Published by Bloomsbury

I know very little about ‘art’ – as in the art that is depicted in the National Gallery and the Wallace collection.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t enjoyed wandering around both galleries over the years. Grandpa introduced me to art – he made me a member of the RA, and after a special trip to the Wallace purchased a copy of The Arab Tent (Landseer) for me.

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We once went to the London Museum together, I remember, and somehow landed up in a gallery with an ‘installation’ I think it is called, of steel girders. Neither of us were very impressed.  We thought it would have been better to have used them in a building.  Usually, we looked at paintings and we discussed how the artist had depicted material, (for example velvet) and expression, that type of thing, so perhaps the girders were unlikely to get much of a positive review from us. Since then I have spent some time wandering the National Gallery too – at one time carefully going through their guide book, and buying post cards of the art I particularly liked.

I picked this volume up, initially as something to pass the time in a lunch break at work – without expecting much. The cover is (I think) uninspiring and to be honest rather over emphasises the love element of the book and though it does give an indication of the art it doesn’t indicate the importance art has to the story.

It is a tale of murder, of stolen art, of identity, and there is that element of love in it too.

One character I particularly enjoyed, the personification of The Improbability of Art – a self important character, but with a remarkable astute knowledge of people and their behaviour over the centuries.

I learnt a considerable amount about old art, some about how the art ‘world’ works, the auctioneers, dealers and a little about how paintings were produced, and how they try to verify the artist.

I enjoyed the language too – to the extent of noting words and phrases used in my mobile, (it seems to have taken the place of a note book), most of which I knew, but had forgotten: effluvium, solipsistic, uxorial, peripatetic – perhaps because I read so much children’s work, that it gave me a joy to read these words again, like old friends.

I loved too the description of a naked man as ‘…etiolated as a peeled cucumber…’

My only criticism, if it could be called such, is that the detail that is strong through out the rest of the book is not there as the strings of the mystery are gathered together in the last chapter. Though perhaps it was a wise decision. The book runs to 479 pages and perhaps to give the end the detail it deserved, would have extended it too far.

The book is due to be the Book of the Month (Waterstones)  in April for Adult Fiction. The Rococo art, and the art world is brought brilliantly to life in this rather good piece of fiction.

I have to admit to looking up Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) and found that I had seen and enjoyed several of his pictures over the years without knowing much about the artist. I also wanted to see if The Improbability of Love really existed. Sadly that part of the story too is fiction. I suspect though, it would have been very difficult to have used one of his works – particularly as I think it would have been wrong to have given a fictional history to a picture that has one already.