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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Hat for Jeanette?

January 17, 2015

Tags: Jeanette, Scandinavian artists, fashion or clothes

Blog tip: Click here for one of several recent posts on hats at It’s About Time. Liljelund’s young woman (and her bangs) caught my eye because she reminds me of Jeanette, who loves clothes but needs to develop a fashion sense.

Mound of Butter

January 11, 2015

Tags: Jeanette

A couple of days ago, I stumbled across this painting by Antoine Vollon, which brought to mind the night that Jeanette proposes to Amy and Sonja, “You know what we should do? Set up studies from a dairy shop: eggs, those big mounds of butter, and round cheeses—think of all the fat shapes.” (more…)

Happy New Year's Day

January 1, 2015

Tags: Jeanette, Manet, Parisiénne, fashion or clothes, cafés and restaurants

On this first day of January, would that we could all be sitting, smartly dressed, in a Parisian garden-café or brasserie!

When I first saw Manet’s painting early in my writing of Where the Light Falls, I did a joyous double-take. Here was (more…)

Salon of 1880

June 16, 2014

Tags: Jeanette, Salon, exhibition

The Salon of 1880 was so big that paintings had to be hung on the mezzanine above the sculptures for lack of space in the picture galleries. For the first time, they were also divided into sections for French artists and foreigners. While I was writing, I debated whether to have Jeanette win a place. The historical odds were against it, and I wanted her story to represent what a typical female student experienced. (more…)

Taking pictures to the Salon

June 5, 2014

Tags: Jeanette, Salon, exhibition, kiosk, transportation

When I ran across this illustration early in my research, I knew Jeanette must ride in an omnibus when she delivered her Salon entry. Omnibuses, in fact, became a minor motif in the novel for no particular thematic reason; I just like them. But the tension involved in submitting work to the Salon, its importance (more…)

Lady of Shalott

May 26, 2014

Tags: Jeanette, painting in the novel

Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” was the first poem I can remember choosing myself to memorize for school, and I still sometimes murmur, On either side the river lie/Long fields of barley and of rye …. When Jeanette is worried (more…)

Venice

May 12, 2014

Tags: Emily, Jeanette, Robbie, Venice, Whistler, Winkie

Originally, I meant for the Dolsons just to vanish. People do (or did before the internet) and Jeanette’s circle of friends in Paris must inevitably break apart. Novels, however, make demands their own. When I reread my almost completed (more…)

Ancher’s blue room

May 5, 2014

Tags: Ancher, Jeanette, rooms, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Although a little girl is, in fact, shown sitting on a chair in this painting, it was one of the pictures I had in mind when I invented Jeanette’s interest in rooms as “portraits without people.” Anna Ancher, an almost exact contemporary of Jeanette, (more…)

Dutch interior, empty room

May 5, 2014

Tags: Hoogstraten, Jeanette, Louvre, painting in the novel, rooms, Hamer

This is the painting I have a melancholy Jeanette copy in the Louvre after Edward has gone south to Dr. Aubanel’s sanatorium. It would obviously appeal to an artist who perceives empty rooms as “portraits without people.”

Samuel van Hoogstraten was (more…)

Claribel

May 1, 2014

Tags: Jeanette

Falling back on favorite songs seems a natural way for people (especially students) to experience their emotions. When I was thinking about Jeanette’s loneliness during Edward’s absence in the winter of 1879–1880, I searched the Public Domain Music for a song for her to sing over and over to herself. What luck to find a melancholy, wistful one published in 1872 by a female songwriter, Charlotte Alington Barnard, the pseudonym of Claribel! It even fitted perfectly with Jeanette and Edward’s earlier romantic day by the Seine. (more…)

Painting Edward’s portrait

April 3, 2014

Tags: Bauck, Jeanette, Wegmann, studio, women artists, Scandinavian artists

This painting by Jeanna Bauck (1840-1926) depicts a fancier, better equipped studio than Jeanette’s, but you can imagine my excitement when I found it last year—the right era, a woman assiduously painting a portrait of a sober-faced older man. (more…)

Watercolorist

March 27, 2014

Tags: copyist, fans, fashion or clothes, Jeanette, Louvre

Early in my research when I was discovering that there were indeed women art students in Paris in the late 19th C, I came across this copyist. I have loved her and giggled over her ever since. Wouldn’t Jeanette have longed for that dress? But can any painter, even one who prefers watercolors (more…)

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.

