Girl in Hyacinth Blue
by Susan Vreeland
A series of short vignettes, spanning across centuries with a framed oil painting the only constant, is the theme of Susan Vreelands’ Girl in Hyancinth Blue. The painting is by the hand of Jan Vermeer, the poet painter from Delft, the players in these stories all participants in the random flow of life, all bound to each other by their love for the painting. It is an image of a quiet 17th century Dutch interior, for which Vermeer is so well known- the cool northern light of Holland filtering in through a window illuminating a girl standing next to a table. In a chronology of stories that work backward in time, the painting is seen through the eyes of a guilt ridden modern mathematician, a little girl of an Amsterdam Jewish family during the Nazi oppression, a frivolous Dutch aristocrat, a Dutch farmers wife, a young Dutch man living during the Enlightenment, his doomed serving girl mistress, and finally Vermeer, the painter himself and his daughter. The painting remains the thread that spans across the years, symbolizing the unrealized search for truth and self- realization that all the characters yearn for. Vreelands’ talent for expressing the poetry and quiet dignity of the human spirit is never more profoundly demonstrated than in the last of these vignettes where Vermeer himself describes the process of how an artist is moved to distill the essence of the world around him in his work. In a final twist, the girl standing at the window in the painting, his own daughter Magdalena, muses on the notion that she herself can live a life vicariously through the painting. A life, of which, she herself can only imagine. Through a succession of lives, the stories unfold to reveal a commonality- how a great work of Art can inspire the viewer, and capture one’s hopes and desires, creating for the viewer, the painter, and the painting itself, a kind of immortality.
The notion that a painting can be a way for the viewer to escape the confines of the circumstances they live in, and achieve a kind of immortality has existed for perhaps as long as man has been creating pictoral representations of the world around him. Even the paintings that adorn the cave walls of Altimira and Lascaux give credence to the idea that those creatures and events that flowed from the hand of some prehistoric artists’ hand could in fact magically come to life and be manifest into reality. To intelligently formulate ones desire for the things that will give you a larger life and to arrange those desires into a coherent whole, and then to impress these desires upon the formless substance, manifests the power and the will to bring to one what one wants.
. Ultimately, each of us comes to the realization that we must in some way participate in the life around us in a meaningful way and when faced with the inevitable conclusion that we are only given so much time in which to do this, look for some continuity that will give meaning to the time we have left. There exists in any work of Art a combination of colors and shapes- an image, that provokes in the viewer a feeling of something greater than the object itself. How successful the work is at captivating the viewer is the extent of that Arts’ beauty. It reflects the sense of a grand continuity, of possibility and hope. This we detect in the works of those artists who have reverently searched for the truth and imbued their work with these timeless symbols. From the books last episode, the meeting of Pieter Claez van Ruiven and Jan Vermeer, Vermeer declares; “For a painting to say something he held to be true, it took rumination, sometimes months of apparent inactivity. He could not will himself to discover truths. But he could give himself over to a painting or subject with devotion and ardor, committing body and soul to the endeavor. A man has time for only a certain number of paintings in his lifetime- He’d better chose them prudently.”