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

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…)

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.

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Is she …?

May 2, 2013

Tags: Parisiénne, dogs, fashion or clothes, street views, transportation

One more on the streets, this time walking alone. She is well dressed and carries the sort of bouquet that last Thursday’s shopper might have bought at the florist. But is she a respectable Parisiénne or a kept woman? A source of social unease in Paris in the latter 19th C was the difficulty in distinguishing the two on sight, for they dressed very much alike. The gaze of the man in the cab might be the male painter Gervex’s signal that this woman is no better than she should be. For the modern eye, it also illustrates the annoying reality that a single woman in public risked impertinent notice from strangers—though not the working woman crossing the street in the other direction. What stories do you think each of these women would tell?

Dog lovers’ note: another of those confident canines on the loose.

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…)

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…)