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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Picturing a World

Witches’ interiors

November 29, 2017

Tags: illustration

Blog post alert: I’ve just finished my annual rereading of Greer Gilman’s Moonwise. The interior of Malycorne’s cot in all its iterations in the novel is pure enchantment, my favorite witch’s hut in literature. But isn’t this one dandy? It makes me want to invent (more…)

People and animals

October 20, 2017

Tags: illustration, women artists

Blog alert: The post for October 20, 2017, Animalness, at Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor took my breath away for the wisdom it quotes and its images by Virginia Frances Sterrett. If you love Golden Age illustration or have been pondering where we fit in the animal world, check it out.

For the full on-line edition of Old French Fairy Tales with Sterrett's illustrations, click here.

Dust jackets

July 23, 2017

Tags: illustration

I’m looking forward eagerly to the October publication of the first volume of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy. The Belle Sauvage is pictured here in its UK cover. How I wish we could buy this version in the U.S.! To see both, click here.

In any case, I’ll be buying mine at an independent, books-and-mortar bookstore. It will cost more because publishers don’t offer indies the deep discounts they give the major on-line dealers, but we keep real book culture alive by supporting the stores that foster serious authors and readers. For a British bookseller’s view on this topic, click here.

Carolus-Duran, fencer

June 1, 2017

Tags: Carolus-Duran, fencing, illustration

A recent update from a correspondent who is doing research on Carolus-Duran led me to look over my collection of images by or about the artist. To my surprise, I saw that I have never posted this drawing of Carolus as a fencer. His swordsmanship made him dashing to his students—and to me!

(more…)

Manuscript Art

May 29, 2017

Tags: illustration

Website alert: This morning, after looking at recent postings at Jesse Hurlbut's terrific Manuscript Art, I went back through my own recent posts on medieval imagery to see whether I had mentioned the site. Looks like I haven't, but by all means you should visit it!

Look of Wonder

May 9, 2017

Tags: illustration

Website alert: Thanks to this post at The History Blog, I arrived this morning at the Cornell University Library’s digitization of P. J. Mode’s Persuasive Map Collection. The image reproduced here could be an emblem for my sense of wonder at discovering this rich resource for Picturing Worlds through maps. For some reason, I'm having trouble with links, but if you click on the image it will take you to the Cornell page or you can enter the Cornell site via the History Blog. Either way, it's worth it—explore!

Celestial measures

March 14, 2017

Tags: illustration

Website alert: I’m working on a story set in an imaginary late-medieval or early-modern university, where my central character is introduced to scientific ways of looking at the sky. This image delighted me, and the entire Manuscript Art website has absorbed all my (more…)

Mousehole Cat

December 23, 2016

Tags: children's books, illustration, women artists

One of my Christmas Eve Eve rituals is to read The Mousehole Cat. To my delight I have just found a YouTube video on The Making of The Mousehole Cat Book with interviews of author Antonia Barber, illustrator Nicola Bayley, (more…)

Hallowe’en 2016

October 31, 2016

Tags: illustration, social customs

Today’s image comes via It’s About Time, but could equally have come from Liberty Puzzles. As the 2016 election spirals down, I regret not having ordered one for distraction!

For a wealth of holiday postcards from the New York Public Library, click here.

And I’ve just discovered a book that bears looking into, American Holiday Postcards, 1905–1915. Addendum: For a helpful review, click here.

Stenographer or reporter?

September 19, 2016

Tags: Mattie, work-in-progress, offices, illustration, magazine, work-in-progress, publishing

Mattie Palmer, the heroine of ANONYMITY, my work-in-progress, is a “stenographer” or secretary in a publishing firm. Before going to New York around 1900, she had been a reporter in Cincinnati.

So far, I haven’t been able to find the short story, “A Girl Who Became a Reporter,” for which this is an illustration; (more…)

Gestural line in a magazine illustration

August 19, 2016

Tags: magazine, illustration

Website tip: A post, Eye Candy for Today: James Montgomery Flagg ink illustration, is worth looking at for the picture and comments by artist and blogger Charley Parker. The period is right for my current heroine Mattie, and I’m sure Jeanette would agree with Parker’s comments on the effectiveness of Flagg’s gestural lines in the men’s faces.

