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

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Picturing a World

Anna Alma-Tadema

June 17, 2017

Tags: rooms, women artists

Today at an exhibition, Orchestrating Elegance: Alma-Tadema and Design at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., I saw a reproduction of this watercolor by Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s daughter Anna Alma-Tadema. Another portrait without people! As a novelist, I find these 19th C paintings of unpeopled rooms helpful aids to imagination. The suggest a sensibility but leave me free to imagine my own stories. (more…)

Ellen Clacy

March 9, 2017

Tags: rooms, women artists

Serendipity landed me on an unattributed posting of this image. I have a friend who has a specialist’s knowledge of blue-and-white china, so pictures of it always catch my eye. This painting, moreover, made me think of Jeanette at the Musée Cluny. (more…)

Harriet Backer

April 29, 2016

Tags: Scandinavian artists, women artists, rooms

Website tipBlue Interior by artist Harriet Backer is featured on today’s Lines and Colors. I have shown here another of her interiors, a Breton kitchen, that I wish I had known when I was writing Where the Light Falls. Not only does it illustrate the Gernagans’ kitchen, it fits perfectly with Jeanette’s motif of rooms as “portraits without people.”

More Scandinavian interiors

September 26, 2014

Tags: rooms, Scandinavian artists

Carl Vilhelm Holsoe The Dining Room
Blog tip: Another artist of domestic interiors—Carl Vilhelm Holsoe.

Images and characters

September 24, 2014

Tags: rooms

Images help me speculate about my characters. Two posts this morning on It’s About Time contain paintings of rooms from 1908—the first on interiors by Peter Ilsted, the second on interiors by Henri Matisse. One question for me is which style would Jeanette be using in 1908? Another is (more…)

Kitchen

September 22, 2014

Tags: apartments, rooms

When I first started researching ANONYMITY, writer Polly Shulman suggested I look for Topless Towers, a 1921 novel by Margaret Ashmun. It is set in a Morningside Heights apartment building and gave me lots of leads for details of apartment life. It opens: (more…)

Morning paper

September 18, 2014

Tags: rooms

In the first chapter of ANONYMITY, my unmarried heroine sits alone, reading the morning paper. Images like this one of William MacGregor Paxton’s woman reader, (more…)

Light and rooms

September 15, 2014

Tags: light, rooms

A recent e-mail exchange with a friend about the rise of the word living-room in America in the 19th C set me thinking about how important it is in historical fiction to get ordinary terms right. Front parlor, back parlor, sitting room, boudoir, withdrawing room, drawing room, living-room, salon, lounge—they (more…)

Henry van Ingen

August 11, 2014

Tags: Vassar, rooms

During my research, it was a delight to discover that there was a popular art teacher at Vassar. If I had known when I was writing that Henry van Ingen was so romantically sensitive in appearance, I suppose I might have given Jeanette a full-scale crush on him. It might have helped prepare for her interest in an older man. Then again, the student author of Letters from Old-Time Vassar, Written by a Student in 1869–70 (Poughkeepsie, 1915) wrote home that “we never think of our teachers as men or Miss Lyman wouldn’t have them here” (p. 70).

A photograph of van Ingen, cigarette in hand as he talks to a girl in the art gallery, captures some of the sly humor I believe the man had. I admit, however, that I pictured him as pudgier and more avuncular. (more…)

Vassar dorm room

August 7, 2014

Tags: Vassar, rooms

“We had two of the dearest rooms, opening into each other, with four windows in the larger. That was mine—absolutely darling!—embroidered pillows all over the couch, and easy chairs, and a tea-table … and photographs stuck up everywhere … and a border of posters at the top of the wall, and signs which (more…)

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…)

Hassam's room

May 9, 2014

Tags: Hassam, rooms

Quickly, another not-really-empty room to compare to Anna Ancher’s. Again, a female figure is hardly more than a part of the color pattern, but, oh, to be reading with her in that room! For this and two more “It’s almost summer” paintings at the It’s About Time blog, click here. (more…)

Ancher’s blue room

May 5, 2014

Tags: Ancher, Jeanette, rooms, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Although a little girl is, in fact, shown sitting on a chair in this painting, it was one of the pictures I had in mind when I invented Jeanette’s interest in rooms as “portraits without people.” Anna Ancher, an almost exact contemporary of Jeanette, (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…)

Salon Doré

April 8, 2014

Tags: Renicks, rooms

Blog tip: The reopening of the newly renovated Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco on April 5th is the subject of a fascinating blog post at The History Blog. The original hotêl's history and fate could be those of the Renicks' house.

Book clubs

November 14, 2013

Tags: Aunt Maude, rooms

In the past week, two more book clubs—one in Athens, Ga., and one in Worcester, Mass.—were generous enough to invite me to discuss Where the Light Falls. It's wonderful to be invited into people's homes; and as a little thank-you, here is a link to a recent post on American Victorian domestic interiors. When I saw Lamson's Sitting Room, I thought of Maude Hendrick's sitting room in New York. It will be a continuing pleasure to remember the hospitality given me in yours!

Inside the Renicks' House

March 14, 2013

Tags: Edward, Renicks, Paris landmark, Gay, rooms

The delicious Museé Jacquemart-André helped me invent the interior of the Renicks' house even if my fictional house is supposed to be older. Artist Nélie Jacquemart and her banker husband, Edouard André, built the mansion to display their art collection, which included many 18th C paintings, tapestries, and objects. To walk through it was to be in the house of connoisseurs with tastes similar to Marius Renick's. Gay's Grand Salon suggests why, after entering the Renicks' house, Edward finds that from now on he must expand his imagination for aristocratic scenes when he reads Balzac. (more…)

A New York dining room

December 6, 2012

Tags: Aunt Maude, rooms

To help me imagine scenes of Jeanette at her Aunt Maude’s house, this 1866 painting of a New York dining room supplied details of carpet, furnishings, crown moldings, door frames, etc. It also gave me a sense of how full Aunt Maude’s upstairs parlor should feel. Most surprising and cheering were all the small oil paintings on the walls. The Hendricks would not have owned so many, but Contest for the Bouquet shows that my young women artists were being realistic when they hoped to sell small-scale fine art to buyers for hanging at home.

By the way, this blog has turned up another coincidence: Do you see how the painting on the far wall echoes Moore's Morning over New York in the previous post? Does anything else in the painting specially strike you?