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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Selected Works

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

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Picturing a World

Women on an omnibus

January 19, 2015

Tags: Cassatt, women artists, transportation

It’s hard to know why some topics fascinate us. I ride public transportation whenever I can; maybe that's why depictions of riders in a train or on an omnibus always catch my eye. For my fiction, moreover, it just seems part of world-building to know how my characters get from one place to another and how long it takes them. Mary Cassatt's In the Omnibus" reminds me of crossing the Charles River on the Red Line in Boston during the day when the cars are sometimes uncrowded. For Daumier's more typically crowded omnibus, click here. (more…)

Women, art, and marriage

June 23, 2014

Tags: Académie Julian, Bracquemond, Carolus-Duran, Cassatt, Gonzalés, Morisot, women artists

When Amy Richardson and Louise Steadman confront Jeanette with the need to choose between art and love, they remind her of Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot, whose opportunities to show were sadly curtailed by marriage. They also point out that Mary Cassatt knew better than to get married. For a well illustrated post on (more…)

Cassatt's blue chair

December 5, 2013

Tags: Cassatt, Edward, Impressionism, Jeanette, exhibition, painting in the novel, women artists

I had Jeanette and Edward react to Mary Cassatt’s Portrait of a Little Girl at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition for several reasons. First and obviously, it fell in with a focus on women painters. Second, the tilting of the picture plane, influenced by Japanese woodcuts, was an important upending of pictorial convention at the time, and I wanted to show how the older Edward could in some ways be more open to the avant-garde than a typical art student like Jeanette who was invested in the prevailing conventions at the very time they were about to fall. (more…)

Lucy Lee Robbins

October 14, 2013

Tags: Lucille Dobbs, Lucy Lee Robbins, Carolus-Duran, Cassatt, women artists

The character Lucille Dobbs is based only very loosely on this portrait of Lucy Lee Robbins, an American who studied with Carolus-Duran in the 1880’s. Although Robbins was considered for the prize of painting a mural in the Women’s Building at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, she was said by Mrs. Palmer Potter to be “not above reproach” (more…)

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…)

Needlework

April 22, 2013

Tags: Cassatt, Cornelia, Effie, women artists

Soon after the dinner party, Cornelia Renick is clever enough to put Effie at her ease by casually revealing a problem she is having with a piece of embroidery. Needlework is a minor motif in the novel because it played a part in many women's lives in the 19th C. (A novelist needs to think about the nitty-gritty and not just the big patterns of history.)

Mary Cassatt's painting of her sister Lydia, knitting in the garden, gives me the opportunity to acknowledge four debts. (more…)

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.