The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece
You had me at the subtitle.
Art historian Laura Cumming's new book, The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece (Scribner, $28), is the astonishing true story of an English bookseller whose purchase of a painting of Charles I at a liquidation auction changed the course of his life. It was 1845 when John Snare bid £8 for a painting supposed by the auctioneer to be a Van Dyck, but Snare had his own opinion: he thought the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez might have painted it during Charles' clandestine trip to Spain in 1623 when the proposed marriage between (then prince) Charles and Maria Anna, daughter of Philip III of Spain, was under negotiation.
It was the nineteenth-century equivalent of today's barn or attic find (or the Rembrandt dislodged from a NJ basement recently), and years of research and legal issues ensued as Snare attempted to prove the Velázquez provenance. Snare's enthusiasm ultimately veered into mania, causing him to lose his livelihood and very likely his family. He left them behind when he emigrated to New York City where he would continue exhibiting and promoting his "Velázquez" for decades.
The mystery at the book's core hooks the reader early on--is it real or isn't it? Was Snare clever or deluded? Cumming's thorough research and passion for the subject shines through her engaging prose, making The Vanishing Velázquez a riveting read for any book or art lover.
Image via Simon & Schuster/Scribner.