In the early years of the 20th century, influential art critic William Nasmyth travels to a remote island off the coast of Brittany to sit for a portrait painted by his old friend, the gifted but tormented artist Henry MacAlpine. Over the course of the sitting, MacAlpine recalls their years of friendship, the double-edged gift of the critic's patronage, the power he wielded over aspiring artists, and his apparent callousness in anointing the careers of some and devastating the lives of others. The power balance between the two shifts dramatically from what it had been, with the critic now the passive subject while the painter struggles to capture the character of the man, as well as his image on canvas. And as the painting develops, so a story begins to emerge: one of betrayal, hypocrisy, forbidden love, suicide and ultimately murder. Reminiscing with ease and familiarity one minute, anger and menace the next, MacAlpine eventually reveals why he has accepted the commission of this portrait, why he left London mysteriously at the height of his success, and why, now, with dark determination, he feels ready to return.
Set against the dramatic, untamed landscape of Brittany, during one of the most explosive periods in art history, The Portrait is a darkly atmospheric, psychologically complex, macabre, and chilling tale from a master storyteller.
"Beautifully written and disturbing, The Portrait is as good as anything the author has done." (The Times)
"It's obvious the artist plans to murder his sitter ¿ the suspense, artfully sustained, lies in finding out why." (Sunday Telegraph)
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