Woman in a boat

May 21, 2016

Tags: illustration

As I confess from time to time, I am working on a novel set in an imaginary high fantasy world that draws on my medieval training. My heroine has a sailboat, which she sails single-handed. Neither she nor it looks like this, and yet it cheered me immensely this afternoon to stumble across the image. Writers, whatever feeds the imagination!

Clara Miller Burd

May 16, 2016

Tags: Burd, women artists, illustration, magazine

Always on the lookout for women artists who were working during the time period of my new novel, ANONMITY, I was pleased this morning to stumble across Clara Miller Burd (1873–1933). She was born in New York City, studied art there and in Paris, and (more…)

Kay Nielsen

February 11, 2016

Tags: illustration, Scandinavian artists

Having recently bought the gorgeous 2015 Taschen reprint of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, I was much interested to come across an on-line version of the original. It confirms (more…)

What an issue!

January 30, 2016

Tags: illustration, magazine

Blog tip: A post at The Golden Age mounts highlights from The Century Magazine, October 1904. They include illustrations from an installment of Jack London’s novel, The Sea-Wolf, Maxfield Parrish’s illustrations of Edith Wharton’s Italian Villas and Their Gardens, and advertisements for Rookwood Pottery, a Locomobile, and Chickering pianos. Mattie Palmer would have read it. It'a available at Google Books—if only I could make the link work!

Silhouettes

January 28, 2016

Tags: illustration, women artists

Mary Hamilton Frye’s illustrations for “Children and the Theatre,” which were mentioned in my last post, came to mind today when I read Kathleen Jennings’ blog post on Skimmings, with its gif compilation her own recent paper cut-out illustrations for a musical composition. Silhouettes have (more…)

Mary Hamilton Frye

January 22, 2016

Tags: illustration, women artists

Lisbeth Zwerger is one of my favorite living illustrators, and I couldn’t resist pairing a sample of her work with a picture from the Golden Age by Mary Hamilton Frye (1890–1951). Is it just my imagination, (more…)

Od Magic

January 11, 2016

Tags: fantasy, illustration, women artists

Some of my favorite novels are fantasies. For a holiday treat, I read Patricia McKillip’s Od Magic. It is a lovely, lively story and I was specially interested in how McKillip interwove four plot lines. It allowed her to jump over the (more…)

Leyendecker at the Académie Julian

January 10, 2016

Tags: Académie Julian, illustration, schools

Blog tip: Yesterday’s Gurney Journey post lets you read what J. C. Leyendecker, a Golden Age illustrator, had to say about the Académie Julian. For an interesting article on Leyendecker as a gay artist who defined images of the American male, click here.

Linda Baker-Cimini

January 6, 2016

Tags: women artists, illustration

Although those of us who write historical fiction do a lot of directed research, sometimes it is serendipity that turns up the most gorgeous details. In life, chance meetings are even better. I was taking my daily walk this afternoon and ran into Linda Baker-Cimini, whom I (more…)

Helen Stratton

December 22, 2015

Tags: Helen Stratton, illustration, women artists

Born in 1867, artist Helen Stratton would be a near contemporary of my new heroine Mattie, who is employed in the children’s book publishing industry and would therefore know her illustrations. With no more relevance than that to my own work, I’m posting (more…)

Sherlock Holmes for Christmas

December 21, 2015

Tags: Christmas, illustration

I’ve just learned what to read tonight: “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” by A. Conan Doyle. It ran in this December 12, 1908, edition of Colliers. And what fun—Maxfield Parrish! Surely, Mattie is a fan of Sherlock Holmes and probably of Parrish, too.

