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On the morning of 12th October 1654, in the Dutch city of Delft, a sudden explosion was followed by a thunderclap that could be heard more than seventy miles away. Carel Fabritius – now known across the world for his exquisite painting, The Goldfinch – had been at work in his studio. He, along with many others, would not survive the day. In ‘Thunderclap’, Laura Cumming reveals her passion for the art of the Dutch Golden Age and her determination to lift up the reputation of Fabritius. She reveals the Netherlands, where – wandering the narrow streets of Amsterdam, driving across the flatlands, or pausing at a quiet waterfront – she encounters the rich reality behind the shining beauty of Vermeer and Rembrandt, Hals and de Hooch. This is a book about what a picture may come to mean: how it can enter your life and change your thinking in a thunderclap, a sudden clarity of sight.

In stock


From the Sunday Times-bestselling author of On Chapel Sands, a stunning new memoir of a life in art, a father and daughter, and what a shared love of a painting can come to mean.

‘No one writes art like Laura Cumming‘ Philip Hoare, author of Albert and the Whale
‘I shall never look at any painting in the same way again’ Polly Morland, author of A Fortunate Woman


‘We see with everything that we are’

On the morning of 12 October 1654, a gunpowder explosion devastated the Dutch city of Delft. The thunderclap was heard over seventy miles away. Among the fatalities was the painter Carel Fabritius, dead at thirty-two, leaving only his haunting masterpiece The Goldfinch and barely a dozen known paintings. For the explosion that killed him also buried his reputation, along with answers to the mysteries of his life and career.

What happened to Fabritius before and after this disaster is just one of the discoveries in a book that explores the relationship between art and life, interweaving the lives of Laura Cumming, her Scottish painter father, who also died too young, and the great artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Thunderclap takes the reader from Rembrandt’s studio to wartime America and contemporary London; from Fabritius’s goldfinch on its perch to de Hooch’s blue and white tile and the smallest seed in a loaf by Vermeer.

This is a book about what a picture may come to mean: how it can enter your life and change your thinking in a thunderclap. For the explosion of the title speaks not only to the precariousness of our existence, but also to the power of painting: the sudden revelations of sight.


Praise for Laura Cumming:

‘Cumming skilfully withholds key twists in the tale, revealing them at just the right momentThe Times
Outstanding . . . A peerless detective story that keeps you guessing to the end’ Sunday Times
Superb and originalSunday Times
Sumptuous . . . A gleaming work of someone at the peak of her craft New York Times

Read a sample here

Additional information

Weight 0.657 kg
Dimensions 21.5 × 15.6 × 2.7 cm










759.949238 (edition:23)


General – Trade / Code: K