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

Pantsuit

September 8, 2017

Tags: fashion or clothes

Website tip: An article by fashion researcher Laura J Ping, Clothes as Historical Sources: What Bloomers Reveal about the Women Who Wore Them explores the implications of an unusual “reform dress” outfit that is not really an example of bloomers at all. It reminds us that history at close grain modifies generalizations. Personally, I now feel that if a character of mine wants to make an innovation in dress, I may just let her!

Thanks again to the Two Nerdy History Girls Breakfast Links.

Divine hairstyles

May 3, 2017

Tags: fashion or clothes

Historical novelists love to find detailed images of daily life. Dancing naked around a tree might not count as typical, but I love the way you get back, front, and side views of related hairstyles here. Although I confess I have not worked out the text, the three ladies must be the three Graces—Aglaia, Thalia, and Euphrosyne—who were attendants of the God Apollo. (For the full illustration, in which Apollo is the dominant figure, click on the image.)

Children in the Luxembourg Garden

July 30, 2016

Tags: Edelfelt, Scandinavian artists, Paris landmark, fashion or clothes

A post on Children in the Summer Park at the blog, It’s About Time, alerted me to a painting I’ve been searching for without being able to remember the artist’s name—Albert Edelfelt. Itwas this painting that first gave me the idea (more…)

Absence of evidence

April 11, 2016

Tags: fashion or clothes

Absence of evidence is famously not evidence of absence. Just because next to no medieval underwear for women has physically survived and few documents refer to it clearly doesn’t mean that medieval women didn’t wear any.

The fantasy I’m working on is set in a world that, by and (more…)

Torn party dress

December 1, 2015

Tags: fashion or clothes, social customs, Renicks, Tonks

As we enter the season of parties, parties, parties, we can either rejoice or regret that the era of the lady’s maid in the cloak closet is long past. In 1922, Emily Post could still write, “Fifteen minutes before the dinner hour, Mrs. Worldly is already standing in her drawing-room.… She knows without (more…)

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.

Black hats

January 5, 2015

Tags: Carlsson-Bredberg, Hale, Scandinavian artists, fashion or clothes, women artists

(l) Ellen Day Hale, Self-Portrait (1885); (r) Mina Carlsson-Bredberg, Study, Académie Julian
After I saw Manet’s Woman Reading, I came across these two pictures, both by students in the 1880’s, both of women with the same sort of bangs and ears showing, each wearing a soft-crowned black hat. Could they be the same student?!? (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…)

Puck Christmas 1908

December 25, 2014

Tags: Christmas, fashion or clothes, illustration

The true meaning of Christmas may be the opposite of worldly vanity, but I can’t resist posting this image from the period of my present research for ANONYMITY.

San Francisco-based Grant Gordon (best known as a marine painter) provided illustrations to Puck and other periodicals.

I have to assume that my heroine, Mattie, (more…)

Pauline Carolus-Duran

December 18, 2014

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Sarah Bernhardt, Sophie Croizette, fashion or clothes, women artists

Pauline Marie Charlotte Croizette was an artist and the sister of actress Sophie Croizette. In 1868, Pauline met Carolus-Duran in the Louvre, where she was copying old masters, and married him that year. I love (more…)

Chinese cabinet

December 15, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes

One of the pleasures of researching an historical novel is discovering themes (I didn’t know how infatuated with Asian art and objects artists and collectors were in the 19th C until I started reading up for Where the Light Falls) and new artists. Gustave de Jonghe (1829–1893) was a Belgian painter, (more…)

Newsstand

November 10, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes, magazine, offices, transportation

One of the gee-whiz pleasures for me in researching New York City at the turn of the 20th C is gawking at high-resolution photos on line. In the full view of this one at the Shorpy site, you can read ads on the El staircase and titles on the newsstand. I'm delighted with the (more…)

What corsets do

October 26, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes

Blog tip: Corsets exercise the modern mind. Why did they WEAR them??? A revealing answer, a myth-busting answer (oh, the puns are endless) and more important a good look at how a corset affects the look of clothes is offered by The Pragmatic Costumer here.

Not Mattie's world

July 26, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes

Blog tip: My new heroine, Mattie, would never be presented at the Court of Saint James, not in 1907 or any other year. Still I loved coming across an itemized account of how much the clothes, the massage and the manicure cost for a debutante to be presented.

