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

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…)

Equestriénne

October 17, 2013

Tags: Cornelia, Edward, Carolus-Duran, Sophie Croizette, fashion or clothes, horses, painting in the novel

When I first came across this painting, I thought of Cornelia Renick, who had been a rider. Here was her outfit. Then I learned that the woman in the painting was Carolus-Duran’s sister-in-law, the actress Sophie Croizette, a star of the Comédie Française. Yippee! Cornelia presses Edward to attend her garden party by dangling Croizette’s attendance as bait. Edward remembers having seen an engraving of this very painting. Since I made up Edward’s magazine, the engraving is fictional—though if anyone knows of a real one, please tell us about it in a comment!

Napoleon III

August 15, 2013

Tags: Napoleon III, Cornelia, Grandcourt, Haussmann, World's Fair

Emperor Napoleon III might not be anyone's choice as companion on a Summer Adventure, but he provided worlds of anecdotal material during his reign and he'll take us back into Where the Light Falls. At Cornelia Renick’s house, Maestro Hippolyte Grandcourt regales a lunch gathering with a story about a model who stood in for him while the many official portraits required by an empire were being painted. This anecdote was my way of glancing back at France’s glittering Second Empire (1852–1870), which haunted French memory in the first decades of the succeeding Third Republic (1870–1940). (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…)

Showboat

April 18, 2013

Tags: Cornelia, Edward, entertainment, transportation

When Edward tells Cornelia Renick about taking Jeanette and Effie to the Cirque Fernando, they are reminded of a childhood escapade when they watched horses perform aboard a showboat on the Ohio River. In a slightly longer draft of this passage, I specified that they kept watch over the building of Spaulding and Rogers' spectacular Floating Circus Palace, which seated 3,400 and was launched in Cincinnati in 1851 when they would have been about ten or eleven years old. As far as I'm concerned, the escapade happened. (more…)

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.

Cornelia's Party Dress

March 18, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Cornelia, Jeanette, fashion or clothes

Carolus-Duran was a fashionable portraitist specially noted for his ability to paint fabrics and lace. In the novel, he eventually paints a portrait of my society hostess, Cornelia Renick, and takes Jeanette on as a pupil. Before I reached that part of the story, though, this Portrait supplied me with a dress for Cornelia to wear when Jeanette first meets her at a dinner party given by the Renicks to welcome the Murers to Paris.