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Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
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Girl in Hyacinth Blue (original 1999; edition 2000)

by Susan Vreeland

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,489722,453 (3.6)131
Member:SqueakyChu
Title:Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Authors:Susan Vreeland
Info:Penguin Books (2000), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:
Tags:artists, painting

Work details

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland (1999)

  1. 30
    Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (Nickelini)
    Nickelini: Both books are historical fiction surrounding a Vermeer painting, but The Girl with the Pearl Earring is a far superior book.
  2. 30
    People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Both well written, and both follow an art object from end to beginning, through the hands of those who once owned it.
  3. 10
    The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland (conceptDawg)
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» See also 131 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
Have you ever wondered what story a painting might tell if it could speak? This book tells such a story, but rather than writing one narrative the author gives us several brief glimpses of an imaginary Vermeer painting through the centuries in seemingly unconnected short stories.

I thought this was a fascinating read, beautifully and vividly written, about the effect a work of art has on people and the emotions it evokes. My only complaint would be that I wanted more than just a snapshot of the different storylines, but, having said that, the book felt rather more substantial and satisfying than a mere 180 pages would suggest. ( )
  SabinaE | Jan 23, 2016 |
Really? In comparison to "Girl With a Pearl Earring" this book was sorely lacking, we never really got to know any of the characters, the first 2/3 was tragic, the characters seemed to be quite secondary to the story Painting itself.... Even the story of the painting's provenance was boring.....
I read this while taking a break from my cleaning, but I just did not enjoy it, in fact I didn't even care about the characters. The least Vreeland might have done (or the publisher) was to put the painting in question on the cover of the book.... But oh no, I had to Google it....
I'm seriously thinking that I'll not read another of Vreeland's books, I do not like being disappointed in my reading selections, which is why I've cut back on my cookbook reviews.... I want to read about characters who engage my curiosity, who have redeeming qualities, who are not boring... and I want the books I read to be the same..... ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jan 18, 2016 |
The front cover of this book features a painting by Dutch master Jan Vermeer called ‘The Painter in his Studio’. In it we see the back of a painter, brush in hand, studying a young girl in blue, holding a book, who stands by a window. This real painting was the inspiration for the story.
Scene-by-scene the story takes you back in time, following through the centuries the owners of the painting which author Susan Vreeland imagines Vermeer was painting . First, we meet a maths master who has a secret. A painting, inherited from his father, which came to him in the Second World War. The painting is passed from owner to owner, sometimes as an inheritance or gift, sometimes as payment of a debt, sometimes stolen. Vreeland tells us the story of each owner, what the painting meant to them and how it affected their lives: for some it means quick money, or guilt, or beauty, or a hidden secret. Effectively this is a series of short stories, linked by the painting.
It is a charming tale, set mostly in the Holland of dykes, poverty and farms. The painting illuminates the lives of everyone who owns it, no matter how briefly. A charming story about how a painting is viewed differently by everyone who sees it, starting with the artist’s intentions as he conceives and executes it. Vermeer says: “A man has time for only a certain number of paintings in his lifetime… He’d better choose them prudently.”
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Oct 30, 2015 |
I spent much of my childhood in museums. My mother was one of those rather obsessive tourist who thinks she will meet some monstrous fate if she does not see every museum and place where Paul preached. And God bless her for it, well, at least for the museum part. After several of the Pauline sites I finally rebelled and refused to go to Phillipi, instead staying at the hotel and reading Nancy
Drew. What a little Philistine I was. But the museums! I have been in love with paintings from such a young age that this was a book meant for me.

Several people have noted that
the book makes us think about art and its realtionship
to our lives. Yes it does, and beautifully. But this is not something that I need a book to remind me of. It is that which make this book a comfortable fit. What took my breath away was the reminder to really see
the people in our lives, appreciate them fully, accept the gifts of who they are whether workaholic, silent girls, tiny foundlings. Cherish them, hold tight in your memory their essence, their look, their .... You get the idea.
One of my favorite characters, a father and husband
says it best when watching his daughter in the first throes of
love, noticing the lovely color of her windburned cheeks
"Notice. Pay attention. Notice this and never forget it."
This morning took the time to savor my little girl's hug and the smell of her hair, a sunny warm scent mixed with the scent of the blueberry muffins we had baked for breakfast.

Vreeland tells the painting's story with simple elegance. Certain parts I wanted never to end, especially the
story of Saskia and her family. Vreeland paints pictures with her words that are poignant and vivid. She is never heavy-handed, always the perfect delicate touch.
With seeming artlessness she achieves artistry. Beautiful.

Incidentally, many people have said this book reminded them
of The Red Violin* of which I know nothing. However, it
did remind me of Iain Pears "The Instance of the Fingerpost,"
a much longer and more unsettling book that I also love. The multiple view points is probably the reason

*I have since seen The Red Violin, and here is remarkable similarity in theme and plotting. A riveting, lovely movie. ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
I spent much of my childhood in museums. My mother was one of those rather obsessive tourist who thinks she will meet some monstrous fate if she does not see every museum and place where Paul preached. And God bless her for it, well, at least for the museum part. After several of the Pauline sites I finally rebelled and refused to go to Phillipi, instead staying at the hotel and reading Nancy
Drew. What a little Philistine I was. But the museums! I have been in love with paintings from such a young age that this was a book meant for me.

