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.

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

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Drawing at the Louvre

September 30, 2013

Tags: Emily, Jeanette, Louvre, Parisiénne, fashion or clothes, illustration

At one point during my research, I became enamored of engraver and librarian François Courboin’s colored illustrations for Octave Uzanne’s Fashion in Paris: The Various Phases of Feminine Taste and Æsthetics from 1797 to 1897. I studied the pictures both for the clothes and their various settings in Paris. Here two women are researching fashion history at the Bibliothéque Nationale. When I sent Jeanette to meet Emily in the Louvre after she has been invited to show her portfolio to Carolus-Duran, I wrongly remembered this picture as being set in the Louvre's print room. No matter. (more…)

Sargent's talent

September 26, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Beckwith, Sargent, sketches

Sargent was eighteen when he made this sketch of the fellow art student with whom he shared a studio, James Carroll Beckwith. It was drawn in 1874, the year Sargent began studying with Carolus-Duran. Seeing it gave me an idea of just how confident and skillful Sargent was when he showed the portfolio that won him admiration from the master and the other students in the atelier.

For a relatively early self-portrait by Sargent, click here. For Beckwith’s 1875 sketch of Sargent, click here.

Carolus-Duran (1)

September 23, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Sargent

Because the real Jeanette Smith studied with Carolus-Duran, I knew from the beginning he would be a character in the novel—but not what a gift he would prove to be. In life, he was flamboyant. Besides being showy painter who invoked Velásquez each time he commenced a portrait, he was an accomplished (more…)

Dusty red Rome

September 19, 2013

Tags: Edward, Carl, Rome, Eckersberg, Scandinavian artists

In the 2nd C A.D., more than 1.5 million people lived in Rome. In the mid 19th C, the population was a tenth that size. Visitors were struck by the plethora of ruins within and surrounding the city. Instead of the white marble they expect, Edward and Carl find red brick and dust.

Yet Rome was also a cultural center, where not only was the art of the past on display, but artists still trained, including Scandinavians like Eckersberg and (perhaps of more interest to readers of this blog) women sculptors like Harriet Hosmer. (more…)

Richmond Free Public Library

September 17, 2013

Event reminder: On Thursday, September 19th, at the Richmond (Mass.) Free Public Library at 6:30, I'll be speaking on writing historical fiction. Richmond is a lovely little town in Berkshire hills, which once had six one-room schoolhouses much like this one. Join us if you can.

Painting from the same motif

September 16, 2013

Tags: Abbey, Sargent, Gurney, lay figures

It was not uncommon for 19th C artists to sketch or paint together from the same motif. Think of Renoir and Monet, Pissarro and Cézanne … or John Singer Sargent and the American illustrator Edwin Austin Abbey. I read about Sargent and Abbey at the same time I was reading about the Red Rose Girls because I was interested in both artistic friendships and illustration as a viable commercial career for trained artists.

Today’s image and topic come from a Gurney Journey post, where you can see Sargent’s depiction of the lay figure for what it is, a manikin. (more…)

Waves—then and now

September 13, 2013

Tags: Charlie Post

Web tip: For a mesmerizing, interactive image of a 1908 painting of waves click here. If you move your cursor across it, the image slides between the painting and a modern photograph taken from a vantage point to duplicate it. The site has several such images. I chose this one because it reminded me of Charlie Post’s Wave, but scroll down the page and try some others. A time sink, but fun. (With thanks to the Gurney Journey.)

Goblin Market

September 12, 2013

Tags: Emily, illustration, studio

Writing historical fiction calls for focus, research, and deliberate decisions, but it also inevitably draws on whatever lurks in the writer’s mind. The English pre-Raphaelites have long been a part of my life because my husband, John, studied them in graduate school. When it came time dramatize a winter’s afternoon in Amy and Sonja’s studio, for some reason Christina Rossetti’s line about “It snows and blows and you’re too curious, fie” floated up into my consciousness. Perfect for the weather and for Emily.

When I began the project, I intended Emily to exemplify the sort of weak art student who fell by the wayside in tough competition. Instead, she turned strange and became far more interesting to me as the book went along. I came to imagine her in future painting melancholy, obsessive, dense fairy pictures, (more…)

Red Rose Girls

September 9, 2013

Tags: Red Rose Girls, Jeanette, Amy, Emily, Effie, studio, women artists

After Saturday's blog alert on moving pictures, here's a still that tickled me while I was writing Where the Light Falls. Although I wanted events in my novel to be accurate to 1878–1880, not everything that inspired me came from that period. The camaraderie, humor, and tensions of a shared studio as well as the fruitfulness of women’s friendship were exemplified by the three women artists shown in this photograph. Jeanette's somewhat younger contemporaries, they began living together in 1899 and called themselves the Red Rose Girls. (more…)

Moving pictures!

September 7, 2013

Tags: fashion or clothes, transportation

Blog alert: Yesterday, Two Nerdy History Girls posted a YouTube clip of "Victorian Era Actuality Footage 1896." Visit several European cities and one North African site by clicking here. As a bonus, you will be able to (more…)

Hot stove in a studio

September 5, 2013

Tags: Amy, Bazille, Sonja, studio, Paris landmark

I loved this picture when I came across it early in my research—it was so specific and full of workaday details. Here was what the gray walls artists wanted for neutral light looked like, along with a chair for a sitter, a paintbox, a palette. Bazille’s studio is not exactly how I later imagined Sonja and Amy’s—oh, but look at that hot, hot stove! Coal supplied by Count Witkiewicz! And now that I look at the picture again, I see it as one of Jeanette’s empty rooms as a portrait.

For a very similar painting, see Gustave Caillebotte’s Interior of a Studio with Stove. (more…)

Studio omelettes

September 2, 2013

Tags: Amy, Jeanette, Sonja, Trilby, illustration, studio

As I said in an earlier post, my editor teased me about how often my characters eat. In a scene that got dropped from “Winter’s Cold,” Jeanette demonstrates breaking two eggs at once (a trick my college roommate, the writer Elaine Fowler Palencia, taught me) and (more…)