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The Vanishing Man

The Vanishing Man

Published by Chatto & Windus

The tale of a Victorian bookseller whose fate was changed forever by the greatest painter of all time. In 1845, a Reading bookseller named John Snare came across a dirt-blackened portrait of a prince at a country house auction.  Suspecting that it might be a long-lost Velázquez, he bid for Lot 72 and set out to discover its past, a journey that took him from London to Edinburgh to 19th century New York and turned him into a lifelong detective. When Observer art critic Laura Cumming stumbled on a trial involving John Snare, it sent her on a search of her own. At first she was following the picture, and the elusive painter, but then she found herself following the fortunes of the bookseller too – into ruin, obsession and exile. The Vanishing Man is an innovative fusion of drama, detection and double biography that approaches art through the stories of our human existence. Moving from the royal courts of 17th century Spain, where Velázquez spent almost his entire life, to the high courts of Edinburgh and the cold-water tenements of 19th century Broadway, it is a gripping depiction of how and why great works of art can affect us, even to the point of mania. Most movingly, it becomes a homage to Velázquez, bringing us closer to the creation and appreciation of his works than ever before. And on the trail of Snare and the lost portrait, with their strangely intersecting narratives, Cumming makes a most surprising discovery of her own…

The Vanishing Man

About the Author

Laura Cumming

Laura Cumming has been art critic of the Observer since 1999. Previously, she was a presenter of Nightwaves on Radio 3, arts producer for BBC World Service and arts editor of the New Statesman. Her last book, A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits, and the accompanying BBC Four documentary, received widespread critical acclaim. 

Laura Cumming