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

Renicks’ vestibule

June 2, 2014

Tags: Gay, painting in the novel, rooms

While I was imagining Jeanette’s painting of a vestibule in the Renicks’ house—the one Carolus-Duran commends and is accepted for the Salon—I had in mind the work of Walter Gay. During my research, I read about him and his wife, Matilda in A Charmed Couple by William Rieder.

What a pleasant life they led! (more…)

Lady of Shalott

May 26, 2014

Tags: Jeanette, painting in the novel

Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” was the first poem I can remember choosing myself to memorize for school, and I still sometimes murmur, On either side the river lie/Long fields of barley and of rye …. When Jeanette is worried (more…)

Dutch interior, empty room

May 5, 2014

Tags: Hoogstraten, Jeanette, Louvre, painting in the novel, rooms, Hamer

This is the painting I have a melancholy Jeanette copy in the Louvre after Edward has gone south to Dr. Aubanel’s sanatorium. It would obviously appeal to an artist who perceives empty rooms as “portraits without people.”

Samuel van Hoogstraten was (more…)

Fuchs’ iris

December 19, 2013

Tags: Edward, Degas, painting in the novel

Gardening history is one of my hobbies, and I enjoyed giving Edward a pleasure I would dearly love to have had, namely, coming across a single illustration from Leonhart Fuchs’ illustrated herbal of 1542 at a stall by the river Seine.

Edward feels confident in buying it partly because of what he has learned from a (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…)

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…)

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!

Flight into Egypt

July 8, 2013

Tags: Rembrandt, Renicks, Jeanette, Edward, Charlie Post, painting in the novel, light

The Renicks’ copy of Rembrandt’s Flight allowed me to show Edward and Jeanette reacting together to the same evocative object but with different emotional responses. In this scene, the painting embodies emotional light and shadow, the need for safety and the longing for transcendence. In general, it illustrates artists’ concern for sources of light and where the falls. The hidden moon also echoes Charlie Post’s sickle moon, and the fire adds that touch of red or warm color that plays into several compositions in the book.

Cirque Fernando

April 15, 2013

Tags: Degas, Edward, Effie, Jeanette, entertainment, painting in the novel, Paris landmark

After their successful outing to the World's Fair, Edward takes Jeanette and Effie to the Cirque Fernando (later the Cirque Medrano), which featured horseback riders, clowns, and acrobats in a wooden hippodrome on Montmartre, built like a giant circus tent. Degas' painting of Mlle La La, hanging from a trapeze by her teeth, led me to have her perform that night. Later in the novel, my characters see the painting itself at the 4th Impressionist show. For Toulouse-Lautrec's depiction of the ringmaster and a rider, click here.

For a spring 2013 exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library centered on this picture, click here.

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?

Erasmus

January 24, 2013

Tags: painting in the novel, copyist, Jeanette, Louvre

Before there were photographic reproductions, artists copied in museums as part of their exploration of past masters' work; and the second-rate among them could make a living copying pictures that other people wanted as souvenirs for their walls. In a passage that was cut from the final text of Where the Light Falls, Jeanette watches a hardened old pro making yet another copy of Holbein's Erasmus. She has a brief exchange with him and reflects on how much her father would like to have the portrait in his study. As far as I'm concerned, the encounter took place and so I'm slipping it back into the world of the novel via this blog. Authors, do some scenes that fail to make the final cut remain potent in your memory? And, readers, when deleted material is subsequently published, do you incorporate it into your idea of a book?

The Shrine of Shakespeare

December 13, 2012

Tags: painting in the novel, Vassar

Jeanette carries her unfinished copy of Gifford’s Shrine of Shakespeare from Vassar to New York City. After she, her mother, and Cousin Effie visit the Tenth Street Studio Building, she brings it out to show the family—thereby provoking the quarrel that sends her to Paris. At Vassar’s Frances Lehmann Loeb Art Center, I was able to view works from the college’s earliest collection, the Magoon Collection. It helped me think my way into Jeanette’s situation to look at works she might actually see. The catalogue of an earlier (more…)

Morning

December 3, 2012

Tags: painting in the novel, Vassar

This is a version of a painting at Vassar that Jeanette ruefully knows she may never see again when she runs upstairs to the art gallery after being expelled. I could feel her grief and her love of beauty as she gazed at it. But for me as the author, the painting also symbolized the bigger, more light-filled future that lay ahead for her across the bay. New York! Paris!