Several people have noted that
the book makes us think about art and its realtionship
to our lives. Yes it does, and beautifully. But this is not something that I need a book to remind me of. It is that which make this book a comfortable fit. What took my breath away was the reminder to really see
the people in our lives, appreciate them fully, accept the gifts of who they are whether workaholic, silent girls, tiny foundlings. Cherish them, hold tight in your memory their essence, their look, their .... You get the idea.
One of my favorite characters, a father and husband
says it best when watching his daughter in the first throes of
love, noticing the lovely color of her windburned cheeks
"Notice. Pay attention. Notice this and never forget it."
This morning took the time to savor my little girl's hug and the smell of her hair, a sunny warm scent mixed with the scent of the blueberry muffins we had baked for breakfast.

Vreeland tells the painting's story with simple elegance. Certain parts I wanted never to end, especially the
story of Saskia and her family. Vreeland paints pictures with her words that are poignant and vivid. She is never heavy-handed, always the perfect delicate touch.
With seeming artlessness she achieves artistry. Beautiful.

Incidentally, many people have said this book reminded them
of The Red Violin* of which I know nothing. However, it
did remind me of Iain Pears "The Instance of the Fingerpost,"
a much longer and more unsettling book that I also love. The multiple view points is probably the reason

*I have since seen The Red Violin, and here is remarkable similarity in theme and plotting. A riveting, lovely movie. ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Susan Vreelandprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Holleman, WimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Thou still unravished bride of quietness
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time...
Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity.
- John Keats, 1819
O ongeschonden bruid van stille vrede,
pleegkind van den tijd die langzaam gaat...
Jij doet ons denken hoog ter aard'uit stijgen
zoals de eeuwigheid.
Dedication
For Scott Godfrey, D.O., and Peter Falk, M.D.
First words
Cornelius Engelbrecht invented himself. (Love Enough)
Quotations
She thought of all the people in all the paintings she had seen that day, not just Father's, in all the paintings of the world, in fact. Their eyes, the particular turn of a head, their loneliness or suffering or grief was borrowed by an artist to be seen by other people throughout the years who would never see them face to face. People who would be that close to her, she thought, a matter of a few arms' lengths, looking, looking, and they would never know her.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Love Enough

A Night Different From All Other Nights

Adagia

Hyacinth Blues

Morningshine

From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers

Still Life

Magdalena Looking.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 014029628X, Paperback)

There are only 35 known Vermeers extant in the world today. In Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland posits the existence of a 36th. The story begins at a private boys' academy in Pennsylvania where, in the wake of a faculty member's unexpected death, math teacher Cornelius Engelbrecht makes a surprising revelation to one of his colleagues. He has, he claims, an authentic Vermeer painting, "a most extraordinary painting in which a young girl wearing a short blue smock over a rust-colored skirt sat in profile at a table by an open window." His colleague, an art teacher, is skeptical and though the technique and subject matter are persuasively Vermeer-like, Engelbrecht can offer no hard evidence--no appraisal, no papers--to support his claim. He says only that his father, "who always had a quick eye for fine art, picked it up, let us say, at an advantageous moment." Eventually it is revealed that Engelbrecht's father was a Nazi in charge of rounding up Dutch Jews for deportation and that the picture was looted from one doomed family's home:
That's when I saw that painting, behind his head. All blues and yellows and reddish brown, as translucent as lacquer. It had to be a Dutch master. Just then a private found a little kid covered with tablecloths behind some dishes in a sideboard cabinet. We'd almost missed him.
By the end of "Love Enough," this first of eight interrelated stories tracing the history of "Girl in Hyacinth Blue," the painting's fate at the hands of guilt-riddled Engelbrecht fils is in question. Unfortunately, there is no doubt about the probable destiny of the previous owners, the Vredenburg family of Rotterdam, who take center stage in the powerful "A Night Different From All Other Nights." Vreeland handles this tale with subtlety and restraint, setting it at Passover, the year before the looting, and choosing to focus on the adolescent Hannah Vredenburg's difficult passage into adulthood in the face of an uncertain future. In the next story, "Adagia," she moves even further into the past to sketch "how love builds itself unconsciously ... out of the momentous ordinary" in a tender portrait of a longtime marriage. Back and back Vreeland goes, back through other owners, other histories, to the very inception of the painting in the homely, everyday objects of the Vermeer household--a daughter's glass of milk, a son's shirt in need of buttons, a wife's beloved sewing basket--"the unacknowledged acts of women to hallow home." Girl in Hyacinth Blue ends with the painting's subject herself, Vermeer's daughter Magdalena, who first sends the portrait out into the world as payment for a family debt, then sees it again, years later at an auction.
She thought of all the people in all the paintings she had seen that day, not just Father's, in all the paintings of the world, in fact. Their eyes, the particular turn of a head, their loneliness or suffering or grief was borrowed by an artist to be seen by other people throughout the years who would never see them face to face. People who would be that close to her, she thought, a matter of a few arms' lengths, looking, looking, and they would never know her.
In this final passage, Susan Vreeland might be describing her own masterpiece as well as Vermeer's. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:19 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Eight linked stories tracing the history of a painting by the 17th century Dutch artist, Vermeer. In one, he paints his daughter to pay off debts, a second story describes the loss of the ownership papers, a third takes place on the eve of its theft by the Nazis. By the author of What Love Sees.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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