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

Old London

May 6, 2017

Tags: handcart, street views

Blog alert: Every morning, I check the blog Spitalfields Life. Today’s post, A Walk in Long Forgotten London is one of several devoted to Walter Thornbury’s Old & New London, an 1873 compilation of engravings of the London that was already disappearing when it was published. (more…)

Votes for Women in Cincinnati

November 6, 2014

Tags: suffrage, street views

Of course, this should have been posted on Monday with an exhortation to vote (I hope you did). If you find the results of Tuesday's elections depressing, remember our foremothers worked and worked and kept working despite.

The Library of Congress captions this photograph, "Miss Louise Hall with brush and Miss Susan Fitzgerald assisting bill posting in Cincinnati." (more…)

Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee

November 3, 2013

Tags: street views

I’m headed today for Bristol, where the Virginia/Tennessee state line runs right down a main street. Tomorrow at 10 A.M., I’ll be reading at the public library.

Readers: Doesn’t this picture invite story-telling? (more…)

Edward's apartment

October 21, 2013

Tags: Caillebotte, Edward, street views

When he returns to Paris from Rome, Edward sublets an apartment on the Right Bank in a new, comfortable district of straight boulevards, harmonious architecture, and no haunting history. Some critics claim that painters of urban modernity in the last quarter of the 19th C depicted alienation and emptiness. They would call your attention to how far Caillebotte’s solitary viewer is removed from the street. But to me, standing as he is at ease above a boulevard lined with trees and handsome buildings, the man suggests Edward: alone perhaps, yet content to contemplate the gifts of civilization and peace in contrast to the horrors of war.

For a street-level view by Caillebotte of the same sort of neighborhood (and solitary man), click here.

Autumn street scene

July 29, 2013

Tags: light, street views

When Sonja is ready to begin work on portrait medallions for Edward, she and Jeanette walk one silvery, wet night from La Poupée en Bas to the studio on the Rue Madame. I’d say Hassam’s picture depicts October rather than November, and the hour is obviously closer to sunset than true darkness. Still, it is the sort of streetscape that helped me imagine Paris in various seasons and lights. Notice especially here, the streetlamps and shop widows in the misty distance horizontally across the middle third of the painting.

Café Tortoni

July 15, 2013

Tags: Robbie, Jeanette, Effie, Emily, cafés and restaurants, kiosk, street views

The Café Tortoni was a real place, posh and successful for most of the 19th C. Martial’s etching shows the Morris column or advertising kiosk that Robbie pretends to be perusing when Jeanette, Cousin Effie, and Emily arrive expecting to be treated to its famous ice cream. (more…)

View from a studio window

July 5, 2013

Tags: Effie, Nourse, studio, street views, women artists

An artist about whom I read a lot at the beginning of my research was Cincinnati-born Elizabeth Nourse (1859–1938)), Jeanette's almost exact contemporary. She, too, studied at the Académie Julian (beginning in 1887) and made her career in Paris, where she lived with her sister. This view from her studio window fell in with my own (and Jeanette's!) love of pictures painted or photographed out of upper-storey windows. I gave Mabel Reade a studio on the Rue d'Assas because of this very image and had Cousin Effie talk her way into a studio more expensive than Amy and Sonja could afford for the same reason. (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…)

Sonja's Studio

May 6, 2013

Tags: Marville, street views, Sonja, handcart, studio

I can’t find the photograph of super-cheap studios in an industrial district on the Left Bank that inspired Sonja’s studio, but this Marville photograph with its sign, “Sculpture at the back of the court,” tickles me as a substitute. It even has the wet gutter!

Click on the photo to reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Zoom feature, which makes enlarging the picture almost like moving down the alley. When you reach the handcart on the right, you'll see that if it were decorated with crepe paper, it would fit right into Chapter Twenty-One, “Moving Day.”

For a wonderfully informative website that plots Marville’s photographs on a map alongside present-day shots of each location, click here.

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.

