Susan Vreeland – “Girl in Hyacinth Blue” (Reading Challenge 2016 – A book written by a woman

Girl in Hyacinth BlueJohaness Vermeer, a wonderful Dutch painter from the XVII century, didn’t leave many paintings after his death. Instead, he left a lot of children, and a lot of debt. Still, his works are exquisite and are a source of inspiration and admiration to many. My beloved Girl with a Pearl Earring told a fake story about a real painting. This book, on the other hand, tells a few fake stories, about one fake painting.

               Somehow it always fascinated me. The idea that there is more to artist, especially those that are dead, than is commonly known. From what I know – and about paintings, I must admit, I do not know a lot – there may be some works by Vermeer that are not discovered. It’s doubtful, but it’s such a nice notion, isn’t it? There’s a movie based on this novel – titled “Brush with Fate” – and it features a painting specially made for the movie in the style of Vermeer. I’m no expert and I don’t plan to be, but I did love it, I think the painter did a great job. If I’m wrong, I don’t want to know.

And here’s the painting:

brush with fate

               If I could draw/paint, I think I would also want to create a painting in the style of Vermeer.

               But, back to the novel. It tells a few stories, each featuring the title Girl with Hyacinth Blue, as it moved from owner to owner. It’s told in reverse chronological order, starts with a teacher, hiding the painting, and the way he got it, and ends with Vermeer himself as he paints his daughter Magdalena. Each story is interesting in itself, and in each story the painting plays an important role in the owners’ lives. I like some more than the other, but all of them were captivating enough. All owners were as different from each other as possible, yet they had this one thing in common – love for the painting, and admiration, sort of connection, to the unknown girl in it.

               I think I liked Magdalena the most. She’s the inspiring painter, who at the end buries her hopes and starts a family away from her family and her father’s inheritance. Her questions are what most, if not all, artists of all kinds – painters, musicians, writers – ask themselves. Does the world need another painting? Does the world need my voice? Wasn’t it all painted, written, before? Can I do something worthwhile?

         I would always say yes to the first question. People need beauty and people need entertainment, and they need to feel moved by art. Life without art wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be worth living. As for “Have it all been painted/written?” I guess yes, but so what? You can always give it your own, new, fresh voice, your own circumstances, and make it into something more, something great.

But I digress a little. Back to the book. It’s a short novel, but it’s thought-provoking, and gentle. It’s a splendid prose, describes the times and places vividly, so we can feel like it was to live there. Though I think it would mostly appeal to Vermeer, or at least art lovers, others might find a lot for them in it, too.

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