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

Duval restaurant

March 10, 2014

Tags: Effie, Jeanette, Renoir, cafés and restaurants

To make a world real, it seems to me you have to know what people ate and where and when. When the Duval restaurants turned up early in my research I knew I could use them; and Renoir's painting of a Duval waitress became a touchstone image for me. Not only the quietly respectable young woman but the figured wallpaper and curtains suggested a feminine air that would be reassuring to Jeanette and Effie.

Pierre Louis Duval, a butcher, began selling servings of a meat cooked in broth to workers ca. 1855. From this venture grew a chain of restaurants. They were clean, well-run places where women on a budget could eat safely. (more…)

Three figures

March 8, 2014

Tags: Edward, Effie, Jeanette, Sargent

Blog tip: I’m exploring a blog new to me, Poul Webb’s Art & Artists. Its posts on individual artists are illustrated by many images. This one comes from a post on early John Singer Sargent and demonstrates Sargent’s ease and his unconventional cropping. Jeanette notices both when she sees his sketch of Mrs. Renick. It also illustrates the awareness of flesh that she must take for granted in her class for the nude despite the way it upsets Effie and disquiets Edward.

Tree house restaurant

February 13, 2014

Tags: cafés and restaurants, photograph, Edward, Effie, Jeanette

The village of Plessis just outside Paris was the site of a restaurant built in 1848 as a tree house in honor of Swiss Family Robinson. Its popularity led to the town’s adopting the name Plessis-Robinson Meals in baskets—typically roast chicken, bread, and wine—were pulled up on ropes to customers. (more…)

Cousin Effie at last

February 10, 2014

Tags: Effie

For years, I’ve been on the lookout for a painting, drawing, or photograph that reminds me of Cousin Effie. She is very vivid in my mind, as are Jeanette’s drawings of her; but no luck—until, finally, up popped this image. Not perfect, but (more…)

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…)

Bastien-Lepage deleted

January 23, 2014

Tags: Bashkirtseff, Bastien-Lepage, Effie, Pont Aven

Only one truncated paragraph about Effie and Miss Isobel’s Pont Aven fête at the end of August 1879 survived editing. In the fuller account, the ladies are agog when they receive a drawing of Joan of Arc from Jules Bastien-Lepage for their (more…)

Joyeux Noël!

December 25, 2013

Tags: Christmas, Effie, Jeanette, Vann

On their first Christmas Eve in Paris, Jeanette and Effie go to services at Saint-Germain-des-Prés. On Christmas Day in both 1878 and 1879, they attend services at The American Church in Paris on the rue de Berri, (more…)

Puppets in the Park

December 23, 2013

Tags: Angelica, Christmas, Effie, entertainment

It’s December 23rd, the day Cousin Effie takes Angelica to a marionette show in the park, so I’m going to leave Jeanette and Edward in the summertime Luxembourg Garden and detour into Christmas. Well, I admit it's also summer in Ellen Houghton's picture of a puppet show in the leafy Tuileries Garden, (more…)

House of Worth

December 12, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Effie, Adeline, Charles Frederick Worth, fashion or clothes, illustration

After I ran across a footnote to George Augustus Sala’s Paris Herself Again in 1878, I was delighted to find a cheap used set. Now both volumes have been digitized and can be read on-line here and here. Sala has an amusing journalistic style, and from him I picked up all sorts of details about Parisian life as a visitor would see it during the time of the World’s Fair that celebrated France’s recovery from the Franco-Prussian War.

A passage on Charles Frederick Worth, for instance, gave me circumstantial details for Jeanette and Effie’s trip with Adeline Vann (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…)

Bièvre

November 7, 2013

Tags: Edward, Effie, Paris landmark, McCall Mission

In the 1870’s, the small river Bièvre, which is now paved over within Paris, carried the waste of tanneries, leather factories, paper mills, and other noisome industries. Edward crosses it when he goes to help Effie at a McCall Mission clinic.

The McCall Mission was a Protestant missionary group. When I first ran across a reference to it in a published diary of sculptor Lorado Taft from his days as a student in Paris, I almost whooped with glee in the library. Now, I knew what Cousin Effie did with her spare hours!

For other views of the scummy river, click here and here. (more…)

Telegrams

October 10, 2013

Tags: Béraud, Jeanette, Effie, fashion or clothes, Parisiénne

After Carolus-Duran has accepted Jeanette into his atelier for women, Cousin Effie lends her funds for the first month’s tuition. The paragraph in which Jeanette telegraphs her father with an urgent request for money to repay Effie was trimmed out during editing, but is still there by implication since Judge Palmer’s grim return telegrams remain in the text. And for that implied incident (the incident that to my mind happens!) Béraud provides the perfect illustration. Notice even the white glove on the woman’s left hand (Americans were known for their white cotton gloves). This Parisiénne may be better dressed than Jeanette could afford, but the style seems right for 1879. (more…)

Café Cagniard

October 7, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Effie, Robbie, Carolus-Duran, Sargent, Beckwith, cafés and restaurants

