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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Picturing a World

Asleep on a train

February 6, 2014

Tags: Amy, Effie, Jeanette, photograph, transportation, work-in-progress

For my new novel, I’m investigating early 20th C photography and print processes. This picture of a girl asleep on a train appears (more…)

Malade

January 30, 2014

Tags: Amy, Carolus-Duran, Sonja, Monet, malade, model

When Amy returns from Pont Aven to find that Sonja has brought La Grecque and Angelica into their studio, she makes the best of what she considers a bad situation by insisting that the model earn her keep by posing. The idea of Amy’s unflinching desire to take advantage of the chance to study a sick woman’s appearance was suggested to me by several 19th C paintings of sick beds or death beds. The most haunting case, which Carolus-Duran recounts to Jeanette later in the novel, was Monet’s oil sketch of his wife, Camille, in the hour after her death. (more…)

Angelica/Demonica

January 27, 2014

Tags: Amy, Angelica, transportation

“Her mother calls her Flora/ She doesn’t know her papa …” The illustration by Théophile Steinlen of a fatherless little girl on her way to school is way too innocent for my Angelica (the child Amy Richardson calls Demonica). All the same, I was delighted (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…)

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…)

Winter's cold

August 26, 2013

Tags: Amy, Jeanette, dogs

In Pont Aven in August 1878, Amy warns Jeanette about the everlasting gloom of Paris in winter. That slushy, dark, urban chill is captured in Buhot's 1879 etching (complete, notice, with dogs on the street). In August 2013, why not welcome a momentary shiver?!

Blue-and-white teacups

August 22, 2013

Tags: Amy, Sonja, Wegmann, Cassatt, studio, women artists

When Edward goes to Sonja and Amy’s studio to see the portrait medallions Sonja has sculpted for him, Amy serves the gathered friends tea in chipped blue-and-white porcelain. I got the idea for chipped china from Massachusetts artist Eleanor Norcross, who (more…)

Kiosk

June 10, 2013

Tags: Amy, Jeanette, Edward, Béraud, Boulevard des Capucines, Rue Scribe, Paris landmark, Haussmann, fashion or clothes, dogs, kiosk, street views

At the end of their stay in Pont Aven, Amy proclaims herself ready again for the rough and tumble of Paris; and once back in the city, Jeanette discovers that she no longer feels like a new girl. I had a framed print of Béraud’s Kiosk beside my chair as I wrote Where the Light Falls : it set the mood perfectly.

The urbane gentleman on the right is dressed as Edward dresses when he goes out for his walks. What I noticed first, though, were the two women prettily lifting their skirts to negotiate the streets—Baron Haussmann’s clean, clean streets and wide pavements, where a lady could walk in city shoes. Jeanette would have visited this very intersection of the Rue Scribe and Boulevard des Capucines on her way from her bank to the Académie Julian. (more…)

Painting a bug

June 5, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Amy, plein air

BLOG TIP: In Pont Aven, Jeanette draws a cartoon of Amy's reaction to a bug on her canvas. For a video glimpse of James Gurney painting a seventeen-year cicada outdoors using some specially designed homemade artist's equipment, click here.

Bathers

June 3, 2013

Tags: Amy, Cézanne, Eakins, Emily, Jeanette, Pont Aven, Zorn, nudes

French artistic training in the 19th C centered on the nude figure, which was easily incorporated into paintings with classical subjects. Artists of modern life who wanted to put their training to use took up bathers as a subject, as Anders Zorn’s Against the Current illustrates the topic. My actual inspiration for the scene in which Jeanette, Amy, and Emily go swimming at Pont Aven was his painting Out, for which I cannot find a large reproduction online. I loved the way the figures in that painting are tonally part of the landscape, as they are in a related painting Opal.

EDIT: Well! Late in the day of this post, I have just double-checked the link to Zorn's Opal and been taken to the correct write-up but the wrong painting at the Worcester Art Museum. A weird computer glitch, which I hope becomes self-correcting. At least, the Eakins and Cezanne links below work! (more…)

Breton Bed

May 23, 2013

Tags: Amy, Jeanette, Mosler, malade

I made a big Breton bed a focal point in the Gernagans’ farmhouse kitchen partly because they were characteristic of Brittany and were depicted frequently in regional paintings. This painting by Mosler of a son returning to his father’s deathbed illustrates also the wider 19th C genre of an ill, dying, or dead person in bed. Later in Where the Light Falls, Amy and Jeanette both paint La Grecque posed as une malade.

Jeanette's Party Dress

March 19, 2013

Tags: Cornelia, Effie, Jeanette, Amy, Emily, fashion or clothes, illustration

If Jeanette had seen this fashion plate of only a year earlier, she might not have been so mortified by the stripes in the outfit she had to wear to the Renicks' dinner party. Then again, according to Louise Hall Tharp, in 1877 Augusta Saint-Gaudens (the almost identically named wife of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens) had a Parisian dressmaker do over her Boston wardrobe, including pleating a striped skirt so that only the gray was visible.

Later in the novel, Jeanette, Amy, and Emily use plates from Cornelia’s discarded fashion magazines to get ideas for their own artwork. They were not alone: A current major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is devoted to Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.

No-nonsense woman artist

February 18, 2013

Tags: women artists, Académie Julian, schools, Amy, Sonja, Bilinska-Bohdanowicz

It may be unromantic on Valentine's Day, but what I love about this self-portrait is Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowicz's straightforward gaze, no-nonsense hair, and that apron. Admittedly, the dress is not really what you'd wear in the studio, not without a painter's smock to cover it fully. Still, there is no doubt that she wants you to think of her as a working artist. In different measures, I transferred her attitude to Amy and Sonja.

She was a student at the Académie Julian. For more information about her, click here.

In the Studio

November 28, 2012

Tags: fans, women artists, studio, Jeanette, Amy, Sonja, Emily, Stevens

When I began research on women artists in the nineteenth century, I had no idea how many there were. Every new picture of women in an art class or an artist in her studio was an exciting revelation. Among the many, Alfred Stevens’ In the Studio stood out because it seemed to capture a moment in a story.

Once, just for the fun of it, I thought of the standing artist as Sonja. The visitor might be Jeanette. Maybe Amy was posing. Or was that Emily? In fact, no identifications from Where the Light Falls fit exactly. Nevertheless, every time I look at this image, I feel like I’m peeking into their world.