Katherine Keenum


A blog about how paintings, photographs, and prints have helped me visualize my fiction—both Where the Light Falls and works-in-progress—with a hope that they will stimulate other writers and readers, too.

Click on images to see enlargements. In the text, click on words in color to activate links.

Selected Works

Fiction
An American woman art student meets a Civil War veteran in Belle Époque Paris.

Tags

Quick Links

Find Authors

Picturing a World

Omnibus

January 31, 2013

Tags: Effie, Atget, Jeanette, photograph, transportation

In their first week in Paris, Jeanette and Effie explore the city on foot and by omnibus. When I first began sinking myself into the Paris they would see, I spent a lot of time with Atget’s photographs even though they were taken a generation later. It was revelatory to be guided by Atget's eye. As for the omnibus, comparison of this photo to an 1877 etching in a set by A-P. Martial shows that the design had changed little if at all in forty years. The entire set will take you on a tour of the city that Jeanette and Effie saw.

Trilby

January 28, 2013

Tags: Trilby, copyist, Louvre, illustration

It came as a surprise to me how many professional women copyists there were in France in the 1870's. For background, I read several novels with artists as character. The most important for my purposes was the 1894 bestseller Trilby, written and illustrated by George du Maurier. It is best known now as the origin of the character Svengali, but for art historians its depiction of student life is invaluable. The three men in the background are the Laird, Taffy, and Little Billee, the artists for whom the title character, Trilby, models in the opening chapters. The copyist here is only decoration, but one named Noémie Nioche figures actively in The American by Henry James (1877).

For a contrast to the workaday clothes shown here, check out another copyist painted by a male artist here.

Erasmus

January 24, 2013

Tags: painting in the novel, copyist, Jeanette, Louvre

Before there were photographic reproductions, artists copied in museums as part of their exploration of past masters' work; and the second-rate among them could make a living copying pictures that other people wanted as souvenirs for their walls. In a passage that was cut from the final text of Where the Light Falls, Jeanette watches a hardened old pro making yet another copy of Holbein's Erasmus. She has a brief exchange with him and reflects on how much her father would like to have the portrait in his study. As far as I'm concerned, the encounter took place and so I'm slipping it back into the world of the novel via this blog. Authors, do some scenes that fail to make the final cut remain potent in your memory? And, readers, when deleted material is subsequently published, do you incorporate it into your idea of a book?

Ladies at the Louvre

January 21, 2013

Tags: Degas, Cassatt, Louvre, Paris landmark, Jeanette, Effie

I loved finding this image early on—Jeanette and Cousin Effie! Or, no, what fun: Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia posing for Edgar Degas, who reworked this basic composition in several media. (Besides this version, see also, for example, an etching and a study.)

On her first visit to the Louvre, Jeanette is humbled by the glories she encounters; but on later visits a part of her would want to strike a pose of confident, nonchalant connoisseurship. Effie would forever bury her nose dutifully in a guidebook.

Place du Carrousel

January 17, 2013

Tags: Paris landmark, De Nittis, dogs, handcart, street views

On their first visit to the Louvre, Jeanette and Effie enter the Place du Carrousel and see a wide cobbled plaza, birds, red trousers of Zouaves in the distance, the ruins of the burned-out Tuileries Palace, and the statue of Victory atop the triumphal Arc du Carrousel. It's all in this painting.

And notice where the light falls! Victory becomes an emblem in Jeanette's mind for her artistic (more…)

The Pont des Arts

January 14, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Paris landmark, Béraud, Parisiénne, street views

On her first full day in Paris, Jeanette enters her new life by crossing the Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge from the Left Bank to the Louvre. Béraud’s Windy Day illustrates the place; and from the first time I saw it, its tone of urbane self-awareness represented for me Jeanette's move into a bigger world. The self-possessed young woman in the foreground is certainly the very image of the chic Parisiénne that Jeanette would love to become. By its angle of view and the wide horizontal spread of pavement, moreover, the picture emphasizes the physical breadth of public spaces in Paris. (more…)

Hotel breakfast

January 10, 2013

Tags: Morisot, Jeanette, fans, women artists

Literary criticism uses the term "misprision" to refer to an author's creative misreading of another writer's work. Morisot's young woman is presumably in a private house and the meal is specified as luncheon; but for me the flowers in the background call to mind the little garden behind the Hôtel des Marronniers on the rue Jacob, where breakfast was served (more…)

Entering Paris

January 7, 2013

Tags: transportation, Paris landmark

Jeanette and Cousin Effie enter Paris from the west, passing through this tunnel to reach the Gare Saint-Lazare, painted famously by Claude Monet but also by other artists, including Norbert Goeuneutte. The station was in a new section of Paris, energetic and smart rather than romantic and quaint. Photographs even more than paintings conveyed to me the rawness and newness, and the weird sensation of entering the city below street level.

Out a train window

January 4, 2013

Tags: transportation, Monet

I came across Springtime while tracing the route between Dieppe and Paris. It showed me what Jeanette might see from her train window. The speed of train travel made the countryside seem to unroll continuously outside the frame of a window. Moreover, railway beds serve only to carry trains, and scrub brush along their banks can screen the view for miles. Monet’s sketchy, broken brush strokes allowed me to catch a glimpse of a half-seen house with an orange roof and imagine Jeanette’s seeing it for an instant. In words, all that remains of that moment is the phrase “red-twigged coppices on riverbanks” on p. 66, but, believe me, she saw the house!

All aboard in a New Year!

January 1, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, transportation, fashion or clothes, fans

Because I love building fictional worlds, early in my research I spent time investigating exactly how Jeanette would get to Paris. To my delight, shipboard scenes on passenger liners were a popular painting genre in the mid 19th C. Tissot here catches the glamour attached to sea travel—not that Jeanette and Effie were wearing such clothes on board ship! Still, the fashion details are reminders of how important hats and fans were in the 19th C, and what sexual signals attire that covers every inch of the female figure can send.