I broke into a grin at the Boston Public Library when I read in an article that Pére Cagniard’s café at 23, rue Bréa was frequented by Carolus-Duran and his students, including Sargent. This painting from Sargent’s second year of studying with Carolus inspired me to invent a picture of the owner’s daughter to hang on (more…)

Carolus-Duran (2)

October 3, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Effie, Jeanette, Sargent, studio

Although I did not try to dramatize a scene in which either Carolus-Duran or John Singer Sargent played a keyboard instrument, it was tempting, for both were superb musicians. Carolus's organ was notable among the many props and objets d'art in his studio. Sometimes he played it to distract restless children who sat (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…)

Effie's "Lady's Guide"

August 19, 2013

Tags: Nieriker, Effie, Jeanette, Edward, cafés and restaurants, women artists

An early Eureka! moment on this project came when I saw a reference to May Alcott Nieriker’s Studying Art Abroad and How To Do It Cheaply. Wow! Louisa May Alcott’s sister wrote a book for women who wanted to study art in Paris in 1879? (more…)

Café Tortoni

July 15, 2013

Tags: Robbie, Jeanette, Effie, Emily, cafés and restaurants, kiosk, street views

The Café Tortoni was a real place, posh and successful for most of the 19th C. Martial’s etching shows the Morris column or advertising kiosk that Robbie pretends to be perusing when Jeanette, Cousin Effie, and Emily arrive expecting to be treated to its famous ice cream. (more…)

View from a studio window

July 5, 2013

Tags: Effie, Nourse, studio, street views, women artists

An artist about whom I read a lot at the beginning of my research was Cincinnati-born Elizabeth Nourse (1859–1938)), Jeanette's almost exact contemporary. She, too, studied at the Académie Julian (beginning in 1887) and made her career in Paris, where she lived with her sister. This view from her studio window fell in with my own (and Jeanette's!) love of pictures painted or photographed out of upper-storey windows. I gave Mabel Reade a studio on the Rue d'Assas because of this very image and had Cousin Effie talk her way into a studio more expensive than Amy and Sonja could afford for the same reason. (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…)

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.

World's Fair (II): Prince of Wales

April 4, 2013

Tags: World's Fair, Edward, Effie, Jeanette

The use of plate glass for such things as ceilings and display windows was an innovation of the 19th Century. The way that glass is both transparent and a barrier between inside and out was, furthermore, something that people noticed. Outside, the Great Exhibition Hall reflected the sky in ever-changing movements of color and light. Inside, on bright days, the brilliance of the natural sunlight it transmitted had to be controlled by movable screens. (more…)

World's Fair (I): Glass

April 1, 2013

Tags: Effie, Franco-Prussian War, Paris landmark, World's Fair, entertainment, glass

The World's Fair of 1878, or Exposition Universelle, was held to celebrate France's prosperous return to the world stage seven years after the Franco-Prussian War. It was big, it was grand, it was modern. The glass-and-steel domes of the Main Exhibition Hall may look old-fashioned to our eyes, but it is still impressive for its airy joie de vivre. If you click on the image to the left, a link will take you to a French site with photos chronicling its construction. And, no, this isn't an April Fool's Day joke!

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.

Boulevard Montmartre

February 11, 2013

Tags: Académie Julian, Effie, Jeanette, Paris landmark, street views

In New York City, Jeanette has been told about an art school called the Académie Julian. Now in Paris, in Chapter Eight, as soon as she and Effie have rented an apartment, they set out to find it. The school, which admitted women students (unlike the national École des Beaux-Arts) was located in the Passage des Panaromas, a shopping arcade that ran—and still runs—north from the rue Saint-Marc to the boulevard Montmartre. Jeanette and Effie walk its length and are momentarily baffled when they find themselves here, on the boulevard beside the Theatre des Variétés. I have stood at this very spot; the passage would be to the right if it were in the oil sketch, (more…)

Omnibus

January 31, 2013

Tags: Effie, Atget, Jeanette, photograph, transportation

In their first week in Paris, Jeanette and Effie explore the city on foot and by omnibus. When I first began sinking myself into the Paris they would see, I spent a lot of time with Atget’s photographs even though they were taken a generation later. It was revelatory to be guided by Atget's eye. As for the omnibus, comparison of this photo to an 1877 etching in a set by A-P. Martial shows that the design had changed little if at all in forty years. The entire set will take you on a tour of the city that Jeanette and Effie saw.

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.

Cousin Effie's screen!

November 29, 2012

Tags: Effie, fans, studio

After I posted yesterday's image of Alfred Stevens' In the Studio, I noticed the Asian screen behind the painter for the first time and did a double take. That's just like the one Cousin Effie buys in Where the Light Falls! Well, not quite—I imagined Effie's as smaller. But it is lovely to have this confirmation that it belongs in the story.

Does anyone know whether Stevens' screen is Chinese or Japanese? Asian prints and objets d'art were were very popular among artists in 1870s and 1880s. Notice, for instance, the Japanese parasol mounted on the wall and the fan tucked behind a picture over the model's left shoulder.