The Optickal Illusion by Rachel Halliburton

1. First lines. 2. Published 2018 Duckworth. 3. Background: Detail from the photograph of the painting Mater Dolorosa by Titian. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 4. Large circle: Photograph of the painting A Private View at the Royal Academy by William Powell Frith. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 5. Smaller circle: Photograph of the painting Diana and Callisto by Titian. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia
A well-executed portrayal of the eighteenth century London art scene with all its jealousies, corruption, and indulgences.

This fact-based story tells of the eighteenth century art scandal that rocked the Royal Academy in London. Benjamin West, the President of the Academy, is approached by young artist, Ann Jemima Provis, and her father Thomas. They want him to buy an inherited manuscript that they allege contains secrets of the famous Venetian artist Titian.

“This world feels more and more like a game of chess which one must forever play blindfolded.”

“The two men walked into St Paul’s Churchyard and up the steps of the cathedral to the pillars outside the Great West Door. There were only a few carriages abroad at this time of night, rattling around like lost souls in the dark. From time to time the candles carried by link-boys dotted themselves against buildings shrouded in blackness – the silhouettes of the weary trudged behind.”

“The burgundy tipped from the bottle, turning the wine glass into a glinting red jewel.”

“He gazed around his dining room. The walls were painted in a pale bluey green that took on an almost luminous quality when the lamps were lit. … In his more fanciful moments, generally after a few glasses of wine, he felt as if the entire company gathered round the table was submerged in an aquamarine river, and that any moment a fish might shimmer by.”

“Cosway, a society portraitist, resembles a diseased fox with his fading red hair and jagged teeth. Rheumy eyes glisten malignantly, while the mouth is rigid with spite and regret.”

~Quotes from “The Optickal Illusion” by Rachel Halliburton.
  • Historical Novel Society: “The plot is slow-moving, very much of its time and place, and the research is impeccable. The reader becomes totally immersed in the society and culture of the time: clothes, speech, idioms, descriptions of place all serve to help the reader imagine the scenes.”
  • Publishers Weekly: “The novel teems with historical characters, and occasionally the narrative meanders as a result. There is a tendency to have characters rather stiffly convey political and cultural information, as if they were docents rather than living, breathing figures. Nonetheless, the novel’s expansive, colorful canvas contains many delights, particularly for those interested in art history and theory.”

Left: Other editions

Author website: Rachel Halliburton


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