Girl in Hyacinth Blue is based on a painting that may or may not be by Vermeer, a 17th century Dutch painter of interior scenes depicting the lifestyle of the middle class. He was moderately successful in his lifetime but is now greatly admired. Most of his paintings were sold locally in Delft and, while he only painted about 46 canvases, not all of them can be accounted for today. A now-famous forger, Han van Meegeren, fooled experts for some time with his expert copies of the style and colour of Vermeer and only confessed when he was charged with treason for selling one of his forgeries to a Nazi collector. This is the basis of Girl in Hyacinth Blue.
The story begins in the present and is told by a colleague of Cornelius Engelbrecht, an art professor with whom Cornelius decides to share his most guarded secret: an unsigned painting he believes to be a Vermeer. Cornelius is anxious to have it authenticated, to vindicate his life of solitude within which he has protected this secret: his father was a Nazi officer who stole the painting from a Jewish family during the war. Cornelius is alone; what will become of it when he’s gone? From here the story traces the painting, family by family, story by story back to its origins.
All 8 tales are different, working the way back in time through several countries, times of war, times of plenty, times of flooding, all the way back to Delft and the origins of the painting. Each owner had a compelling reason for relinquishing the painting; each story revealing human emotions: greed, sacrifice, revenge, love, and lust. The stories are deftly told and touching.
I first became interested in Vermeer when I read a junior level book called Chasing Vermeer to my grade 6 class. It really hooked me on both the author, Blue Balliett, and the artist Vermeer, so I was intrigued by the premise of this book — a painting so in the style of Vermeer that it could well be authentic, or it could be an extremely good forgery — a realistic idea. The whole string of stories is totally delightful and may well spark your interest in learning more about both Vermeer and Vreeland. * * * * *