Shaun Tan is one of my favorite artist-authors—brilliant, sly, offbeat, insightful. When I saw an advanced review of Cicada, I pre-ordered it from a local independent bookstore on the assumption that anything Tan did would be wonderful. I picked it up. Read it. Reread daily. Feel throb. Laugh out loud. Tok tok tok. My advice? Seek it out!
Picturing a World
The real Jeanette published a short story in the December 1915 Young's Magazine. In trying to run it down, I came across this image. 1908? Pulp fiction? Perfect for my fictional Mattie and for Valentine's Day!
Aubrey Lanston, a graduate of Georgetown University and member of the bar in the state of Washington, wrote historical fiction. He called The Harvesters "My first accepted, but by no means my first seriously intended novel." (See The Book News Monthly, Volume 22 (1904), p. 319) We'll assume he was more than happy to have A Roman Holiday appear in this breezier format. And don't most of us writers know about those unpublished novels in the drawer!
Blog post tip: On October 15, 2014, Rodama: a blog of 18thC & Revolutionary French Culture posted a series of six rare drawings of 18thC techniques for manufacturing and hanging wallpaper. They were probably intended as submissions for Diderot's Encyclopédie. For the historical fiction writer, can't they stimulate the imagination from the point of view of either the workers or the householder who ordered new decoration?
This detail of an advertising poster published in Cleveland, Ohio, appears in The Papered Wall, ed. by Lesley Hoskins, and illustrates the choices offered a buyer at the turn of the last century. I love seeing the woman customer out shopping for her "house beautiful," the expression on the salesman's face, and, of course, the patterns being offered at the time. Another example of not-great art that can be immensely helpful to the historical novelist.
When I wrote Where the Light Falls, I knew that Italians worked as bus conductors and artists' models in Paris, but nothing about them as sellers of plaster-cast images. Von Stetten's painting opens up a new topic for investigation, and just a few clicks have already landed me on an article about the plaster figure trade in London. More concrete detail for a story about the intersection of commerce and art!
For an etching of an itinerant plaster cast seller in London, click here.
Website tip: This Parisian street scene by Victor Gabriel Gilbert is part of February 1st Sotheby's auction. I wish I remembered more often to check auction house and gallery websites—they are such valuable resource for details of everyday life. Here, for instance, notice the bellows and the charcoal brazier on which the pots sit. Genre pictures can also raise questions about everyday life to follow up: What exactly is the woman on the right doing? And what is the green-stuff on the shelf under the Café au Lait sign?
Blog Tip: For details of another image to help imagine night in an earlier era, see Eye Candy for Today: Paul Sandby gouache nocturne at Lines and Colors.
Mostly, I like to highlight lesser known women artists, but sometimes it's worth calling attention to a man. A post at GurneyJourney reminded me of Danish painter, Carl Vilhelm Holsøe. Holsøe's depictions of rooms are atmospheric interiors, a genre at which his generation of Scandinavian artists seems to have excelled. (Think Harriet Backer or Anna Ancher.) I didn't know about him when I was imagining Jeanette's "portraits without people," but his work illustrates the way a room can embody psychological insight.
Pictures of rooms are also a boon to historical-fiction and fantasy writers for the details they provide—in this case, a candle in the darkness. 21st C people have little idea how dark rooms really were before electric lights. Older stories in which characters are hidden in shadow become much more believable when you experience a black-out, or light a room with only a candle or two as an experiment, or, as here, see the effect in art.
To see this still life as part of a larger interior, click here.
For more of Holsøe's work, click here.
My website is hosted by the Author's Guild, which this month revamped its design templates, the better to fit cellphones and other screens. To celebrate the new, I'm posting a glimpse of the past. For a writer of historical fiction, a magazine cover from the year about which she is writing, which itself illustrates an earlier period, seems about right. Besides, I love textiles.