A Picture Paints a Thousand Words


To say that Susan Vreeland is just inspired by art wouldn’t be right. It’s true, but she also inspires the reader through language, vividly creating the art and bringing new meaning to the old cliché that a picture paints a thousand words.

I usually wait to review a book completely once I’ve finished it, but I couldn’t wait to share my find with you. I’m in the midst of a very pleasurable read — Girl in Hyacinth Blue. This is the story of a painting. Not so much the painting itself — at least, not at this point in my reading — but the story of the people who own and grow to love the painting. Vreeland traces the painting’s ownership back to its origin. So far, it has changed hands in the most remarkable ways, all interesting snippets of history and poetically drawn. It’s a reader’s delight. Vreeland writes almost as though she herself is painting a picture — the imagery is striking. I can so clearly see each scene she describes.

I read the book wishing I had a book club or something like that to share it with — this is a book I want to discuss. I think if I were to teach World Literature, I would find a way to get it into the curriculum somehow. That seems to me to be where it fits best.

Vreeland is coming to Atlanta on January 13. I am going to be there, and I am going to tell her timidly that I’m an English teacher, just like she was, and that I would like to be a writer — would I could write like her! And I will ask her to sign my copy of Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Then I need only find it a place of honor on the bookshelf, where I can display it like the characters display the Vermeer masterpiece in each vignette in this wonderful book.

It’s a pity I picked this book up the weekend after I gave so many tests that must be graded!

Update, 8:16 P.M.: I have finished the book. I declare it a work of art, lovingly rendered, painstakingly researched, and a delight to read. If you appreciate art, I think you will really enjoy this book. Amazon recommends this book often with Tracy Chevalier. I can see why. Both writers seem enamored of the backstories behind art. Chevalier tackled this theme in one book I’ve read: The Lady and the Unicorn (reviewed here); and one book I haven’t read: Girl with a Pearl Earring (the subject of which is also Vermeer). I am looking forward to Life Studies: Stories, which will be released in January 2005, and also examines the stories behind art. I think this is a fascinating new genre of literature. It is sort of becoming a genre, isn’t it?

Well, go read this book, and tell me what you think.


3 thoughts on “A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

  1. Dana — My admiration of Vermeer led me to both of these worthwhile books. Thanks for you thoughtful review. Gary

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