Pont Neuf

February 22, 2014

Tags: Béraud, Edward, Jeanette, Parisiénne, Paris landmark, dogs

Jeepers! I've just noticed that Thursday's post was not published. Better late than never, take a walk on the Pont Neuf!

When Jeanette returns from Pont Aven at the end of August 1879, she and Edward walk along Left Bank of the Seine on a Sunday afternoon. The scene is set farther down river than the Pont Neuf, but Béraud’s painting captures the casual, strolling ease that I wanted readers to feel.

Notice the Morris column advertising kiosk, the grille around the trees, the black-clad Parisiénne, and the little dog—recurring motifs for imagining Paris in this period.

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…)

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…)

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.

Breton farm

January 6, 2014

Tags: Jeanette, Pont Aven, Dow

Jeanette experiences her art intensely when she is in the Jernagans’ orchard, looking down on their farm. Dow’s Evening was one of the Breton landscapes I had in mind when I imagined what she saw as she composed her major picture for the second summer in Pont Aven. (more…)

Flower Seller

January 2, 2014

Tags: Jeanette, Parisiénne, flower seller

During the summer of 1879, Jeanette not only draws a clump irises at the Cluny (see previous post), but also buys flowers on her way home for watercolor studies in her free time. Buying them makes her feel Parisian—and Gilbert’s painting shows why. (more…)

Cluny

December 30, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Paris landmark

I spent a semester in France as an undergraduate. A visit to the Cluny that sophomore year fed my interest in the Middle Ages, later my field of specialization in graduate school. When I read that women art students in the 19th C valued the opportunity its enclosed gardens offered them to work outdoors unmolested, I knew I had to send Jeanette there. (more…)

Romance in the Luxembourg Garden

December 26, 2013

Tags: Edward, Jeanette, Paris landmark, Sargent, cafés and restaurants, fashion or clothes, gardens, light

From the time I started writing, Sargent’s painting of a couple strolling in the Luxembourg Garden was a key image for me. Edward and Jeanette. The fountain. The fashion silhouette of the woman’s dress (no bustle). Touches of red. Light. (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…)

Arc de Triomphe

December 16, 2013

Tags: Paris landmark, Adeline, Jeanette, transportation

This loosely painted detail of the distant Arc de Triomphe in the background of Hassam’s
painting of the Champs Elysées
is the kind of thing I had in mind when Jeanette sarcastically suggests sketching Adeline Vann in the Tuileries Garden with the arch just (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…)

Blue dress at the café

December 9, 2013

Tags: Edward, Forain, Jeanette, Impressionism, Parisiénne, fashion or clothes

While I was writing, the concept of "the male gaze” seemed more pertinent to feminist art history than to my novel. What made me chortle gleefully when I first saw At the Café by Forain was not the trio of repellent oglers, but that blue dress on the Parisiénne. Wouldn’t Jeanette love to see herself in it! Wouldn’t she love the hat! Let’s face it, she might even have enjoyed attracting the notice of strangers (she does want to be a star). But surely not these strangers: Edward was right to be dubious about the milieu and the people depicted. (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…)

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…)

Impression: Sunrise

November 25, 2013

Tags: Impressionism, Monet, Edward, Jeanette

Monet’s Impression: Sunrise is the iconic one, the quintessential example of rapid brushwork used to capture a moment painted out of doors. I knew from The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886 (2 vols.; 1996) that it hung at the 4th Impressionist exhibition (April 10–May 11, 1879), but I chose not to mention it specifically during my characters’ visits to the show because other paintings served my thematic and narrative purposes more pointedly. For this blog, however, what better to pair with the study in the previous post? (more…)

Varnishing day

November 11, 2013

Tags: Robida, Jeanette, Charlie Post, Salon, caricature, exhibition

Without explaining the ins and outs of the annual state-sponsored art exhibition known as the “Salon,” I wanted readers to experience how important it felt to most professional artists, students, critics, and journalists. As Robida’s illustration for La Caricature (7 mai 1891) suggests, the last day before the official opening was a mad frenzy as painters varnished canvasses already hung or showed their works to special guests. (more…)

Cendre de rose

October 28, 2013

Tags: Stevens, Jeanette, fashion or clothes, fans, garden party

Before it came time to design Jeanette’s costume for Cornelia’s garden party, I had seen Stevens' Summer at the Francine and Sterling Clark Art Institute. I went back. Perfect! On Jeanette’s budget, it had to be modified—among other things, fewer ruffles—but I loved the suggestion of a color for her, a grayish pink, ash rose, rose cinders (Cinderella at the ball?).