At the Florist

April 29, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Edward, flower seller, shopping, social customs, street views

Before I saw Béraud’s Promenade, featured in the last post, I had seen Hassam’s Florist, which illustrates the custom of being accompanied by a uniformed maid when out and about in Paris (very handy for having someone to carry purchases as well as to announce respectability). Countess Marie Bashkirtseff and other privileged students at the Académie Julian were escorted to class by a maid. For Jeanette and other foreign students, however, such close chaperonage was unnecessary. The streets of Paris were safe and American girls were notable to Europeans for their independence. (more…)

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…)

Veteran

March 7, 2013

Tags: Edward, Manet, street views, war veterans

In Manet's potent Rue Mosnier, the flags are hung out to celebrate France's repayment of war reparations to Germany. The one-legged man who hobbles down the empty street has paid a different price for the Franco-Prussian War. The painting moved me, and I translated it obliquely into the scene where Edward shares a glass of brandy with a veteran. Later, he finds it impossible to put into words why the chance meeting mattered to him, but it did. Likewise, I find it impossible to put into words why the scene matters to me, but it does. I lived in fear that a reader or editor would call for it to be cut. Thank goodness, it went uncontested.

Boulevard Montmartre

February 11, 2013

Tags: Académie Julian, Effie, Jeanette, Paris landmark, street views

In New York City, Jeanette has been told about an art school called the Académie Julian. Now in Paris, in Chapter Eight, as soon as she and Effie have rented an apartment, they set out to find it. The school, which admitted women students (unlike the national École des Beaux-Arts) was located in the Passage des Panaromas, a shopping arcade that ran—and still runs—north from the rue Saint-Marc to the boulevard Montmartre. Jeanette and Effie walk its length and are momentarily baffled when they find themselves here, on the boulevard beside the Theatre des Variétés. I have stood at this very spot; the passage would be to the right if it were in the oil sketch, (more…)

Place du Carrousel

January 17, 2013

Tags: Paris landmark, De Nittis, dogs, handcart, street views

On their first visit to the Louvre, Jeanette and Effie enter the Place du Carrousel and see a wide cobbled plaza, birds, red trousers of Zouaves in the distance, the ruins of the burned-out Tuileries Palace, and the statue of Victory atop the triumphal Arc du Carrousel. It's all in this painting.

And notice where the light falls! Victory becomes an emblem in Jeanette's mind for her artistic (more…)

The Pont des Arts

January 14, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Paris landmark, Béraud, Parisiénne, street views

On her first full day in Paris, Jeanette enters her new life by crossing the Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge from the Left Bank to the Louvre. Béraud’s Windy Day illustrates the place; and from the first time I saw it, its tone of urbane self-awareness represented for me Jeanette's move into a bigger world. The self-possessed young woman in the foreground is certainly the very image of the chic Parisiénne that Jeanette would love to become. By its angle of view and the wide horizontal spread of pavement, moreover, the picture emphasizes the physical breadth of public spaces in Paris. (more…)

Steep hill in Cincinnati

December 20, 2012

Tags: Edward, Cincinnati, photograph, street views

I’ve been to Poughkeepsie, I’ve been to New York, I’ve been Paris—but never to Cincinnati. Old maps, photos, and drawings in 19th C guide books helped me visualize Edward’s city up to a point. What made me feel the place in my muscles were some drawings of hillsides and public stairs in a 1968 book called Cincinnati Scenes by Caroline Williams. This was crucial for imagining Edward’s climb to Theodore’s house on Mount Auburn after the mugger’s attack. A photograph of the steps from Dorchester Street to Sycamore Hill gives you an idea of how steep those hills really are. (And don't you love how the man at the bottom of the stairs echoes the man on the bridge on the cover?)

The Tenth Street Studios

December 10, 2012

Tags: studio, photograph, street views

The cars tell you that this photograph of the Tenth Street Studio Building was taken in the 20th Century, but the picture gave me enough information to imagine the street as Jeanette, Effie, and Mrs. Palmer would have seen it. Notice how big the windows are compared to those in the building next door—an unmistakable sign of an art studio.
Artists with studios in the Tenth Street Building were nothing like the Romantic artist starving in his garret. These men wanted to entice and impress clients, to strut out as the accomplished professionals they were, as you can see here. For the sumptuousness of William Merritt Chase's studio, see this painting.