Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Girl in Hyacinth Blue
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Annotation: A professor reveals to a colleague a painting he has kept secret for years, which he believes is a Vermeer, and which has a history from its time of inception through World War II.
Catalog Number: #4653994
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition Date: 2000
Pages: 242, 15 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-14-029628-X
ISBN 13: 978-0-14-029628-0
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 99027405
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Subject Heading:
Painting. Fiction.
Language: English
Reviews:
ALA Booklist
Time travel, lost art, and family secrets surface in these titles. The fifth title in a series, The Fiery Cross maintains the continuity of the previous novels featuring Jamie Fraser and his time-traveling wife, Claire Randall Fraser. Here, Claire informs her husband that war is imminent. Reader James capably changes tone and accent to differentiate between characters. The reasons why a professor has hidden an art treasure for many years becomes apparent through a series of stories centering on a lost Vermeer painting in Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Various readers are sensitive to both the language of the stories and the characters, whose lives are changed and enriched by the painting. Rules of Attraction, the third title in a Regency series, combines mystery and romance with a soupcon of history. Flosnik's reading captures the edgy independence of Hannah Setterington and the arrogant needs of Dougald Pippard, the husband Hannah left nine years ago. Brought back to her husband by trickery, Hannah tries to make the best of her situation. As the two begin to understand one another, Flosnik's narration uncovers their changed feelings. Sophie and the Rising Sun brings together a lonely spinster and a Japanese American gardener who fall in love before Pearl Harbor changes the course of their lives. McClanahan's honey-laced reading exposes small-town secrets and reveals the characters' personalities.
Kirkus Reviews
Vreeland's wonderful second outing (What Love Sees, 1996, not seen) is a novel made of stories, each delving farther into the provenance of a Vermeer painting, and each capturing a moment of life, much as the great painter did himself. The only wobble in this elegant little book is at the start, where a stiffness in character may be intended but jars even so: a high-school math teacher confides to a colleague that he owns (and adores) a painting—of a girl sewing at a window—that he knows is a Vermeer. All the evidence—of technique, color, subject—is there, yet the painting lacks documentation to validate its authenticity: nor will the math teacher, one Cornelius Engelbrecht, tell just how it became his. The reader is more privileged, though, and learns quickly enough that Engelbrecht's Nazi father stole it in 1940 from a doomed Jewish family in Amsterdam. Such reader-privilege becomes an overwhelming emotional test when Vreeland goes back to visit that family, in that year, just before the theft (—A Night Different From All Other Nights—). Farther back still, a happily married Dutch couple owns the painting—and when the husband admits that the girl in it reminds him of an earlier lover, the marriage is briefly shaken (—Adagia—). Set when Beethoven's Eroica symphony is "new," "Hyacinth Blues" offers a biting bit of social satire—and lets the reader discover just how the painting's papers did in fact get lost. Still deeper back goes Vreeland, taking up with masterful insight, feeling, and control the life of a small Dutch farm family caught in the great flood of 1717; of a young engineer who loves, loses (pathetically), and hands on the painting; of Vermeer himself as he paints the picture, struggling against debt, father of 11; and, in a wondrous, bittersweet epiphany, of the daughter herself whom Vermeer chose as his model. Extraordinarily skilled historical fiction: deft, perceptive, full of learning, deeply moving.
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Reading Vreeland's new book is like opening up a Chinese box: each chapter reveals a new layer of meaning and import. The novel follows the trail of an unknown painting by the Dutch master Vermeer--The Girl in Hyacinth Blue rom the time of its creation in seventeenth-century Holland to the present day. In each of the eight independent but chronologically linked chapters, the painting shows up as a prop in the lives of different owners, and in telling the circumstances under which these people acquire or lose the painting, Vreeland gives the readers a sense of the evolution of Dutch social history. The first chapter opens with the discovery of the painting in the basement of a mathematician. It turns out that he inherited it from his father, who was a Nazi looter in Holland during World War II. The second chapter features the circumstances of the Jewish family from whom the painting was stolen. The remaining chapters take the readers further back into Dutch history until the final, or rather the original, moment when Vermeer decided to paint the portrait of his daughter, a young girl dressed in hyacinth blue. True to the spirit of Vermeer, Vreeland uses art as a vehicle for capturing special moments in the lives of ordinary people; true, too, to Vermeer's legacy, she creates art that brings a unique pleasure into the lives of ordinary readers. (Reviewed September 1, 1999)
Word Count: 44,310
Reading Level: 6.2
Interest Level: 9+
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.2 / points: 7.0 / quiz: 67937 / grade: Upper Grades
Lexile: 950L

