The painting is from a series painted by Gwen John, during the years of 1907-1909, of her attic room in the Rue du Cherche
The whole premise of the book is that one of this series of paintings, one with primroses on the table, is lost and explores its passage through time owned by one woman after another from the time Gwen John gave it as a present to her friend Ursula Tyrwhitt to the present day. The first part of the book covers Gwen's childhood in Haverfordwest and Tenby through to her studying, with her brother Augustus, at the Slade School in London, her departure for Paris, her love affair with the sculptor Auguste Rodin, and her subsequent and gradual withdrawal into an interior world. Each of the women who find themselves owning the painting are the kind of women who are different in some way from the expected norm of their age. Independent, unconventional, happy to be alone, striving against unsurmountable odds or unhappy with their lot in life. Each of them, like the artist herself, wanted to 'keep the world away'. The painting is lost in missing luggage on its way back from Paris, found by the person who recieves the valaise by mistake, it is then stolen, bought from a market stall, sold as a means of escape, given as a gift and then sold again. The painting travels from Paris to Hampstead to Cornwall, back to Hampstead, to the Scottish highlands and finally back to Paris where its fate is finally resolved. Although I found some of the women's characters less sympathetic than others and there was a strange moment when e-mails were referred to in a time I thought was supposed to be the 1970s - I may have been wrong on this - I was quite entranced by the book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.