The Lost Van Gogh

  • Review
By – April 2, 2024

A pro­fes­sion­al artist and pro­lif­ic crime writer, Jonathan Sant­lofer bold­ly takes on the ongo­ing saga of art that was loot­ed by the Nazis dur­ing the Holo­caust. His nov­el also cen­ters inter­na­tion­al art crim­i­nals and the mys­tery sur­round­ing the 1890 death of Vin­cent Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. 

Read­ers fol­low Luke, a young artist, and Alex, his art his­to­ri­an girl­friend, from New York City to a small vil­lage in France, where the trou­bled Van Gogh died by sui­cide — or was it mur­der? Sant­lofer weaves well-researched infor­ma­tion into his cir­cuitous plot. Did Van Gogh paint a final self-por­trait that dis­ap­peared at his funer­al? And how did this por­trait — or a forgery of it — briefly turn up at an antique sale in present-day Upstate New York, and then van­ish? The young cou­ple wants to know, and so do we.

In an occa­sion­al­ly jar­ring, post­mod­ern writ­ing style, the short chap­ters jump from past to present and back again. There are many points of view to keep track of, giv­en the size of the cast of sec­ondary char­ac­ters — among them, an INTER­POL agent, a pri­vate detec­tive, and a James Bond – wor­thy art deal­er. The rela­tion­ship between Luke and Alex is sec­ondary to their dan­ger­ous investigation.

This sus­pense­ful sto­ry includes fas­ci­nat­ing details about both Van Gogh’s life and the ongo­ing quest by gov­ern­ments to find miss­ing art objects from World War II Europe and turn them over to the heirs of Jews who were forced by the Nazis to sell them. It also reveals the uneth­i­cal behav­ior of some muse­ums and gallery own­ers when they are con­front­ed with the ques­tion­able own­er­ship his­to­ry of art acquired dur­ing and after the war. Love­ly sketch­es cre­at­ed by the author are also included.

Nina Schnei­der is a retired Eng­lish & Media Stud­ies pro­fes­sor with exper­tise in cre­ative writ­ing and art history.

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