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Brush with Fate: The Original Painting by Jonathan Janson

An Account of How I Painted the "Girl in Hyacinth Blue"

Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Johanthan Janson
Click here for a high-resolution image of The Girl In Hyacinth Blue.

First of all, the "lost Vermeer" painting in Susan Vreeland's novel Girl In Hyacinth Blue is not a copy of an extant painting by Vermeer. It is an imagined work by Vermeer, created in the mind and heart the author. Thus, it is a painting with its own persona and not a copy. And herein lay both the challenge and stimulus for me as a professional painter and above all as a long time devotee of Vermeer's art. My "job," if making such a painting can be called a job, was to bring to life the Vermeer which is at the heart of the novel.

After I had provided Hallmark with a number of preparatory sketches based on the novel's description, it was decided, given the complexity of the painting and its primary role in the film, to reconstruct an accurate scale mock up of a room similar to the those seen in Vermeer's paintings to be used as the model for the painting. This model was built in Cinecittà, Rome, where by chance, I live and work. The whole set was afterward dismantled and transported to Holland and used to shoot the final scenes of the film. Furnishings of the times including Turkish carpet, an aged map of Europe, lions head chairs, tiles and various other props which were either found or made expressly. For the first shoot, a sit-in actress posed with period costume, make-up and hair style.

Brush with Fate, Glenn Close
Glenn Close as she inspects the "lost Vermeer"

The film's director, the art director, the director of photography and I met on the set to discuss final touches of the scene. Long hours were spent composing the various objects and finding their exact position which hopefully would convey some of the sublime order which is such a fundamental part of Vermeer's work and at the same time respect the novel's description of the painting. The following day, the set was appropriately illuminated, the final posed of the sitter was decided and multiple photographs were taken from which I would paint. Having to work from photographs was not as limiting as might be thought because once I had interacted with the reality of set and sitter, the photographs provided me with an image that in a way paralleled with the image produced by the camera obscura that Vermeer is known to have used as an aid to his painting.

Girl in Hyacinth Blue, by Jonathan JansonGirl in Hyacinth Blue
Original oil-painting by Jonathan Janson
Private collection

I later met with the film's staff in Amsterdam to shoot the final photographs of the recently cast actress who would play the part of Vermeer's daughter Magdalena, the sitter of the painting Girl in Hyacinth Blue. I also had the chance to pass long hours in front of the four Vermeer's in the Rijksmuseum and absorb some of their miraculous light which I was determined to convey in my own "Vermeer."

After returning to Rome where I live and work, the actual painting was begun. It was important to me to respect as much as possible Vermeer's particular techniques which I have studied for years and incorporated into my own work taking into account the limited time available. The painting was finished in eight weeks.

Jonathan Janson


DVD - Brush With Fate
VHS - Brush with Fate
NOVEL - Girl in Hyacinth Blue

(Based on a novel by Susan Vreeland, Girl in Hyacinth Blue)

Production: Gillham Road Productions for
Hallmark Hall of Fame

Filmed in June/July 2002
in The Netherlands

Brent Shields

Jonathan Janson

Glenn Close
Ellen Burstyn
Kelly Macdonald
Phyllida Law
Jan Decleir
Thomas Gibson,
Lisa Kreuzer,
Thekla Reuten
Kieran Bew
Laurien van den Broeck, Vermeer's daughter

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