Thunderclap: A Memoir of Art and Life and Sudden Death (Hardcover)
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Named a Best Book of 2023 So Far by the New Yorker!
New York Times bestselling author and art critic Laura Cumming reveals the fascinating, little-known story of the Thunderclap—the massive explosion at a gunpowder store in Holland that killed Carel Fabritius, renowned painter of The Goldfinch and nearly killed Johannes Vermeer, painter of Girl with a Pearl Earring—two of the greatest artists of the 17th century.
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 illuminates one of the most celebrated periods in art history.
In 1654, an enormous explosion at a gunpowder store devasted the city of Delft, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands more. Among those killed was the extraordinary painter Carel Fabritius, renowned for his paintings The Goldfinch and his haunting masterpiece A View of Delft, which depicts the very streets through which the victims would be carried to their graves. Fabritius’s contemporary and rival Vermeer, painter of the iconic portrait Girl with a Pearl Earring, narrowly escaped death.
Framing the story around Fabritius’s life, Cumming deftly weaves a sequence of observations about paintings and how they relate to everyday life. Like Dutch art itself, 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 views, and understanding of the world is the heart of this book and Cumming has brought her unique eye to her most compelling subject yet.
Featuring beautiful full-color images of Dutch paintings throughout, this is a stunningly rich book about one of the most vibrant periods in European art and life.
About the Author
Laura Cumming has been the art critic of The Observer (London) since 1999. Previously, she was arts editor of The New Statesman (UK), literary editor of The Listener (UK), and deputy editor of Literary Review. She is a former columnist for The Herald (Scotland) and has contributed to the Evening Standard (London), The Guardian, 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*