The Masterpiece

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis is a tale told in two. The struggles of Clara Darden, the highest paid illustrator in New York City prior to the Depression and the tale of Virgina Clay in the 1970s, recently divorced and trying to piece her life back together. Their lives intersect with the discovery of a long lost painting.

"...What happened?'
'The train carrying the works from New York to Chicago crashed, ended up in a river. A horrible accident. All the paintings were destroyed, and the art dealer who represented the artist died on the train, along with Levon Zakarian. It was easy enough to put two and two together. Ever since, Clyde's work has been attributed to Zakarian..."

In 1928, Clara Darden moves from Arizona to New York City to take a post as teacher at the Grand Central School of Art, located at the Grand Central Terminal. She is very talented illustrator and hopes to make a living from her art. But despite her talent and the backing of her school, the public does not seem ready to embrace a woman artist. But Clara is strong and independent and refuses to go back to Arizona. She is determined to make her life work in New York City. With perseverance and solid connections, she becomes the most famous illustrator of her time. Her drawings often on the cover of Vogue magazine and influencing the marketing of major advertisers. Clara is also juggling the affections of two men in her life, a wealthy poet and the artist Levon Zakarian. But what Clara is not prepared for is the market crash that heralded the Great Depression. With people going hungry, art becomes a luxury of the rich and Clara finds that her talents are no longer in demand.

In 1974, Virginia Clay was a happily married socialite in New York City. Coming from humble beginnings, her marriage to a successful lawyer gave her a life of ease and luxury. But that all came crashing down around her as cancer and divorce ravaged both her body and her mind. Now struggling to make ends meet and caring for her grown daughter Ruby, Virginia finds that the only job she has any skills for is at the information counter at Grand Central Terminal. It is here that she makes a discovery that would change her life.

"...Where did you find the watercolor?'
'Behind the storage cabinet. One corner was sticking out, we much have knocked it from its hiding place when we...'
Virginia was certain she was turning the color of rhubarb. 'I was up here with a man.'
'I see.' Clara muttered under her breath. 'The type of woman who's only good when she's on her back.'
'It was from behind, actually..."

Virginia begins a quest that will bring the past to life as she searches for the artist of the watercolor. A quest that will question the artist's very identity.

This is a beautifully told story that flashes back and forth from New York of the 1920's to New York of the 1970s. The Bohemian lifestyle of the artists of the 1920s and the pragmatic mindset of the late 70s and coming 80s that saw the value of the dollar as being far more important than history and art. Against the back drop of the Grand Central Terminal, the story of the lost watercolor is told through two separate narrators. The life of Clara Darnden and that of Virginia Clay.

I enjoyed the tale of Darnden quite a bit. A woman struggling to be taken seriously as an artist when here chosen field was viewed by many artists to be a sell out of their craft. Illustrations were for magazines and books and not considered to be fine art. Nothing that would be hung up for exhibition. But illustrations were one of the few ways an artist could make a living. Her love affairs were both tragic, but in them, the reader can see that though Darden may have loved the men in her life, she loved her art far more. Clara's story is one of loss and tragedy.

When we begin learn of Virginia's life, her tragedy has already happened. The cancer that resulted in her breast removal and that mutilation, perhaps resulting in the destruction of her marriage. Reality is Virginia's greatest challenge now. How can she rebuild her life. Her obsession with the watercolor seems somewhat contrived and it can be said that her actions created a great deal of the mess that both her and Clara end up in. But without that happening, there wouldn't be that much of a story here and one thing that Fiona Davis does with this novel, is tell one hell of a good story.

A really good read!
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I always look forward to a Fiona Davis historic look back at a New York City iconic building. The Masterpiece tells the story of the Grand Central Terminal through the eyes of Clara, an artist attending an art school in the 20's while also telling a story during 70's through the eyes of Virginia, a new employee in the terminal.  The two storylines intersect as Virginia stumbles upon the abandoned art school.  The Masterpiece is full of history and architectural splendor.
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This book was not for me. I really did not enjoy it and I did not like the characters. Not every book is for everyone. Im glad the majority of people enjoy it. Thank you Net Galley and the publisher for the arc. One out of five stars for me.
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The Masterpiece takes readers into the glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them.  Clara an aspiring illustrator, passionate about her craft, is waiting for her big break while  working as an instructor at the Grand Central Art School.

Virginia, recently divorced, starts working at the information booth at Grand Central and stumbles across the remnants of the art school and a potential discovery that can change the art world and unravels the mystery of Clara too.

