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.

A small sample of the images that inspired me appears below. Click on these or any images in the posts to see enlargements. In the text, click on colored words to activate links.

Selected Works

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


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Picturing a World

Ellen Clacy

March 9, 2017

Tags: blue-and-white china, rooms, women artists

Serendipity landed me on an unattributed posting of this image. I have a friend who has a specialist’s knowledge of blue-and-white china, so pictures of it always catch my eye. This painting, moreover, made me think of Jeanette at the Musée Cluny. Judging by the form-fitting front to the dress, I estimated the period to be around 1879 (again tying it to Jeanette). A little searching tracked the picture to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the date—ca. 1880. So satisfying to be proven right!

Little is known about Ellen Louise Clacy. Her mother (also Ellen Clacy) went out to Australia in 1852 and wrote about her experiences in A Lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852-53, Written on the Spot. On shipboard returning to England (without a husband), she gave birth to little Ellen. The elder Clacy published four more books but seems to have died poor, and the daughter is known by only a few pictures. But they include this very accomplished watercolor of a china closet at the Sackville family's 15th C castle, Knole, as well as two other interiors at Knole. Apparently, she had talent, training, and entrée.

Seems to me that the two women could inspire an historical novel. Rather than write about the famous, I prefer to that invent my main characters; but it remains important to base them on something real. This pair certainly points toward fascinating realms for research and imagination.

For three paintings including two more of Knole, click here

For three watercolors that imply a story, click here.

For the watercolor of a room in the Cluny by Ernest Guilliaud (1882) that inspired a paragraph or two in Where the Light Falls and reflects a similar sensibility to Clacy's, click here.


  1. March 9, 2017 9:09 AM EST
    I wonder what the relationship was between mother and daughter. This artist is so self-assured and a believer in women's suffrage. Her "The Prodigal's Return" is the only painting of its kind I've seen with a female prodigal. No man would ever have the courage to mess around with the biblical story in such a way. She was a great feminist painter as well as representing women in the household in what is sometimes the only place they have power over their lives in our era and in the past.

    "The Old Poacher" is astounding in its detail and the reactions of the other people around him, and his exhausted expression. Her more simple painting of a fishing village is moving with the isolated woman holding her baby.

    Thanks, Katherine, for posting this lovely blog.
    - Patricia Franzino
  2. March 10, 2017 9:14 AM EST
    Pat, you are so right. Clacy's painting of a woman reclining outdoors while she reads is believed to be a portrait of her mother. I like to this they were very close and also quite free-spirited! Katherine
    - Katherine Keenum