Cornelius Engelbrecht invented himself. Let me emphasize, straight away, that he isn't what I would call a friend, but I know him enough to say that he did purposely design himself: single, modest dresser in receding colours, mathematics teacher, sponsor of the chess club, mild-mannered acquaintance to all rather than a friend to any, a person anxious to become invisible. However, that exterior blandness masked a burning centre, and for some reason that became clear to me only later, Cornelius Engelbrecht revealed to me the secret obsession that lay beneath his orderly, controlled design.

It was after Dean Merrill's funeral that I began to see Cornelius's unmasked heart. We'd all felt the shock of Merrill's sudden death, a loss that thrust us into a temporary intimacy uncommon in the faculty lunchroom of our small private boys' academy, but it wasn't shock or Cornelius's head start in drinking that snowy afternoon in Penn's Den where we'd gone after the funeral that made him forsake his strategy of obscurity. Someone at the table remarked about Merrill's cryptic last words, "love enough," words that now sting me as much as any indictment of my complicity or encouragement, but they didn't then. We began talking of last words of famous people and of our dead relatives, and Cornelius dipped his head and fastened his gaze on his dark beer. I only noticed because chance had placed us next to each other at the table.

He spoke to his beer rather than to any of us. " 'An eye like a blue pearl,' was what my father said. And then he died. During a winter's first snowfall, just like this."

Cornelius had a face I'd always associated with Piero della Francesca's portrait of the Duke of Urbino. It was the shape of his nose, narrow but extremely high-bridged, providing a bench for glasses he did not wear. He seemed a man distracted by a mystery or preoccupied by an intellectual or moral dilemma so consuming that it made him feel superior, above those of us whose concerns were tires for the car or a child's flu. Whenever our talk moved toward the mundane, he became distant, as though he were mulling over something far more weighty, which made his cool smiles patronizing.

"Eye like a blue pearl? What's that mean?" I asked.

He studied my face as if measuring me against some private criteria. "I can't explain it, Richard, but I might show you."

In fact, he insisted that I come to his home that evening, which was entirely out of character. I'd never seen him insist on anything. It would call attention to himself. I think Merrill's "love enough" had somehow stirred him, or else he thought it might stir me. As I say, why he picked me I couldn't tell, unless it was simply that I was the only artist or art teacher he knew.

He took me down a hallway into a spacious study piled with books, the door curiously locked even though he lived alone. Closed off, the room was chilly so he lite a fire. "I don't usually have guests," he explained, and directed me to sit in the one easy chair, plum-coloured leather, high-backed and expensive, next to the fireplace and opposite a painting. A most extraordinary painting in which a young girl wearing a short blue smock over a rust-coloured skirt sat in profile at a table by an open window.

"My God," I said. It must have been what he'd wanted to hear, for it unleashed a string of directives, delivered at high pitch.

"Look. Look at her eye. Like a pearl. Pearls were favourite items of Vermeer. The longing in her expression. And look at that Delft light spilling onto her forehead from the window." He took out his handkerchief and, careful not to touch the painting, wiped the frame, though I saw no dust at all. "See here," he said, "the grace of her hand, idle, palm up. How he consecrated a single moment in that hand. But more than that—"

"Remarkable," I said. "Certainly done in the style of Vermeer. A beguiling imitation."

Cornelius placed his hands on the arm of the chair and leaned toward me until I felt his breath on my forehead. "It is a Vermeer," he whispered.



Excerpted from Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

The New York Times bestselling luminous tale about art and human experience that is as breathtaking as any Vermeer painting

“A little gem of a novel . . . [and a] beautifully written exploration of the power of art.” —Parade

A professor invites a colleague from the art department to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeer—why has he hidden this important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of stories that trace 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 human lives. Vreeland’s characters remind us, through their love of the 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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