This is about art, especially 17th century Dutch: Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc. But the author makes us focus on Carel Fabritius, little known now, but one of a talented few at the time. The thunderclap of the title refers to a massive explosion, in Delft, of the gunpowder stored underground in the city (hmmm, great art, bad storage decision), which killed hundreds and destroyed the work and lives of the artists that lived, studied, and created there. The book is also about the author's father, an artist, and how he gave her the skill of looking at art and seeing with a trained eye. And the art is lovely; Dutch still life is that, indeed. There is still life in those paintings, they look so real... we should be able to smell the flower, touch the peach. This made me think about art in another way. Charming and thoughtful.
Named a Top 100 Must-Read Book of 2023 by Time and a Best Book of 2023 by The New Yorker
New York Times bestselling author Laura Cumming “combines first-rate art history with deeply felt memoir” (The Washington Post) in this fascinating, little-known story of the massive explosion in Holland that killed Carel Fabritius, renowned painter of The Goldfinch and A View of Delft and nearly killed Johannes Vermeer—two of the greatest artists of the 17th century.
“Exquisite.” —Simon Schama, The Guardian
As a brilliant art critic and historian, Laura Cumming has explored the importance of art in life and can give us a perspective on the time and place in which the artist worked. Now, through the lens of one dramatic event in 17th-century Holland, Cumming “has fashioned a book that combines memoir, art criticism, and history to illuminating effect” (The New York Times Book Review).
In 1654, the Thunderclap—an enormous explosion at a gunpowder store—devasted the city of Delft, killing hundreds of people, including the extraordinary painter Carel Fabritius, and injuring thousands more.
Framing the story around the life of Fabritius, Cumming illuminates this extraordinary moment in art history while also writing about her own father, a painter. Like Dutch art, the story gradually links country, city, town, street, house, interior—all the way to the bird on its perch, the blue and white tile, the smallest seed in a loaf of bread. The impact of a painting and how it can enter our thoughts, influence our view and understanding of the world is the heart of this book. Cumming has brought her unique eye to her most compelling subject yet.
Featuring beautiful full-color images of Dutch paintings throughout, this is “a glorious tribute to the two men who showed her the truth of the notion that paintings offer ‘a land in themselves, a society, a place to be’” (The Economist).
About the Author
Laura Cumming has been the art critic of TheObserver (London) since 1999. Previously, she was arts editor of TheNew Statesman (UK), literary editor of TheListener (UK), and deputy editor of Literary Review. She is a former columnist for TheHerald (Scotland) and has contributed to the Evening Standard (London), TheGuardian, L’Express, and Vogue. Her book The Vanishing Velazquez was longlisted for the Bailie Gifford Prize and was a New York Times bestseller.
Praise for Thunderclap
“If you haven’t yet read Thunderclap by Laura Cumming—a brilliant exploration of Carl Fabritius, Vermeer and survival and loss—rush out and buy it. By far the best book on art of the Netherlands that I’ve read.” —Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes and Letters to Camondo
“Wonderous…with Cumming’s Proust-like meditations on time never to be recovered and art never to be produced, its thunderclap still echoes in my ears.” —Wall Street Journal
“Genre-defying . . . By weaving together vivid evocations of ones that move her with brief biographies of the men and women who painted them, she invites us to share that love. Like all good elegists, Cumming brings the dead to life in the very act of mourning them.” —New York Times Book Review
“Thunderclap is a glorious tribute to the two men who showed her the truth of the notion that paintings offer ‘a land in themselves, a society, a place to be.’” —The Economist
“Cumming writes with the sureness of carefully laid paint. This is not art historical scholarship of the academic kind. It is an emotionally informed approach to art... She brings Carel Fabritius out of the shadows, making us see why he is so much more than the missing link in someone else’s story.” —The Guardian
“Thunderclap combines first-rate art history with deeply felt memoir . . . A defiant aesthete, Cumming’s gentle, meditative prose is itself an evocation of the hushed world of the art she loves.” —The Washington Post
“A lustrous meditation on the lives and after-lives of artists…with a novelist’s pace, a critic’s eye, a daughter’s heart.” —Financial Times *Best Summer Books of 2023*
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