This book was a pleasant surprise for me, I learned more about Grand Central's history. Clara, as the only female in a male dominated world, gets an opportunity to shine when she meets another artist, Leon.  He seems to be making his mark and after challenging Clara, she is on a path that will allow her to make hers too.  

Virginia's storyline really picked up for me when she finds a painting in an old closet in Grand Central, part of the former art school.  A bit of a mystery and a surprising merger of the storylines really made for a good read.
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This well researched novel spans 50 years and follows the perspectives of two different women, Clara and Virginia. Clara  was a struggling artist and instructor of illustration at the Grand Central School of Art which was in the terminal in the 1920’s while Virginia is struggling to get by after the breakup of her marriage of 19 years in the 1970s. 
I enjoyed Clara's portion more than Virginia's, I loved the 1920s vibe and the portrayal of the artist lifestyle. Overall it was an enjoyable read and I will seek out more from this author as it was my first of hers.
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Fiona Davis does a great job writing a seamless story!  Her books are always a delightfully uncomplicated read that always leaving you feeling wonderful when you finish.
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I so wanted to love this one but I just didn't connect with the story or characters which was so disappointing. The characters seemed a bit generic and flat and I was a bit bored.
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This was the first book I've read by Fiona Davis. I enjoyed the book and am a fan of historical fiction. I would have preferred one timeline to follow, specifically Clara Darden's. I will read more books by this author. I apologize for the late review, grad school has got me behind in reading for leisure.
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Thank you, Fiona Davis, for revealing a piece of history I knew nothing about – the Grand Central School of Art.  The Masterpiece is told from the points of view of two women:  Clara Darden is a brilliant illustrator and an instructor at the art school in the 1920s.  Virginia Clay’s story begins in the 1970s.   She is recently divorced and has her first job at Grand Central.  Both women struggle against a society that doesn’t support or approve of talented, strong women.  The descriptions of Grand Central Terminal vividly bring it to life in both the lavish décor of the 1920s and the dismal decay during the 1970s.  I enjoyed reading about not only the art school and Grnad Central, but of the lives of the characters during decades past.
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An absolutely breathtaking historical novel with fantastic characters and a rich background. Set against the vibrant background of the Grand Central Terminal, Fiona Davis' latest novel volleys back and forth between two characters and fifty years. Clara and Virginia are both capable heroines that any reader would want to root for. I found myself particularly drawn to Clara's story in the 1920s. 

Fiona Davis is one of those authors who's work is truly transporting, bringing her readers to another time and place in dazzling fashion. I can't wait to see what she writes next.
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Another great historical story from Fiona Davis. It’s  a mystery along with providing a story of american artists and how women struggled to gain recognition in the art world,  I enjoyed the two time periods and how they merged. Can’t wait for her next novel.
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I tried three times and just could not get into this novel. The subject matter is there, but the characters held no appeal for me.

Read through Chapter 8 but couldn't rouse enough interest to continue. Just not a good fit for my tastes.
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I had seen mixed reviews on this one which is why I think it took me so long to pick up but I am glad that I finally did. I really enjoyed this one. First things first, I enjoyed both Clara and Virginia's perspectives. Both of their POV's and chapters in the different time periods proved to be interesting. I was never bored with either of them which happens often for me when books are told by different characters. I also admired these two women. For Clara in the 1920's, she was a very forward woman character as a woman who had a career during the Depression and before. Women often did not have careers at this time obviously and I admired the feminist perspective of this. I also admired Virgina in the 1970's as she too was forward. As a newly divorced woman, she did what she could to try and provide a familiar lifestyle for her and her daughter, Ruby. She also was a character who I admired due to her past and how it helped her grow even when it was an issue for her.

The plot revolving around art and Grand Central Station was interesting. It was a blast through past to be reminded how important train travel was in the past and how the terminal was described in such luxorious ways. I also learned quite a bit about the history of the terminal and how it was so much more than just a business designated for travel.

You don't have to be a fan of art to enjoy the book. It does not center directly on art to the point where you must be familiar with art but it is a central theme. Even if you aren't a fan of art, the it isn't overbearing to the point which would make it unenjoyable. I knocked down one star because although I was satisfied with the ending, it was a little overwhelming for me. I felt as if everything was building up to be awesome where the ending, although it tied everything in, had less enthusiasm that much of the book otherwise. Still, I loved the book. I enjoyed reading it and will truly enjoy looking at Grand Central Station in a brand new perspective during my next visit. I would pick this book up if you have not already!
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Fiona Davis never disappoints. In this dual-time-track novel, she examines the art studio that graced Grand Central Station before The Great Depression, and tracks the lives to two women whose art transforms their lives.  Extra stars if you love reading about architecture and real-life attempts to save the monuments of New York City from being razed and turned into high-cost ugliness.