For an actual dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum that is somewhat similar, click here and look at the second dress on the second row.

For a large selection of French fashion plates from the 1870’s at the New York Public Library, click here.

For Griselda Pollock's discussion of Stevens' paintings of the four seasons at the Clark, click here.

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…)

Drawing at the Louvre

September 30, 2013

Tags: Emily, Jeanette, Louvre, Parisiénne, fashion or clothes, illustration

At one point during my research, I became enamored of engraver and librarian François Courboin’s colored illustrations for Octave Uzanne’s Fashion in Paris: The Various Phases of Feminine Taste and Æsthetics from 1797 to 1897. I studied the pictures both for the clothes and their various settings in Paris. Here two women are researching fashion history at the Bibliothéque Nationale. When I sent Jeanette to meet Emily in the Louvre after she has been invited to show her portfolio to Carolus-Duran, I wrongly remembered this picture as being set in the Louvre's print room. No matter. (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…)

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…)

Fruit stand

August 29, 2013

Tags: Caillebotte, Jeanette

On the way to Amy and Sonja’s studio for a session of sketching in the chapter “Winter’s Cold,” Jeanette is struck by how artistically French tradesmen arrange fruits and vegetables. Those beautifully piled displays are something I love about Paris, which is why I put them in the novel and why I was mindful of this painting as I wrote. In the original manuscript, Jeanette banters with a fruitier while she makes her selection of apples to take with her. The scene was edited way down, but here are fruits to linger over—they are even summer fruits for August!

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?!

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…)

Baby faces

July 22, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Morisot, sketches, women artists

When Amy hires a young mother with a baby to model for the afternoon class at the Académie Julian one week, Jeanette makes studies of the child’s face for future reference and includes the sheet in the portfolio she shows to Carolus-Duran later in the novel. Morisot’s sketches depict a somewhat older child, a toddler, but illustrate the same need to jot down impressions of children quickly because they don’t stay still for long.

ADDENDUM: Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son!

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…)

Flight into Egypt

July 8, 2013

Tags: Rembrandt, Renicks, Jeanette, Edward, Charlie Post, painting in the novel, light

The Renicks’ copy of Rembrandt’s Flight allowed me to show Edward and Jeanette reacting together to the same evocative object but with different emotional responses. In this scene, the painting embodies emotional light and shadow, the need for safety and the longing for transcendence. In general, it illustrates artists’ concern for sources of light and where the falls. The hidden moon also echoes Charlie Post’s sickle moon, and the fire adds that touch of red or warm color that plays into several compositions in the book.

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.

At the Florist

April 29, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Edward, flower seller, shopping, social customs, street views

Before I saw Béraud’s Promenade, featured in the last post, I had seen Hassam’s Florist, which illustrates the custom of being accompanied by a uniformed maid when out and about in Paris (very handy for having someone to carry purchases as well as to announce respectability). Countess Marie Bashkirtseff and other privileged students at the Académie Julian were escorted to class by a maid. For Jeanette and other foreign students, however, such close chaperonage was unnecessary. The streets of Paris were safe and American girls were notable to Europeans for their independence. (more…)

Afoot in Paris

April 25, 2013

Tags: Béraud, Jeanette, Parisiénne, fashion or clothes, street views

Jeanette walks to and from school every day, at first accompanied by Cousin Effie and eventually on her own with fellow students. I wanted to know how closely she would have been chaperoned. Besides reading social history, I took note of how women were depicted on the streets in paintings. Béraud’s two hatless, gloveless “promenaders” in their neat, black, similar costumes look to me more like shop assistants, out perhaps on an errand, than either fashionable Parisiénnes or girls of dubious virtue. Their chumminess may include an awareness of the man behind them, or it may simply be the giggling companionability of friends. (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 (IV): Merlin

April 11, 2013

Tags: Burne-Jones, Edward, Jeanette, exhibition, painting in the novel

Burne-Jones's Merlin was, in fact, shown at the Paris World's Fair of 1878. It played perfectly into my wish to touch obliquely on the topic of an older man's infatuation with a younger woman while dramatizing only the barest beginnings of Edward and Jeanette's romance.