X in Xmas

December 19, 2015

Tags: Christmas, illustration

Mattie Palmer, my new heroine, is Jeanette’s younger sister. Since Where the Light Falls is set in 1878–1880 and ANONYMITY in 1908, this magazine cover comes halfway between the chronologically. It’s sort of like a Rorschach test: Would Jeanette’s art be leading her this direction? Would Mattie like it? The fact (more…)

Kewpie Votes for Women

November 2, 2015

Tags: women artists, illustration, Rose O’Neill, suffrage

After Saturday’s post on Halloween cards, my first search for the illustrators who painted them turned up Rose O’Neill—the inventor of Kewpie! Who knew? (Well, probably lots of historians of material culture, but not me.) It is tempting, tempting, tempting (more…)

Picture a story

October 3, 2015

Tags: fantasy, illustration, women artists

Images inspire writing. Among my desktop folders, I have one for Pictures Demanding Stories—or, in Greer Gilman’s more potent term, Story-seeds. This image by Rovina Cai instantly called to mind Gilman’s work. I’m tickled pink that she agrees. Here’s hoping that one day she’ll tell us the story! (As for me, it's back to ANONYMITY and, well, to some other fiction that insists on being written.)

Thanks to Line and Colors for the post on Cai.

Thoughts on writing

January 23, 2015

Tags: fantasy, illustration, women artists

Blog tip: Writer, artist, and editor Terry Windling posts today on Stories that matter. She quotes other writers who share her philosophy (and mine) that real writing is what you must do because you can't not do it. The post is illustrated with fantasy images by Nadeshda Illarionova, whose pictures could easily inspire a fairy tale of your own. Check'em out!

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…)

Alice Barber Stephens

December 23, 2014

Tags: Académie Julian, Christmas, illustration, women artists

This Christmas shopping street scene is the sort that might have met my new heroine Mattie when she arrived in New York City at the turn of the 20th C. It was painted by Alice Barber Stephens, (more…)

Three more shopping days til Christmas

December 22, 2014

Tags: Christmas, Glackens, New York City landmark, illustration, women artists

The heroine of ANONYMITY, Mattie Palmer, works in an office near Madison Square, so imagine her witnessing crowds like this. I’ve set the novel in warm weather for various reasons, but winter settings have advantages. Cold, snow, and sleet give urgency to action, and respite from misery in cozy havens are among my (more…)

Elsa Beskow

December 11, 2014

Tags: Christmas, children's books, illustration, Scandinavian artists, women artists

Several interests came together for me when I came across Swedish artist, Elsa Beskow (1874–1953)—Jeanette’s future career as an illustrator; my new heroine Mattie’s work in juvenile book publishing; women’s rights; and Scandinavian women artists. As a Christmas present to (more…)

Situation wanted

September 4, 2014

Tags: illustration, workers

Situation Wanted seems perfect for a follow up to Labor Day. When I first saw this picture, it interested me that illustrator Walter Appleton Clark has included a woman as one of his job-seekers because fear of losing her job drives some the (more…)

Advertising placards

August 25, 2014

Tags: Hopper, illustration, suffrage, transportation

This summer, my husband and I went to an exhibition, The Unknown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, through October 26, 2014. Night on the El Train was not among the work we saw. It is, in fact, one of the freestanding etchings that Edward Hopper made in an effort to support himself beyond magazine illustrationat the start of his career. The Rockwell show, however, demonstrates how much drama and focus he brought to his commercial drawings.

And don’t we all wish it was still the custom to commission illustrations for books and magazine stories! It happens, of course, for children’s picture books and deluxe editions of books some fiction for adults (For two examples, click here and here.) (more…)

Back to a future restaurant

August 4, 2014

Tags: Robida, cafés and restaurants, illustration

Oh, what fun! I thought when I saw a Public Domain Review post on Albert Robida’s Leaving the Opera in the Year 2000. I keep an eye out for cafés and restaurants and will cheerfully add this one to my directory of imaginary eating places. The verve and wit of Robida’s style carries well from Jeanette’s 19th C into Mattie’s 20th C—for that matter, as a chic French version of steampunk right into the 21st C. (more…)

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…)

Studio party

April 10, 2014

Tags: Trilby, fencing, illustration, studio

Trilby, a novel about art students in Paris by author and illustrator George du Maurier, was one of my richest sources for details and ambiance. This illustration contributed to (more…)

This not an April Fool …

April 1, 2014

Tags: Louvre, caricature, copyist, illustration, women artists

This is not an April Fool’s joke, but a genuine double-page spread. Anyone care to speculate on the sex of author and illustrator?

