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

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Picturing a World

Turkeys

November 28, 2013

Tags: Monet, Pissarro

I don’t know whether Pissarro’s Turkeys hung at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition (and don’t have The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886 at hand to check), but it could have. For an 1876 painting of turkeys by Monet, click here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Impression: Sunrise

November 25, 2013

Tags: Impressionism, Monet, Edward, Jeanette

Monet’s Impression: Sunrise is the iconic one, the quintessential example of rapid brushwork used to capture a moment painted out of doors. I knew from The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886 (2 vols.; 1996) that it hung at the 4th Impressionist exhibition (April 10–May 11, 1879), but I chose not to mention it specifically during my characters’ visits to the show because other paintings served my thematic and narrative purposes more pointedly. For this blog, however, what better to pair with the study in the previous post? (more…)

Study for a portrait

November 21, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Cornelia, fashion or clothes

I spent time looking at society portraits by Carolus-Duran in order to visualize my invented portrait of Cornelia Renick as well as to enliven the photograph of his portrait of Countess V—. Duran’s enjoyment of the rich fabric he preferred for his subjects is visible in this study for a portrait of (more…)

Carolus-Duran (3)

November 18, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Sargent, Salon, Jeanette Smith, exhibition

Sargent’s portrait of his teacher—mon cher maître, as he has written across the top of the canvas—hangs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Seeing it there and recognizing the name as that of the real Jeanette Smith’s teacher was what set me off investigating the whole topic of American women art students in Paris. As I got into planning the novel, think what a gift it was to learn that this portrait won an Honorable Mention for Sargent at the 1879 Salon, the very year that Carolus-Duran won the top prize for his portrait of Countess V— discussed in the previous post. I knew at once they would both have to go into the novel.

Book clubs

November 14, 2013

Tags: Aunt Maude, rooms

In the past week, two more book clubs—one in Athens, Ga., and one in Worcester, Mass.—were generous enough to invite me to discuss Where the Light Falls. It's wonderful to be invited into people's homes; and as a little thank-you, here is a link to a recent post on American Victorian domestic interiors. When I saw Lamson's Sitting Room, I thought of Maude Hendrick's sitting room in New York. It will be a continuing pleasure to remember the hospitality given me in yours!

Countess de V—

November 14, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Salon, exhibition, painting in the novel, studio

The quality of this photograph of Carolus-Duran’s Portrait de Mme. la Comtesse de V[andal] may seem poor, but I was thrilled to find it among montages of other works bought by the French government at the 1879 Salon. As those of you who do historical or genealogical research know, a digital image of primary materials is almost as exciting as physical objects that can be picked up. (If you have a story of such a find, tell us in a comment below!)

Admittedly, a digital reproduction of a photograph of a painting is tertiary evidence at best, but knowing that the French government took such pains in documenting its purchases demonstrated art’s importance in official policy. Governmental encouragement contributed to the sense of art students like Jeanette that Paris was the best possible place for them to be. (more…)

Sisters

November 12, 2013

I am just back from a trip to visit family and friends and to promote Where the Light Falls. One of my hostesses was my sister; another was my best friend from childhood, whose older sister was my sister’s friend. As a thank-you to them and a treat for rest of you, let me direct you to a recent post about paintings of sisters at It’s About Time (with thanks to the Two Nerdy History Girls for the original link).

Varnishing day

November 11, 2013

Tags: Robida, Jeanette, Charlie Post, Salon, caricature, exhibition

Without explaining the ins and outs of the annual state-sponsored art exhibition known as the “Salon,” I wanted readers to experience how important it felt to most professional artists, students, critics, and journalists. As Robida’s illustration for La Caricature (7 mai 1891) suggests, the last day before the official opening was a mad frenzy as painters varnished canvasses already hung or showed their works to special guests. (more…)

Bièvre

November 7, 2013

Tags: Edward, Effie, Paris landmark, McCall Mission

In the 1870’s, the small river Bièvre, which is now paved over within Paris, carried the waste of tanneries, leather factories, paper mills, and other noisome industries. Edward crosses it when he goes to help Effie at a McCall Mission clinic.

The McCall Mission was a Protestant missionary group. When I first ran across a reference to it in a published diary of sculptor Lorado Taft from his days as a student in Paris, I almost whooped with glee in the library. Now, I knew what Cousin Effie did with her spare hours!

For other views of the scummy river, click here and here. (more…)

Letter from a party

November 4, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, fashion or clothes, garden party, sketches

Mention of Jeanette’s illustrated letters home had already been made in the narrative when my editor suggested using them to condense passages. The device proved helpful not only for summarizing events, but also for varying narrative rhythm and revealing the character’s attempts to shape her story for her family. In my imagination, moreover, I could make Jeanette as good a watercolorist as Albert Edelfelts! His letter (in Swedish) depicts “Mme Cotterau with Carolus Duran and Paul Deroulède.” It might as well be from Cornelia’s party after the portrait is unveiled, don’t you think?

For another page of the letter with a fashion doodle, click here.

For more information (in Swedish) at the vast Europeana website, click here

For an illustration of Paul Derouléde’s duel with Georges Clemenceau, click here. (Oh, the serendipity of the web!)

Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee

November 3, 2013

Tags: street views

I’m headed today for Bristol, where the Virginia/Tennessee state line runs right down a main street. Tomorrow at 10 A.M., I’ll be reading at the public library.

Readers: Doesn’t this picture invite story-telling? (more…)