Fiction Susan Vreeland Girl in Hyacinth Blue

ISBN 13: 9780140296280

Girl in Hyacinth Blue

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9780140296280: Girl in Hyacinth Blue

This luminous story begins in the present day, when a professor invites a colleague to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeer—but why has he hidden this important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of events that trace the ownership of the painting back to World War II and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work's inspiration. As the painting moves through each owner's hands, what was long hidden quietly surfaces, illuminating poignant moments in multiple lives. Susan Vreeland's characters remind us, through their love of this mysterious painting, how beauty transforms and why we reach for it, what lasts and what in our lives is singular and unforgettable.

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Review:

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

From the Author:

That a thing made by hand, the work and thought of a single individual, can endure much longer than its maker, through centuries in fact, has always filled me with wonder. Sometimes in museums, looking at a humble piece of pottery from ancient Persia or Pompeii, or a finely wrought medieval manuscript toiled over by a nameless monk, or a primitive tool with a humorously carved handle, I am moved to tears. The unknown life of its maker is so brief, but the work of his or her hands and heart remains.

The territory for this book is The Netherlands, as well as the spiritual territory of my love for painting and for lives lived in other eras. I bear a Dutch name, and there's a small town in North Holland named Vreeland. More than that I did not have, but I could read, and thus could imagine my way into a heritage and feel some sense of personal origins in the world. Combining these elements, much like a painter designs a composition, resulted in Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. This luminous story begins in the present day, when a professor invites a colleague to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeer--but why has he hidden this important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of events that trace the ownership of the painting back to World War II and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work s inspiration. As the painting moves through each owner s hands, what was long hidden quietly surfaces, illuminating poignant moments in multiple lives. Susan Vreeland s characters remind us, through their love of this mysterious painting, how beauty transforms and why we reach for it, what lasts and what in our lives is singular and unforgettable. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780140296280

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