Girl in hyacinth blue Essay
Girl in hyacinth blue
In Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland uses an inanimate object to draw attention to the strengths, tribulations, and passions of various people over large the course of three hundred years and how distinctly different people in markedly dissimilar situations are all able to draw comfort and meaning specific to them from the same object. Using a paining by Johannes Vermeer as the object, Vreeland smoothly follows a descending timeline of its travels and ownership, from a time after the Second World War until ending the book near the time of the paintings’ completion in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Using each chapter to represent a new period of time in the life of this painting, Vreeland focuses much of the text not on the painting itself, but on the individual personalities of the people who have come in contact with the painting and on their most intimate thoughts and feelings surrounding major turning points in their lives while in possession or proximity to the painting. Though the formally unnamed painting figures heavily into these important events, the theme of the book doesn’t actually focus a majority of the time of the painting, but on the drama this painting has been witness to.
In the first chapter, “Love Enough”, Vreeland introduces Cornelius Engelbrecht, a divorcee in the latter nineteenth century America who has a reputation for being rather condescending and aloof until the unexpected death of a colleague changes something within Cornelius. Then, he desperately reaches out to a fellow teacher. Through the voice of this new friend, Vreeland releases the first dramatic tale and as it progresses, explains why Cornelius is alone in his life and why the painting has dominated his life. The officially unnamed painting belonged to a Jewish family until Cornelius’s father, Lt. Otto Engelbrecht, stole it.
With images and memories of children forced to wear yellow stars, the fear of the Fuhrer, and the filling of the train with Jews, as well as the war trials held after the events, Cornelius and his father were bonded by the elder’s sin. Cornelius, loved dearly by his father for much of his childhood, soon found that the painting became an all-consuming obsession for the older man as it represented not only the beauty of its image, but the atrocities of the war and of the acts his father committed as part of it. Until the day he died, the elder Engelbrecht would think of little else beyond retaining the secret he held.
After he died, this destructive obsession passed to his son. “A Night different From All Other Nights” places the action as occurring in Germany during World War Two. The painting at this time belongs to the Vredenburg family and represents freedom and hope and another father – child relationship. Hannah Vrenendurg is with her father when they see the painting for the first time at an auction where it has been generously donated to aid other Jewish families – refugees at the height of World War Two. Young Hannah instantly becomes mesmerized by the painting and identifies with the girl portrayed.
When her father is the winning bidder, Hannah is astonished and feels he has honored “her in a way that made her feel worth”(p. 46). As the family struggles to survive the holocaust the painting offers continuing joy knowing its purchase helped others and because of the beauty in life it emits to beholders. And, even though they are in danger themselves this family takes in, feeds, and hides other Jews less fortunate until the chapter ends. It is there that Vreeland offers clues that insinuate Otto Engelbrecht obtained the painting from their home and leaves open but obvious the fate of Hannah and her family.
“Adagia” occurs during the turn of the eighteenth century in Vreeland in the Netherlands and belongs to Digna and Laurens van Luyken. Laurens purchased it years earlier as an anniversary gift for his wife Digna. When it comes time decide what they should give their daughter Johanna as a wedding gift the wife suggests the painting. Laurens refuses and it comes out that he actually bought to painting reminded him of an earlier time in his life, a time of youth, innocence, and the first girl he ever loved. Laurens relives poignant memories of this time in “Adagia.
” The painting, enjoyed for years by the entire family and bought for the memories of an early love, has actually proved to be a way for a man of few words to remember to appreciate the details and beauty in his current life. He has looked at it and gave him the strength to remember how important little things are, a tender kiss on his wife’s temple where that made her feel special, the rosy glow of his daughter’s cheek after an afternoon walk, the way a hand gesture relays emotions if one pays attention.
Moments that seem insignificant to most, he learned to etch into memory and to use this knowledge in his loving actions towards his wife and child. The drama of “Hyacinth Blues” takes place in the city of Amsterdam where the painting resides in the home of an unhappy French couple transplanted to the Netherlands. The husband has given it the wife because she misses the glamour of Paris, she likes beautiful objects, and he has become entranced with all things Dutch. Though the painting gives little actual joy to the couple it plays a pivotal role in their lives.