Recommended! Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.
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Grand Central Terminal is the back drop for Clara and Virginia's finding there place in the midst of challenging personnel lives. Clara's story was a little hard to follow.
Fiona Barton did a great job developing Virginina's character and showing how she grows and becomes an independent strong women at  a time in our country that didn't always make it easy for women.
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I’ve wanted to read a Fiona Davis book since reading the premise of The Address, her second (and previous) book. The idea of a time slip novel set around The Dakota intrigued me, especially when combined with a fictional murder mystery. I’ve still not read it, but I grabbed the opportunity to apply for a review copy of The Masterpiece when I saw it on NetGalley. This was another time slip novel, set at a famous historical location, with a mystery thrown in.

I have a habit of looking up almost anything that appears in an historical novel. This time, it meant looking into Grand Central Terminal and the Grand Central School of Art. Because one of the main characters – Clara – was an illustrator, I was drawn to the name of Helen Dryden, who was one of the school’s instructors and an illustrator. While I’d not heard of Dryden previously, it’s evident throughout the book that Davis used Dryden as inspiration for the character. Nowhere is this more apparent than the descriptions of Clara working with the car manufacturer Studebaker. The author’s note at the end also cited fellow art school instructor, Arshile Gorky, as inspiration for another character.

Although Clara and Virginia’s stories are set almost 50 years apart, there are commonalities. Both women struggle for independence in a male-dominated world. Both experience the fall from wealth to near poverty. They, and Virginia’s daughter, are on a path to finding their self-worth. Ironically, Virginia’s daughter favors photography, a medium Clara feels might make obsolete her talent for illustration.

Since the fate of one character was revealed halfway through, I thought I knew what was coming. The narrative seemed to chug on to that destination like the 20th Century Limited train so frequently mentioned. It expertly wove the two lives and time periods until they finally came together with a twist that had me saying, “Wow!” Once I finished The Masterpiece, I wanted to go back to find the clues I’d so obviously missed. The plot, the characterization, and the detail, all made me fall in love with this book. And now I want even more to read The Address! If you’re looking for a great historical novel with strong, yet fallible, characters, I can’t recommend The Masterpiece enough.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a review, and the words above are my own.
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Readers will appreciate the historical architecture of each time period and love experiencing the energy and glamour of the city.  Davis's latest historical novel brings out the best of New York City.
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I have not read a lot of historical fiction lately so this was a very nice breath of fresh air, it was also my first Fiona Davis book. I will definitely be reading more of her work after reading The Masterpiece. It was a such a entertaining look back and two ladies lives in different generations that loved the same building for different reasons. 

We are introduced to both Clara and Virginia each having a reason to be in Grand Central Terminal for different reasons. Clara who attended and taught at the Art School buried in the building and Virginia having fell on hard times for her job as at the Information Booth. When reading you know that their lives will intersect but are unsure how. This I thought provided for a bit of suspense when reading and wanting to keep turning pages until I could figure it all out!

This is a great book for people who are wanting to test out historical fiction. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to picking up another of Fiona Davis' books in the future.
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Another approachable and polished period piece from Fiona Davis. Juxtaposing the stories of two strong women, one from the 1920s, and one from the 1970s,  Davis has crafted a meaningful mystery. This is the book her fans have been waiting for.
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I thought I would like this better than I did because I love books set in NYC, especially NYC of the past. The Masterpiece is about 2 ladies, Clara and Virginia, and is set in the 10920s and 1970s. Alternating timelines and perspectives are always tricky for me, especially with regard to historical fiction. I did love that their stories intersected around NY's Grand Central Terminal. I found the historic details fascinating, the author clearly did her research. The setting felt very authentic. What didn't work for me all that well was the alternating perspectives. While I liked Virginia better, I found her story fairly boring. I found Clara's story to be more interesting but I didn't connect with her like I did Virginia. This made it hard to enjoy the story as a whole. There were many times I struggles to stay engaged and almost put it down, the plot just felt too slow in too many places. The twist at the end was good but not enough to make me say I really loved this story
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