Mattie illicit lover

July 24, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes, work-in-progress

In the first chapter of my work-in-progress, Mattie dresses for her job as a stenographer but daydreams about the coming evening with her lover as she puts on a sexy corset which she has bought from a fancy corsetiere. (more…)

Mattie Stenographer

July 21, 2014

Tags: Mattie, fashion or clothes, light, offices, work-in-progress

As I tried to say last Thursday, I'll be writing more about my new work as well as Where the Light Falls. For instance, the stenographer shown here taking shorthand on her pad is younger than my new heroine, but I found the picture helpful in visualizing how Mattie might be dressed (shirt sleeves, no hat, pleated skirt) (more…)

On horseback, in pants

May 15, 2014

Tags: Dieulafoy, Franco-Prussian War, Gardner, Tarbell, fashion or clothes, horses, work-in-progress

For my work-in-progress, I’ve been reading the autobiography of journalist Ida M. Tarbell, All in the Day’s Work. In 1892 for a McClure’s Magazine article, Tarbell interviewed the French archeologist and writer Jane Henriette Magre Dieulafoy, who with her husband Marcel worked on excavations in Persia. (more…)

Clothes and the historical fiction writer

April 26, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes

Blog tip: It's hard to know for sure what ordinary people wore for everyday work in the past because only fine clothes tend to be saved. For a thoughtful post on the problem by a writer of historical romance, click here.

Block that illustration!

April 24, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes, illustration

Last week, I had the privilege of privately visiting the library at Edith Wharton’s house in Lenox, Massachusetts, The Mount, where Nynke Dorhout, the librarian, showed me (among many other treasures) Wharton’s own first-edition copies of The House of Mirth (1905). (more…)

House of Pingat

April 2, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes

Blog tip: Visit blogger SilkDamask's March 27th post for photo details of an 1878 party dress and diary extracts of its Chicago buyer's visit to the House of Pingat in Paris.

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…)

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…)

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…)

Study for a portrait

November 21, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Cornelia, fashion or clothes

I spent time looking at society portraits by Carolus-Duran in order to visualize my invented portrait of Cornelia Renick as well as to enliven the photograph of his portrait of Countess V—. Duran’s enjoyment of the rich fabric he preferred for his subjects is visible in this study for a portrait of (more…)

Letter from a party

November 4, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, fashion or clothes, garden party, sketches

Mention of Jeanette’s illustrated letters home had already been made in the narrative when my editor suggested using them to condense passages. The device proved helpful not only for summarizing events, but also for varying narrative rhythm and revealing the character’s attempts to shape her story for her family. In my imagination, moreover, I could make Jeanette as good a watercolorist as Albert Edelfelts! His letter (in Swedish) depicts “Mme Cotterau with Carolus Duran and Paul Deroulède.” It might as well be from Cornelia’s party after the portrait is unveiled, don’t you think?

For another page of the letter with a fashion doodle, click here.

For more information (in Swedish) at the vast Europeana website, click here

For an illustration of Paul Derouléde’s duel with Georges Clemenceau, click here. (Oh, the serendipity of the web!)

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.

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity

October 20, 2013

Tags: fashion or clothes, Impressionism

Blog Tip: A review of the current Chicago version of the exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is well illustrated and informative. Thank you, Two Nerdy History Girls.

Equestriénne

October 17, 2013

Tags: Cornelia, Edward, Carolus-Duran, Sophie Croizette, fashion or clothes, horses, painting in the novel

When I first came across this painting, I thought of Cornelia Renick, who had been a rider. Here was her outfit. Then I learned that the woman in the painting was Carolus-Duran’s sister-in-law, the actress Sophie Croizette, a star of the Comédie Française. Yippee! Cornelia presses Edward to attend her garden party by dangling Croizette’s attendance as bait. Edward remembers having seen an engraving of this very painting. Since I made up Edward’s magazine, the engraving is fictional—though if anyone knows of a real one, please tell us about it in a comment!

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…)

Moving pictures!

September 7, 2013

Tags: fashion or clothes, transportation

Blog alert: Yesterday, Two Nerdy History Girls posted a YouTube clip of "Victorian Era Actuality Footage 1896." Visit several European cities and one North African site by clicking here. As a bonus, you will be able to (more…)

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…)

Sitting in a bustle

May 14, 2013

Tags: fashion or clothes, illustration

As Adeline Vann tells Jeanette, bustles were out of fashion in Paris in 1878 (they came back in the 1880’s). After seeing a wonderful video, however, I simply must help spread the word on How to Sit in a Victorian Bustle Dress.

With thanks to Two Nerdy History Girls

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…)

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.

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.

Mauveine

December 27, 2012

Tags: Edward, pigment, pharmaceutical, fashion or clothes

Who knew that a purple pigment led to the development of aspirin? Simon Garfield’s fascinating book, Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, tells the story of William Henry Perkin’s discovery of the first synthetic carbon-based dye. The ability to mass produce paints, textile dyes, and drugs with stable chemical properties revolutionized industries, including fashion.

As I investigated the 1870s, I was struck again and again by how much in the modern world stems from the mid 19thC—artificial lighting, department stores, photography, railroads. And thematically, nothing could have suited my purposes better than the intersection of chemistry, color, and pharmaceuticals. Dyes and pharmaceuticals give Theodore an argument for persuading Edward to go to Europe; the chemistry involved quickens Edward's mind; and color gives him a connection to Jeanette's world.