She uses the viewing of it to lure a prospective lover into a private room during a party only to find her own man in the same room with his arms around another woman. When both couples’s actions are exposed the woman knows she must leave Amsterdam. Waiting until her man is out, she hocks the painting without its papers, which are locked in her man’s safe, and returns to the folds of her family in Paris. It is in great sadness that she leaves not her man or her future, but the painting. The girl in it represents the children she will never have though longs for and she had spent many times imagining the girl in it was her own child.
And knowing “it would go forth through the years without its certification, an illegitimate child,”(p. 105) brought her great pain. As her new journey begins she thinks of the painting and vows to find a new life in which she will be as content as the girl in the portrait. Some years earlier, in 1717, near the seaside village of Delfzijl, the painting shows up in an unmanned rowboat along with a newborn boy and a note- “Sell the painting. Feed the child. ”(p. 110) at the home of hard-working potato farmers Saskia, her husband Stijn, and their two children.
Running out of food and living with their livestock on the second floor of their small home due to a continuing flood, Vreeland paints a picture of love and harmony among this family. Desperate and poor the sale of the painting could have sustained the family through a rough time, but Saskia found it very difficult to part with such beauty and felt the painting should remain with the baby which they have taken in as their own. Ultimately, the painting must be sold in order to buy food, and Saskia does this grudgingly but willingly.
And with a small portion of the money she purchases fabric in the same color blue as the dress of the girl in the painting so they will all have a reminder of the great beauty they all shared for a while when the baby joined their family. Shortly before, also in the year 1717, the chapter titled “From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers” shows the painting hanging in the home of a wealthy matron woman, Rika. Aletta, an orphan in the begrudging care of Rika often sits and cries as she stares at the painting because it reminds her of her deceased mother and because the girl in the portrait appears calm and content as she never feels.
Upon her death her lover, who takes the painting along with their newborn son and leaves town in a rowboat to find a future for the boy. In the mid seventeenth century “Still Life” focuses on the life of the artist who created the painting highlighted throughout the book. Johannes Vermeer is a poor father of eleven with incredible talent who must do more to support his family than create beauty because he feels so deeply about his creations he feels he is not being true to his ability if he paints anything he does not feel passionate about.
One of daughters, overwhelmed by her family duties and desperate for a life of creativity and exploration for herself loves her father and wishes for some form of recognition and love from him. She proudly finds a connection to her father when he suddenly sees something in her he feels must be painting immediately – a “stillness today, he thought, might be all he would ever know of the Kingdom of Heaven. ” The last few pages of the story, “Magdalena Looking,” is told from the point of the view of the object of the painting.
She reveals her dreams of a different life and the secret thoughts she feels she cannot share with anyone. It is revealed how the painting is sold to support the family upon her father’s death, and the beginning of its travels around the world. Magdalena reveals how she tried to buy the painting back decades later when seen at an auction and how she could not afford to purchase it. The pages conclude with her introspective thoughts on how portraits capture the “loneliness, or suffering or grief”(p.227) of their subjects, borrowed by the artist and are then seen for years by others who would never know them despite the closeness to their likenesses.
Each chapter meshes smoothly because of the recurring theme of importance this painting has in the lives of the characters. The portrait gives strength and resource, which dramatically offer salvation to most, destruction to others, but ultimately shape the lives of many.
There is a commonality of parent/child relationships through most of the book, the commonality of great plights that surround people near the painting and the sometimes subtle and sometimes in-depth exposition of the painting and its creator interspersed through each chapter. In the end of Girl in Hyacinth Blue it is, not the details of an exquisite painting, but the recurring theme of people clinging to an inanimate object of beauty and seeing in it something specific to their own lives and using it in ways that would forever change their lives which adds beauty to the novel.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 April 2017
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