Katherine Keenum


A blog about the paintings, photographs, and prints that help me visualize my fiction—both Where the Light Falls and works-in-progress. My main current project is a novel tentatively entitled ANONYMITY. Its heroine works in publishing, belongs to a clandestine suffragist group, and has a married lover. Read on!

Click on images to see enlargements. In the text, click on words in color to activate links.

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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

Miss La La again

December 4, 2016

Tags: Degas, entertainment

When I sent my characters to the Cirque Fernando in Where the Light Falls to see Mlle. La La perform, I had no idea that the real woman painted by Edgar Degas was a mixed-race performer. (more…)

Half-finished sentences

October 30, 2014

Tags: Degas

Edgar Degas once said, "Conversation in real life is full of half-finished sentences and overlapping talk. Why shouldn't painting be too?" Look at the partially lifted curtain in the background and the men hanging around on stage in middle and foreground. Don't (more…)

Women of the night

February 24, 2014

Tags: Degas, Edward, cafés and restaurants

Degas’ pastel of two women sitting at a café table provided the image of a prostitute biting her thumb as a sign of availability. I didn’t think that Edward would be attracted to anyone in this picture, however, and so I imagined a younger, sadder example of a girl who had to (more…)

Degas portraits

January 11, 2014

Tags: Degas, Jeanette

Blog Tip: As readers of this blog know, paintings and photographs help me visualize the worlds of my fiction. I can't help wondering how I might have treated a character if I had had this portrait by Degas in mind when I was imagining Jeanette, or Amy, or even Emily in action. In any case, today's post on Degas' wintry portraits of women at It's About Time is well worth a visit.

Fuchs’ iris

December 19, 2013

Tags: Edward, Degas, painting in the novel

Gardening history is one of my hobbies, and I enjoyed giving Edward a pleasure I would dearly love to have had, namely, coming across a single illustration from Leonhart Fuchs’ illustrated herbal of 1542 at a stall by the river Seine.

Edward feels confident in buying it partly because of what he has learned from a (more…)

Man with a boat

December 2, 2013

Tags: Caillebotte, Degas, Edward, Effie, Impressionism, Jeanette, exhibition, painting in the novel

Whether Pissarro's Turkeys hung in the 4th Impressionist show (1879) or not, Caillbotte's Man Docking His Skiff certainly did. Because I had the good luck to see it in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and could examine the actual weave of the canvas and brushstrokes it went onto a short list of paintings for my characters to see, too. What fires the imagination is what matters the most in writing fiction. (more…)

Lay Figure

July 1, 2013

Tags: Degas, cafés and restaurants, model

The carelessly thrown woman at the feet of painter Henri Michel-Levy is a lay figure. These were mannequins, usually made of wood, that artists used as models in place of a live person (who would have to be paid). Jeanette’s friends would never have allowed their Poupée to sprawl so awkwardly, considering her, as they did, a mascot to be treated with affection.

For John Fergus Weir’s wonderful image of an undressed lay figure that shows its construction, click here. And for the first of a wonderfully informative series of blog posts on lay figures by Dinotopia artist James Gurney and links to the rest, click here.

Cirque Fernando

April 15, 2013

Tags: Degas, Edward, Effie, Jeanette, entertainment, painting in the novel, Paris landmark

After their successful outing to the World's Fair, Edward takes Jeanette and Effie to the Cirque Fernando (later the Cirque Medrano), which featured horseback riders, clowns, and acrobats in a wooden hippodrome on Montmartre, built like a giant circus tent. Degas' painting of Mlle La La, hanging from a trapeze by her teeth, led me to have her perform that night. Later in the novel, my characters see the painting itself at the 4th Impressionist show. For Toulouse-Lautrec's depiction of the ringmaster and a rider, click here.

For a spring 2013 exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library centered on this picture, click here.

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.