1763. As candles flicker in the falling dusk along Pall Mall, Filipo di Vecellio, f๊ted portrait painter from Florence, and his beautiful wife Angelica entertain the cream of London's art world in their fashionable London home, with Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough among the guests, and William Hogarth a disapproving observer. Little is known of Filipo's past or his family - except in the shadows sits his sister, Francesca, who watches, and listens, and waits.
For beneath the opulence and success, the house in Pall Mall conceals a swarm of secrets, corruption and lies. Filipo's ambition has meant numerous, terrible sacrifices for Francesca, but Filipo is not the only painter, nor the only one capable of fraud. And as the great wild city of trade and business expands its grasping, avid tentacles, a climax erupts involving love and passion - and the quiet sister who has waited so long...
Zealand-born Barbara Ewing, herself an actress, has a soft spot for the
inhabitants of history's demi-monde. Her latest novel opens in 1763,
as Filipo di Vecellio, a portrait painter from Florence, and his much-coiffured
wife Angelica, play host to London's art-world, entertaining Joshua
Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and a disapproving William Hogarth at their
fashionable Pall Mall home. Not much is known about Filipo's past - though
the household is home to several secrets. In this engaging and enlightening
novel about artistic ambition and fraud at the nascent Royal Academy, Ewing
is an accomplished storyteller who puts the pleasure of her readers first.
......Ewing is excellent
at evoking the sink or swim world of Hogarth's London; the painter makes a
cameo appearance.... Also present are Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas
Gainsborough, the former presiding over the 'on the line' RA exhibitions;
the latter offering sympathy and advice to the embroiled Grace/Francesca.
Our heroine also learns about chiaroscuro from Mr. Joseph Wright of
Derby.....The novel also falls into the art crime genre too: at an advanced
stage of the narrative, we're given an object lesson in faking a Rembrandt
and aging it to fool the academicians.....Most art history in novel format
doesn't succeed, but I think this does. Ewing's research is thorough and she
blends art fact with art fiction adroitly. Add a dash of art crime and
you've got all the ingredients for a great book. Recommended.
...Ewing is particularly good when painting in the background of
18th-century London with all its colour and filth, and also when portraying
the plight of women of the time, financially dependent on men, their own
dreams best forgotten.