Class critique

February 3, 2014

Tags: Académie Julian, illustration, studio, schools, women artists, Bouguereau

I recently came across this picture by Albert Guillaume. William Adolphe Bouguereau criticizing student work in Jeanette’s class at the Académie Julian? Not quite, but mighty close! It appears in the January 14, 1905, issue of the French weekly, L’Illustration, accompanying the magazine’s review of a play, La Massière by Jules Lemaître. (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…)

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…)

Goblin Market

September 12, 2013

Tags: Emily, illustration, studio

Writing historical fiction calls for focus, research, and deliberate decisions, but it also inevitably draws on whatever lurks in the writer’s mind. The English pre-Raphaelites have long been a part of my life because my husband, John, studied them in graduate school. When it came time dramatize a winter’s afternoon in Amy and Sonja’s studio, for some reason Christina Rossetti’s line about “It snows and blows and you’re too curious, fie” floated up into my consciousness. Perfect for the weather and for Emily.

When I began the project, I intended Emily to exemplify the sort of weak art student who fell by the wayside in tough competition. Instead, she turned strange and became far more interesting to me as the book went along. I came to imagine her in future painting melancholy, obsessive, dense fairy pictures, (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…)

Noggins

July 11, 2013

Tags: Noggins, Robbie, caricature, illustration

From the sublimity of Friday's Rembrandt to the absurdity of Punch today! Punch was my model for Noggins, the humor magazine to which Robbie Dolson contributes his satirical article about lady painters at the Breton seacoast. I read enough passages to have fun writing a pastiche, but I did not go so far as to mock up Noggins pages. Are any of you historical fiction writers also re-enactors? If so, what you have done and how has it affected your writing?

To read many volumes of Punch on line, click here.

Fencing Lesson

June 17, 2013

Tags: fencing, illustration

After his walk in the Tuileries Garden, Edward takes his first lesson at Pierre Artaud’s fencing studio. Edward’s ambivalent taste for the sport gave me a way to dramatize his inner conflicts about chivalry and aggression. Fencing was an important sport throughout the 19th C in France and Germany, partly because real duels (though illegal) were still fought in both countries. Fencing manuals from the period and articles in popular periodicals about both the sport and duels gave me confidence in inventing M. Artaud’s establishment.

A First Lesson is a screen shot from Theodore Child, “Duelling in Paris” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, vol. 74, no. 442 (March 1887), p 533.

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

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.

Ostrich at the Zoo

March 11, 2013

Tags: Edward, Paris landmark, illustration

When Edward takes his nephew Eddie to the Parisian zoo, the Jardin d'Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, they see an ostrich pulling a cart. Although I had read about the ostrich, I had never seen a picture of it until I ran across Abroad. Illustrated by Thomas Crane (1808–1859), father of the far more famous illustrator Walter Crane (1845–1915), it follows an English family across the Channel and through France. Abroad conveys how a visitor in a foreign country finds that everything looks new and different. (more…)

Trilby

January 28, 2013

Tags: Trilby, copyist, Louvre, illustration

It came as a surprise to me how many professional women copyists there were in France in the 1870's. For background, I read several novels with artists as character. The most important for my purposes was the 1894 bestseller Trilby, written and illustrated by George du Maurier. It is best known now as the origin of the character Svengali, but for art historians its depiction of student life is invaluable. The three men in the background are the Laird, Taffy, and Little Billee, the artists for whom the title character, Trilby, models in the opening chapters. The copyist here is only decoration, but one named Noémie Nioche figures actively in The American by Henry James (1877).

For a contrast to the workaday clothes shown here, check out another copyist painted by a male artist here.