un magnífico acercamiento a la figura del pintor español que cambiará para siempre nuestra apreciación de su obra.

Reseñas:
«Velázquez desaparecido no solo es una apasionante historia detectivesca y una brillante reconstrucción de una controversia artística, sino que también es un homenaje a la obra de Velázquez, escrito por una crítica absolutamente hechizada por su genio, del mismo modo que los lectores quedarán hechizados por su libro.»
Colm Tóibín

«Ingenioso e intrigante. Cumming entreteje las dos historias -la de Snare y la de Velázquez- con tal sutileza que se iluminan entre sí de manera sorprendente.»
Mark Hudson, The Daily Telegraph

«Una historia extraordinaria. Este estupendo libro es muchas cosas, un estudio de la obsesión, un canto de alabanza a un artista de genio, una historia de detectives y, para el autor, un exorcismo de la pena.»
Honor Clerk, The Spectator

«Cumming admira la dignidad y la profunda individualidad que Velázquez confiere a sus personajes.»
Jennifer Senior, El Cultural (El Mundo)

«Habla de la obsesión por un lienzo perdido, pero también del amor por el arte y de las obras que al contemplarlas iluminan algún aspecto de nosotros mismos.»
J.L. Martín Nogales, Diario de Navarra

«Laura Cumming ya ha advertido de que ha escrito un ensayo abierto, que continuará añadiendo capítulos a medida que averigüe más cosas sobre el cuadro. Porque, según parece, la obsesión que terminó con la vida de John Snare también se ha apoderado de ella, y no piensa cejar en su empeño de desvelar uno de los misterios más apasionantes de la historia del arte.»
Álvaro Colomer, Yo Dona (El Mundo)

«Con datos, fechas y fuentes verificables, Cumming recrea en Velázquez desaparecido la fuerte atracción que el lienzo ejerció sobre Snare, quien, sorprendentemente, llegó a conclusiones sobre el arte de Velázquez en su Historia y linaje del retrato... que coinciden con lo demostrado más tarde por los avances científicos.»
José María Rondón, Diario de Sevilla

«Cumming nos ofrece un espléndido ensayo sobre la creación artística que se puede leer como una novela de aventuras, especialmente indicada para todos aquellos interesados en el mundo del arte, en la Historia, en las idas y vueltas que una pintura puede vivir a lo largo de las décadas, en un pintor tan genial como Velázquez y su manera de entender el mundo, tal y como expresa su formidable obra.»
Jorge Riet en Anika entre libros

Laura Cumming
Focusing on the art of self-portraiture, this effortlessly engaging exploration of the lives of artists sheds fascinating light on some of the most extraordinary portraits in art history.

Self-portraits catch your eye. They seem to do it deliberately. Walk into any art gallery and they draw attention to themselves. Come across them in the world’s museums and you get a strange shock of recognition, rather like glimpsing your own reflection. For in picturing themselves artists reveal something far deeper than their own physical looks: the truth about how they hope to be viewed by the world, and how they wish to see themselves.

In this beautifully written and lavishly illustrated book, Laura Cumming, art critic of the Observer, investigates the drama of the self-portrait, from Durer, Rembrandt and Velazquez to Munch, Picasso, Warhol and the present day. She considers how and why self-portraits look as they do and what they reveal about the artist’s innermost sense of self – as well as the curious ways in which they may imitate our behaviour in real life.

Drawing on art, literature, history, philosophy and biography to examine the creative process in an entirely fresh way, Cumming offers a riveting insight into the intimate truths and elaborate fictions of self-portraiture and the lives of those who practise it. A work of remarkable depth, scope and power, this is a book for anyone who has ever wondered about the strange dichotomy between the innermost self and the self we choose to present for posterity – our face to the world.

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