Thunderclap: A Memoir of Art and Life and Sudden Death (Hardcover)

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Thunderclap: A Memoir of Art and Life and Sudden Death By Laura Cumming Cover Image

Thunderclap: A Memoir of Art and Life and Sudden Death (Hardcover)


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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.
Laura Cumming has been the art critic of The Observer (London) since 1999. Previously, she was arts editor of the New Statesman magazine, literary editor of the Listener, and deputy editor of Literary Review. She is a former columnist for the Herald and has contributed to the London Evening StandardThe Guardian, L’Express, and Vogue. Her book The Vanishing Velazquez was longlisted for the Bailie Gifford Prize and was a New York Times bestseller.
Product Details ISBN: 9781982181741
ISBN-10: 1982181745
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: July 11th, 2023
Pages: 272
Language: English
Praise for Thunderclap 

“In this vivid history of the golden age of Dutch painting and elegant and luminous work, Cumming writes with deep feeling and knowledge about how ‘pictures can shore you up, remind you who you are and what you stand for.’ Art lovers will be enthralled.” Publishers Weekly

“[Through] spellbinding storytelling, Thunderclap is as deftly told as any thriller. It is also an astonishingly rich book about the glories that are revealed to us when we look at great paintings with careful attention, and an open heart. How a work of art can suddenly open our eyes in a thunderclap of clarity.”  The Bookseller (UK)

“A tender homage to art, Cumming melds memoir, art history, and biography in an elegant, beautifully illustrated meditation on art, desire, imagination, and memory. From shards of evidence, Cumming has created a nuanced portrait of an enigmatic artist whose works have profoundly affected her. Moving reflections rendered in precise, radiant prose.” Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“There’s a passionate energy in this book, a dexterity of description and narrative and a sensitivity to the subtleties of painting and personal memory that leaves you utterly breathless and transfixed. You are never going to read a better book about the experience of art—and of love.” —Philip Hoare, author of Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World

“A work at once generous and private (family love spills bright from the book) that shows us how it is to live and die, as a painter must, by light and dark and their transmission. Cumming reconsiders the lives of painters of the Golden Age of Dutch painting, most especially Carel Fabritius, whose brief, sad life and few works she summons . . . in prose that shines.” —Candia McWilliam, author of What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness

“A paragon of staggering insight and exquisite beauty. Delicate, exact, visionary, personal.” —Keggie Carew, author of Beastly: The 40,000-Year Story of Animals and Us

“An intimate and compelling investigation of the art of memory, and what survives of us.” —Nancy Campbell, author of Fifty Words for Snow

Praise for The Vanishing Velázquez

"A sumptuous, impressively erudite effort by Laura Cumming, the art critic at the Observer, in London, to retrace Snare’s attempts to determine the painting’s elusive pedigree. But it’s a good deal more than that... it’s extremely accomplished — a gleaming work of someone at the peak of her craft." —Jennifer Senior, The New York Times

"Superb and original... This enthralling book is about what it means to create art so luminous that others would fight just to get close to it." —Bee Wilson, The Sunday Times

“Cumming writes with deep feeling, critical expertise and lovely prose." —Shelf Awareness

"Enchanting." —The Boston Globe

“As compelling and entertaining as a detective novel, this is an engaging book... Ms Cumming paints a beguiling picture of lives lived for art." —The Economist

Praise for On Chapel Sands (formerly titled FIVE DAYS GONE)

"This is an incredible, and incredibly unusual, book about family, secrets, the ruinous sexual shame and hypocrisy of the first half of the English twentieth century. It’s one of the best memoirs I have ever read... There is so much about [Five Days Gone] that moves; there is so much about it that educates. It is, and will remain a favorite, to be re-read one day, to be recommended to anyone who will listen." —The Believer

"Vivid." —The New Yorker

"Brilliant... Cumming is adept in knowing how much to disclose and when to hold back... The book is a love letter to her mother, whose warmth, articulacy and survival instincts shine through." —The Guardian

“One of the most compelling memoirs of recent years, a book with as many twists and turns as any mystery, a family history of great emotional resonance… It’s an extraordinary story, and an even better book.” —The Los Angeles Times

"Laura Cumming's tale of pictures, secrets and the strange disappearance of her mother is an outstanding achievement... Enthralling... Much more than a search for truth. It is a moving, many-sided human story of great depth and tenderness, and a revelation of how art enriches life. In short, a masterpiece." —Sunday Times (UK)