Katherine Keenum


A blog about the paintings, photographs, and prints that help me visualize my fiction—both Where the Light Falls and works-in-progress. My main current project is a novel tentatively entitled ANONYMITY. Its heroine works in publishing, belongs to a clandestine suffragist group, and has a married lover. Read on!

Click on images to see enlargements. In the text, click on words in color to activate links.

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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

Life drawing, 1809

May 4, 2016

Tags: schools, studio, light

Website tip: Today's post of images from Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin's Microcosm of London at the always interesting blog, Spitalsfield Life, is a dandy for historical fiction novelists and fans of Georgian England. And I love the way this plate shows early 19th C lighting for a life class.

Carolus-Duran (4)

April 19, 2016

Tags: Carolus-Duran, studio

Readers of this blog know that I'm always on the lookout for pictures that illustrate Where the Light Falls. Jeanette specially notices the size of Carolus-Duran's palette when she first see him painting Cornelia Renick's portrait—et voilà!

Studio party

January 22, 2015

Tags: Beaux, Scandinavian artists, Salon, studio

This engraving of Gunnar Berndston's depiction of a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper appears in The Illustrated Catalogue of the Paris Salon for 1882. Such an engraved image might seem inadequate to eyes accustomed to photographic reproduction, yet turning the pages of the Salon catalogues in the research library of The Clark was a wonderful way to grasp the scope of the annual exhibitions. To see what I mean, click here for the next year's catalogue

In the 1882 catalogue, a few pictures seemed to leap out illustratively for Where the Light Falls. This one reminded me of (more…)

A Tenth Street studio

August 28, 2014

Tags: Chase, studio

Does the romantic ideal of the impoverished artist, unappreciated yet dedicated to the authenticity of his vision, survive into the commercialized 21st C? Its heyday may have been the 19th C, yet the 19th C also saw artists striving to be taken seriously as professionals. When William Merritt Chase painted his studio at the Tenth Street Studio Building, he wanted the viewer to recognize the opulence of his furnishings. An 1880 photograph shows the same chest and many props, framed pictures, mounted fans, etc. (more…)

Carolus-Duran’s studio in L’Illustration

April 11, 2014

Tags: Carolus-Duran, studio

Article tip: Wondering how many digitized images from the 19th French weekly, L’Illustration, are now easily available on the web, I Googled its title plus “Carolus-Duran” and up popped scholar Rachel Esner’s well-illustrated article about the magazine’s depiction of artists’ studios in the 19th C. To read it, click here. L'Illustration's fee-for-use archive can be accessed through its home page.

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…)

Painting Edward’s portrait

April 3, 2014

Tags: Bauck, Jeanette, Wegmann, studio, women artists, Scandinavian artists

This painting by Jeanna Bauck (1840-1926) depicts a fancier, better equipped studio than Jeanette’s, but you can imagine my excitement when I found it last year—the right era, a woman assiduously painting a portrait of a sober-faced older man. (more…)

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…)

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…)

Carolus-Duran (2)

October 3, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Effie, Jeanette, Sargent, studio

Although I did not try to dramatize a scene in which either Carolus-Duran or John Singer Sargent played a keyboard instrument, it was tempting, for both were superb musicians. Carolus's organ was notable among the many props and objets d'art in his studio. Sometimes he played it to distract restless children who sat (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…)

Red Rose Girls

September 9, 2013

Tags: Red Rose Girls, Jeanette, Amy, Emily, Effie, studio, women artists

After Saturday's blog alert on moving pictures, here's a still that tickled me while I was writing Where the Light Falls. Although I wanted events in my novel to be accurate to 1878–1880, not everything that inspired me came from that period. The camaraderie, humor, and tensions of a shared studio as well as the fruitfulness of women’s friendship were exemplified by the three women artists shown in this photograph. Jeanette's somewhat younger contemporaries, they began living together in 1899 and called themselves the Red Rose Girls. (more…)

Hot stove in a studio

September 5, 2013

Tags: Amy, Bazille, Sonja, studio, Paris landmark

I loved this picture when I came across it early in my research—it was so specific and full of workaday details. Here was what the gray walls artists wanted for neutral light looked like, along with a chair for a sitter, a paintbox, a palette. Bazille’s studio is not exactly how I later imagined Sonja and Amy’s—oh, but look at that hot, hot stove! Coal supplied by Count Witkiewicz! And now that I look at the picture again, I see it as one of Jeanette’s empty rooms as a portrait.

For a very similar painting, see Gustave Caillebotte’s Interior of a Studio with Stove. (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…)

Blue-and-white teacups

August 22, 2013

Tags: Amy, Sonja, Wegmann, Cassatt, studio, women artists

When Edward goes to Sonja and Amy’s studio to see the portrait medallions Sonja has sculpted for him, Amy serves the gathered friends tea in chipped blue-and-white porcelain. I got the idea for chipped china from Massachusetts artist Eleanor Norcross, who (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…)

Charlie Post

May 27, 2013

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Charlie Post, Sargent, studio

I’m not sure which came first, seeing Hovenden’s Self-Portrait or imagining Charlie Post. Like Charlie, Hovenden here seems to me pugnacious, introspective, dissatisfied, brooding, wistful, though his self-confidence is of a different stripe from Charlie’s obsessive belief in his work.

This self-portrait also points to a motif that could have been part of the novel but wasn’t, namely how musically accomplished many of the artists of this period were (including Carolus-Duran and John Singer Sargent). Notice how the scroll above the Hovenden’s violin peg box just touches the edge of the picture on his easel, symbolically joining the two arts. Similarly, in Marie Bashkirtseff’s self-portrait of 1880, the harp behind the painter just touches her palette.

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.

Académie Julian

February 14, 2013

Tags: Académie Julian, studio, schools, women artists, photograph

This photo gives an idea of how many women crowded into Rodolphe Julian's highly successful art classes, and the drawings mounted on the wall shows how good the best of them were. Notice how they are posed so that not everyone is staring straight ahead at the canera. That was a 19th C convention for group photographs. It is artificial, but it does enliven the composition—just a little prod toward the historical novelist's goal of imagining them as separate individuals, each with her own story.

For Jefferson David Chalfant's informative painting of one of the men's studios, click here.

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.

Cousin Effie's screen!

November 29, 2012

Tags: Effie, fans, studio

After I posted yesterday's image of Alfred Stevens' In the Studio, I noticed the Asian screen behind the painter for the first time and did a double take. That's just like the one Cousin Effie buys in Where the Light Falls! Well, not quite—I imagined Effie's as smaller. But it is lovely to have this confirmation that it belongs in the story.

Does anyone know whether Stevens' screen is Chinese or Japanese? Asian prints and objets d'art were were very popular among artists in 1870s and 1880s. Notice, for instance, the Japanese parasol mounted on the wall and the fan tucked behind a picture over the model's left shoulder.

In the Studio

November 28, 2012

Tags: fans, women artists, studio, Jeanette, Amy, Sonja, Emily, Stevens

When I began research on women artists in the nineteenth century, I had no idea how many there were. Every new picture of women in an art class or an artist in her studio was an exciting revelation. Among the many, Alfred Stevens’ In the Studio stood out because it seemed to capture a moment in a story.

Once, just for the fun of it, I thought of the standing artist as Sonja. The visitor might be Jeanette. Maybe Amy was posing. Or was that Emily? In fact, no identifications from Where the Light Falls fit exactly. Nevertheless, every time I look at this image, I feel like I’m peeking into their world.