To my mind, Burne-Jones is a strange artist, often gorgeous and repellent simultaneously. Readers, how would you answer Jeanette's question in the novel: Is this painting wonderful or ghastly?

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…)

Beggar's Polka

March 21, 2013

Tags: Franco-Prussian War, Grandcourt, Jeanette, entertainment, caricature

Hippolyte Grandcourt is a wholly imaginary character whose presence enabled me to incorporate anecdotes about Paris beyond the action of the novel. Don't rely on him to tell the exact truth; don't even rely on him for anecdotes that exactly replicate my sources. He was not, for instance, present when Offenbach handed the mendicant his Beggar's Polka.

The music of Jacques Offenbach is specially associated with the Second Empire of Napoleon III—he's the composer of the Galop Infernal (1858) that we all know as the music to the can-can. (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.

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…)

Jeanette Sterling Smith

February 7, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Jeanette Smith, photograph, women artists

This is the Jeanette Smith whose expulsion from Vassar and subsequent studies in Europe set me investigating women art students in Paris. The photograph, taken in Dresden, is my only concrete memento from her time abroad. After I had written the early chapters of Where the Light Falls, I looked at it again and thought, "Nah, not Jeanette Palmer." A girl with this face and these clothes didn't fit into my story as I told it to myself (though I did adopt her plumpness). The image I have in my mind of Jeanette's face is much closer to that of Eleanor Norcross.

Readers, for you is it the mysterious girl on Rita Frangie's alluring cover for the novel? How do you form your mental images of characters in books?

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.

Erasmus

January 24, 2013

Tags: painting in the novel, copyist, Jeanette, Louvre

Before there were photographic reproductions, artists copied in museums as part of their exploration of past masters' work; and the second-rate among them could make a living copying pictures that other people wanted as souvenirs for their walls. In a passage that was cut from the final text of Where the Light Falls, Jeanette watches a hardened old pro making yet another copy of Holbein's Erasmus. She has a brief exchange with him and reflects on how much her father would like to have the portrait in his study. As far as I'm concerned, the encounter took place and so I'm slipping it back into the world of the novel via this blog. Authors, do some scenes that fail to make the final cut remain potent in your memory? And, readers, when deleted material is subsequently published, do you incorporate it into your idea of a book?

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.

The Pont des Arts

January 14, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Paris landmark, Béraud, Parisiénne, street views

On her first full day in Paris, Jeanette enters her new life by crossing the Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge from the Left Bank to the Louvre. Béraud’s Windy Day illustrates the place; and from the first time I saw it, its tone of urbane self-awareness represented for me Jeanette's move into a bigger world. The self-possessed young woman in the foreground is certainly the very image of the chic Parisiénne that Jeanette would love to become. By its angle of view and the wide horizontal spread of pavement, moreover, the picture emphasizes the physical breadth of public spaces in Paris. (more…)

Hotel breakfast

January 10, 2013

Tags: Morisot, Jeanette, fans, women artists

Literary criticism uses the term "misprision" to refer to an author's creative misreading of another writer's work. Morisot's young woman is presumably in a private house and the meal is specified as luncheon; but for me the flowers in the background call to mind the little garden behind the Hôtel des Marronniers on the rue Jacob, where breakfast was served (more…)

All aboard in a New Year!

January 1, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, transportation, fashion or clothes, fans

Because I love building fictional worlds, early in my research I spent time investigating exactly how Jeanette would get to Paris. To my delight, shipboard scenes on passenger liners were a popular painting genre in the mid 19th C. Tissot here catches the glamour attached to sea travel—not that Jeanette and Effie were wearing such clothes on board ship! Still, the fashion details are reminders of how important hats and fans were in the 19th C, and what sexual signals attire that covers every inch of the female figure can send.

Vassar College

November 30, 2012

Tags: Vassar, schools, Jeanette

Where the Light Falls opens as Jeanette Palmer is being expelled from Vassar College. To imagine what the college meant to her, I read a lot about the campus and student life. With its Mansard roofs and symmetrical wings, the original main block was said to have been based on the Tuileries Palace in Paris (a nice echo for the novel). It embraced Old World grandeur and intellectual aspirations at the same time that it kept the girls contained within its protective walls. I like the way this print shows how impressive the college was in its rural setting and also hints at the surrounding beauties of the Hudson River Valley countryside where Jeanette's art class could go sketching.

For an image of a Vassar sitting room like the one in Jeanette's suite, go to dorm room.

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.