Her dreams are filled with the vivid images of her visits
to her rich grandfather's isolated home on Owl's Point on
the Connecticut coast. Now, an art history graduate
student, Theresa remembers with fondness the happy summer
days visiting there and connecting with her older
cousins. She had not been back in years, but now her
grandfather had summoned her and her cousins to see him.
Alfred Arthur Morse had three children and four adult
grandchildren (James, Audrey, Theresa, and Kenny) whose
lives were overpowered by his control. He had wounding
messages for them, but not all got said as he died before
he could talk to them. What would he have said to her
and Audrey had he lived? Having discovered him dead
when they arrived, they would never know. The cousins
are uneasy with each other now as circumstances had
driven them apart. Their grandfather had a famous
painting, a reputed Black Painting. It was said to be a
tortured self-portrait of Franciso José de Goya that
would cause death or madness to any who viewed it. It
had been stolen and each had their suspicious over what
had happened. Who really knew the truth? What are
Thresa's nightmares telling her?
THE BLACK PAINTING is the second book by Neil Olsen that
is centered around a famous painting. In this case, THE
BLACK PAINTING is about a rare painting reputed to be
part of a set of Black Paintings by Goya that highlight
the artist's fears of insanity, war, and a bleak
perspective on humanity. They were painted between 1819
and 1827 and one of the highlights of the novel was
learning about the paintings and the impact they had in
the various dialogues between the characters.
THE BLACK PAINTING is a complex, almost Gothic story,
with is desolate atmosphere around the old mansion and
rich eccentric characters who pay little heed to the
feelings and concerns of others and dark family secrets.
The story is told from the perspective of the different
characters as they tell of their lives after the painting
was stolen and their idyllic family summers shattered by
the loss and their suspicions of each other.
While some readers may be a bit put off by the constant
references to Theresa's mysterious illness and
nightmares, it is effective at highlighting the
traumatic stress of seeing horrific incidents as well as
for moving the story forward. In addition to the
interesting information about Goya's intriguing
paintings, there are enough surprising twists and
revelations to make THE BLACK PAINTING an intriguing and
There were four cousins in the Morse family: perfect
Kenny, the preppy West Coast lawyer; James, the shy but
brilliant medical student; his seductive, hard-drinking
sister Audrey; and Teresa, youngest and most fragile,
haunted by the fear that she has inherited the madness
that possessed her father.
Their grandfather summons them to his mansion at Owl’s
Point. None of them has visited the family estate since
they were children, when a prized painting disappeared: a
self-portrait by Goya, rumored to cause madness or death
upon viewing. Afterward, the family split apart amid the
accusations and suspicions that followed its theft.
Any hope that their grandfather planned to make amends
evaporates when Teresa arrives to find the old man dead,
his horrified gaze pinned upon the spot where the
painting once hung. As the family gathers and suspicions
mount, Teresa hopes to find the reasons behind her
grandfather’s death and the painting’s loss. But to do so
she must uncover ugly family secrets and confront those
who would keep them hidden.
A masterful, deftly plotted novel, The Black Painting
explores the profound power that art, and the past, hold
over our lives.