Susan Vreeland, who blended fiction, visual art, dies at 71

NEW YORK (AP) Susan Vreeland, a popular and well-regarded novelist who blended her love for literature and visual art in "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" and other works of fiction, has died at age 71.

Vreeland's agent Barbara Braun said the author died Aug. 23 in San Diego after undergoing heart surgery.

"She remained optimistic until the end, confident that she would survive and continue her active life with her devoted husband, Kip," Braun said.

A native of Racine, Wisconsin, and a graduate from San Diego State University, Vreeland was in her mid-20s when a visit to Paris changed her life. She remembered being so dazzled by the Louvre Museum that she stood on Pont Neuf and vowed that the art of the Old World would be her "life companion."

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She wrote about everyone from Pierre-Auguste Renoir to the Canadian painter Emily Carr and centered "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" on the journeys of an alleged Vermeer painting.

"Girl in Hyacinth Blue" came out in 1999, a good year for art-themed novels, with other releases including Tracy Chevalier's "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and Michael Frayn's "Headlong."

Braun recalled that Vreeland worked on "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" while being treated for lymphoma and that the novel was released by a small Colorado-based press after several New York publishers turned it down. The book became a word-of-mouth success, was translated into 26 languages and was adapted into a 2003 TV movie, "Brush With Fate," starring Ellyn Burstyn and Glenn Close.

In San Diego, Vreeland taught English in high school from 1969 to 2000. She wrote about art and travel for newspapers and magazines and published short fiction in Ploughshares, The Missouri Review and other publications. Her other novels, what she called the "products" of her pledge on Pont Neuf, included "The Passion of Artemisia" and "Clara and Mr. Tiffany."

"Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world and time period, our own, we see it multiplied and can peer into other times, other worlds which offer windows to other lives," she wrote on her web site, SVreeland.com . "Each time we enter imaginatively into the life of another, it's a small step upwards in the elevation of the human race."