The Portrait: Willem Jan Otten

The Portrait is the latest novel by the esteemed Dutch writer Willem Jan Otten. First published in Holland in 2005, it is one of only a handful of the author’s works translated into English.

An artist is given a commission to make a portrait of a dead boy. The boy’s father is a rich industrialist named Specht. Immediately, the artist finds himself compromised, as he has only ever painted living subjects – he is also not permitted to show his finished work to anyone. The artist accepts these conditions because he has financial obligations, but he soon finds himself out of his depth when his reputation and his integrity are compromised, as things turn out to be not as they seem.

The story is told from the point of view of the expensive canvas the portrait is to be painted on. The author uses his talents as a gifted poet to give the narrative a seamless flow and David Colmer’s translation confirms this. Brilliant.