Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize 2016.
BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week
In 1845, a Reading bookseller named John Snare came across the dirt-blackened portrait of a prince at a country house auction. Suspecting that it might be a long-lost Velázquez, he bought the picture and set out to discover its strange history.
When Laura Cumming stumbled on a startling trial involving John Snare, it sent her on a search of her own. At first she was pursuing the picture and the life and work of the elusive painter, but then she found herself following the bookseller's fortunes, too - from London to Edinburgh to 19th-century New York, from fame to ruin and exile.
An innovative fusion of detection and biography, this audiobook shows how and why great works of art can affect us, even to the point of mania. And on the trail of John Snare, Cumming makes a surprising discovery of her own. But, most movingly, The Vanishing Man is an eloquent and passionate homage to the Spanish master Velázquez, bringing us closer to the creation and appreciation of his works than ever before.
©2016 Laura Cumming (P)2016 Random House AudioBooks
This is a marvelous audiobook. If you are interested in painting, the techniques of painting, Spain, Velasquez - read (listen to) it. If you are intrigued by bloodhoundly following a trail, or the intensity of one man's quest for proof about the identity of something he once bought in a country house sale, or the powerful magic that a two dimensional image can produce, read (listen to) this wonderful book.
The first thing to say is that there is nothing dry or "academic" about "The Vanishing Man." It is filled to overflowing with energy and conviction. Author, Laura Cumming, follows the life of John Snare, who in the nineteenth century bought a grubby painting for 8 pounds and then devoted his life to proving it had been painted by Velazquez, the Spanish genius. Not only that, but that it depicted King Charles 1 when he was just a Prince and courting the Spanish infanta in Madrid.
It is a story of gripping fascination as Laura Cumming and Snare follow every piece of "proof" there could possibly be. John Snare, obsessed, sacrifices his life and time to the portrait, becoming involved in court trials, bankruptcy, ridicule, fame and exile.. The picture brings him high, then low, at home, and takes him abroad to America...He never gives up on his conviction.
But the book is not only about Snare's obsession. It is also about Velazquez, that humane master painter, his way of painting, his life, and the delicate truth his images represent. There is nothing dry or scholarly about the book. It is full of a passionate love of painting, especially Velasquez's painting, and as such I found it a revelation.
The book if beautifully read in a spirited and lively way which makes you think that the reader must be the author; it flows so well.
So as a detective story about the enigmatic and driven John Snare, and as a pathway through some of the greatest paintings of the equally enigmatic Velazquez, this book is highly recommended. I learnt so much from it concerning obsession, Spanish history, avarice and the good and bad in human nature. And about the life and work of that possibly greatest of all painters, Velazquez, and even about Salvador Dali's moustache.
Now back to Las Meninas...
I heard this book introduced on the Little Atoms podcast. It's definitely not my usual fare but the interview with the author made it sound interesting.
I came away with a sense of the importance of Velasquez and his peerless art. The story of John Snare is fascinating too and the mystery at the heart of the book is compelling.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with the art world. Laura Cumming has written a brilliant, accessible book.
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