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.

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

Selected Works

Fiction
An American woman art student meets a Civil War veteran in Belle Époque Paris.

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Picturing a World

Laundry, again

October 17, 2017

Tags: Sargent

Can’t resist posting this addendum to my last post!

Rules are made to break

September 10, 2017

Tags: Sargent

One of my hobbyhorses is “rules” for writing fiction, e.g., “Never begin a story with a line of dialogue”—say, what?!? In response to a gorgeous James Gurney post on Sargent’s watercolor technique for alligators, a commenter remarks, “I remember when (more…)

Elizabeth Butler

November 20, 2015

Tags: Elizabeth Butler, Carolus-Duran, Sargent, women artists

An important new show, Artist & Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, will be opening at the Tate Gallery in London on November 25, 2015. It features this painting by Elizabeth Butler among (more…)

Artists' supplies

June 18, 2014

Tags: Sargent

Website tip: The website of the National Portrait Gallery in London has a useful essay on John Singer Sargent's suppliers of artists' materials.

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.

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…)

Carolus-Duran (3)

November 18, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Sargent, Salon, Jeanette Smith, exhibition

Sargent’s portrait of his teacher—mon cher maître, as he has written across the top of the canvas—hangs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Seeing it there and recognizing the name as that of the real Jeanette Smith’s teacher was what set me off investigating the whole topic of American women art students in Paris. As I got into planning the novel, think what a gift it was to learn that this portrait won an Honorable Mention for Sargent at the 1879 Salon, the very year that Carolus-Duran won the top prize for his portrait of Countess V— discussed in the previous post. I knew at once they would both have to go into the novel.

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…)

Sargent's talent

September 26, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Beckwith, Sargent, sketches

Sargent was eighteen when he made this sketch of the fellow art student with whom he shared a studio, James Carroll Beckwith. It was drawn in 1874, the year Sargent began studying with Carolus-Duran. Seeing it gave me an idea of just how confident and skillful Sargent was when he showed the portfolio that won him admiration from the master and the other students in the atelier.

For a relatively early self-portrait by Sargent, click here. For Beckwith’s 1875 sketch of Sargent, click here.

Carolus-Duran (1)

September 23, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Sargent

Because the real Jeanette Smith studied with Carolus-Duran, I knew from the beginning he would be a character in the novel—but not what a gift he would prove to be. In life, he was flamboyant. Besides being showy painter who invoked Velásquez each time he commenced a portrait, he was an accomplished (more…)

Painting from the same motif

September 16, 2013

Tags: Abbey, Sargent, Gurney, lay figures

It was not uncommon for 19th C artists to sketch or paint together from the same motif. Think of Renoir and Monet, Pissarro and Cézanne … or John Singer Sargent and the American illustrator Edwin Austin Abbey. I read about Sargent and Abbey at the same time I was reading about the Red Rose Girls because I was interested in both artistic friendships and illustration as a viable commercial career for trained artists.

Today’s image and topic come from a Gurney Journey post, where you can see Sargent’s depiction of the lay figure for what it is, a manikin. (more…)

Monet, Sargent, and "Impressionism"

June 2, 2013

Tags: Sargent, Monet, Impressionism

BLOG TIP: Check out yesterday’s informative GurneyJourney blog post on how John Singer Sargent and Claude Monet defined Impressionism and what they had to say about each other’s art.

Charlie Post

May 27, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Charlie Post, Sargent, studio

I’m not sure which came first, seeing Hovenden’s Self-Portrait or imagining Charlie Post. Like Charlie, Hovenden here seems to me pugnacious, introspective, dissatisfied, brooding, wistful, though his self-confidence is of a different stripe from Charlie’s obsessive belief in his work.

This self-portrait also points to a motif that could have been part of the novel but wasn’t, namely how musically accomplished many of the artists of this period were (including Carolus-Duran and John Singer Sargent). Notice how the scroll above the Hovenden’s violin peg box just touches the edge of the picture on his easel, symbolically joining the two arts. Similarly, in Marie Bashkirtseff’s self-portrait of 1880, the harp behind the painter just touches her palette.