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!

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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

Bastille Day

July 14, 2014

Tags: Hassam, Monet, exhibition, Impressionism

As the entry on this painting at the Musée d’Orsay says, Monet painted it at an event connected with the 1878 World’s Fair—in fact, the occasion of the first public singing of La Marseillaise since the fall of the Second Empire and rise of the Third Republic. Nevertheless, it is often associated with Bastille Day (July 14th), so why not show it today? Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!

In Where the Light Falls, Jeanette, Effie, and Edward see the painting at the 4th Impressionist Show. It also interests me because it has so clearly influenced Childe Hassam’s views of flag-draped streets in New York, e.g., The Fourth of July, 1916, or indeed, Paris in his July Fourteenth, Rue Daunou of 1910.

Just for the fun of it, click here for the stirring rendition of La Marseillaise in the greatest B-movie of them all, Casablanca (the song begins at minute 1.08).

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…)

Salon jury

June 9, 2014

Tags: Bouguereau, Carolus-Duran, Gervex, Salon, exhibition

In 1878–1880, the period of Where the Light Falls, submissions to the annual Salon were judged by an elected jury of artists. Anyone whose work had been accepted for previous Salons could vote, and the jurors were generally the most distinguished (and most conservative) artists of their day. Serving was an honor, but (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…)

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…)

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.

Countess de V—

November 14, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Salon, exhibition, painting in the novel, studio

The quality of this photograph of Carolus-Duran’s Portrait de Mme. la Comtesse de V[andal] may seem poor, but I was thrilled to find it among montages of other works bought by the French government at the 1879 Salon. As those of you who do historical or genealogical research know, a digital image of primary materials is almost as exciting as physical objects that can be picked up. (If you have a story of such a find, tell us in a comment below!)

Admittedly, a digital reproduction of a photograph of a painting is tertiary evidence at best, but knowing that the French government took such pains in documenting its purchases demonstrated art’s importance in official policy. Governmental encouragement contributed to the sense of art students like Jeanette that Paris was the best possible place for them to be. (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…)

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?