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.

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

Selected Works

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

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Picturing a World

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.

American Women Artists: 1860–1960

October 19, 2017

Tags: women artists

Exhibition alert: A show of twenty-five works by American women artists is on view at Avery Galleries, 100 Chetwynd Drive, Bry Mawr, Pennsylvania, October 13–November 10, 2017. (more…)

Elizabeth O'Neill Verner

September 21, 2017

Tags: women artists

What we see is partly a result of what we are taught to see. Elizabeth O'Neill Verner must have encountered the kind of 19th C paintings of flower sellers that have been the topic at It’s About Time in recent weeks. My guess is that familiarity with the motif contributed to her noticing and championing the flower sellers and basket weavers in her own town of Charleston, S.C. A move was afoot in the early 20th C to have these African-American vendors banned from the street, but Verner led the effort (more…)

Asta Nørregaard

September 15, 2017

Tags: Jeanette, Effie, Scandinavian artists, studio, women artists

I saw this painting by the Norwegian painter Asta Nørregaard at an exhibition while I was researching Where the Light Falls. At the time, I was unable to find an image on line, but memory of it influenced how I imagined Jeanette’s first studio of her own. Its spareness and gray walls, in contrast to the lusher studios so often depicted during this period, seemed specially appropriate to Jeanette’s pocketbook and her mood at that point in the novel. At the time I was writing, I thought that it was Cousin Effie’s love of Whistler’s decorative schemes at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 that made her to want to paint the walls yellow; I suspect now that the colors in this painting also subtly influenced my imagination of how the two characters would react to a studio space. (more…)

Anna Ancher’s flower arrangers

August 3, 2017

Tags: Scandinavian artists, women artists

Blog tip: At It’s About Time Barbara Wells Sarudy has been posting a series of paintings under the title of “Arranging Flowers around the Globe.” This one by Anna Ancher is clearly a study, not a finished work (note that the artist did not sign it). Artists can treasure each other’s studies, and collectors often like to own them. (Not so likely for first drafts of short stories and novels!)

Emma Lambert Cooper

July 31, 2017

Tags: women artists

Where do you suppose this picture was painted? I would guess either Italy or California. Emma Lambert Cooper and her husband, Colin Campbell Cooper, spent time in both places. (The Chianti bottle might tip the scales for Italy; then again my research for ANONYMITY indicates that Chianti wine with straw baskets for the bottle was popular among American Bohemians at the turn of the 20th C.) (more…)

Lee Lufkin Kaula

July 1, 2017

Tags: Edward, women artists

A recent post at It’s About Time introduced me to another woman artist from the period of my Palmer sisters, Lee Lufkin Kaula.

Although Kaula seems to be best known for paintings (more…)

Mary Bradish Titcomb

June 24, 2017

Tags: Bradish, women artists

Although these young women date from some thirty years after the action of Where the Light Falls,, they immediately made me think of my characters sketching en plein air in Pont Aven, and I am specially grateful to a blog post at It’s About Time for introducing me to (more…)

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…)

Mary Newcomb at Issuu

April 12, 2017

Tags: women artists

Website tip: Mary Newcomb’s sheep and star led me to the on-line publication of Mary Newcomb’s Odd Universe, the catalogue for a 2008 memorial exhibition at the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and the Crane Kalman Gallery in London. How wonderful (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…)

Marie Egner

February 27, 2017

Tags: women artists

Marie Egner, Self-Portrait (1878)
A post on Marie Egner at Lines and Colors has just introduced me to this artist. She was an older (and longer-lived) contemporary of the real Jeanette. Born in Radkersburg, Austria, on the Slovenian border, Egner studied in Dusseldorf and exhibited in her native Austria, Germany, and (more…)

Fanny Brate—Another one lost to marriage

February 8, 2017

Tags: plein air, Scandinavian artists, schools, women artists

In Where the Light Falls, Amy points out bitterly to Jeanette that marriage means the end of a woman’s career in art. So it was for Fanny Brate (1861–1940), a Swedish painter who entered the Royal Swedish Academy of Art in 1880 and (more…)

Carrington links

February 2, 2017

Tags: women artists

Blog alert: For two more excellent links about Leonora Carrington (in connection with a 2015 Tate Liverpool exhibition), click here and here.

Surrealism—Leonora Carrington

February 1, 2017

Tags: women artists


Things come together sometimes to open new vistas and set off resonances.

A few weeks ago, a review led me to buy Too Brave to Dream, a collection of previously unpublished poems that Welsh priest and poet R. S. Thomas (more…)

Girl writing—Henriette Browne

January 18, 2017

Tags: women artists

As we go into an uncertain future on Inauguration Day 2017, I am calming myself at night by reading Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books. As girls, lots of female writers identified with Jo March of Little Women. Betsy Ray was an even greater heroine to me. (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…)

Marianne Stokes’ Madonna

December 16, 2016

Tags: art colony, women artists

A post of Marianne Stokes’ Madonna and Child at It’s About Time caught my eye partly for the serene loveliness of the composition, partly for the Crivelli-like use of gold ornamentation, and partly for the date (which is only one year off (more…)

Joan Carlile at the Tate

September 25, 2016

Tags: women artists

Blog tip: A portrait of a woman by artist Joan Carlile, ca. 1650, has been purchased by Tate Britain in London. Read more at the History Blog post, Tate acquires its earliest portrait by woman artist.

Laura Johnson Knight

September 1, 2016

Tags: women artists

Website tip: A recent post at It’s About Time introduced me to English artist Laura Johnson Knight

As summer nears its end, this image from 1908, the year my current work-in-progress is set, overlaps nicely with my continuing interest (more…)

Florence Fuller

August 29, 2016

Tags: Académie Julian, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Terri Windling’s Myth & Moor is a great source of inspiration for writers, readers, and lovers of images related to the mythopoeia. Her August 26th post on Children, reading, and Tough Magic is trove of pictures of children reading and quotations on the value of fantasy stories. It also brought my attention another of Jeanette’s younger contemporaries who studied at the Académie Julian—Florence Fuller (1867–1946). Born in South Africa, Fuller is classed as an Australian artist; for although she studied in Paris and spent time in England and India, she grew up in Australia and her most productive years were spent there. Her work is collected primarily in Australian museums. In 1905, she became a Theosophist, a reminder to me that the occult was a part of the world around my heroines Jeanette and Mattie (though not, I think, of much interest to either of them).

Henrietta Rae

August 25, 2016

Tags: women artists

Today’s image is from a distressing Spitalsfield Life post on plans to build a mezzanine in the ambulatory of London’s Royal Exchange. If built, the mezzanine will obstruct views of richly detailed turn-of-the-century murals of scenes from English history by several artists. I’m appalled by the proposed vandalism, but at least the post led me to Henrietta Rae. Rae was an almost exact contemporary of Jeanette, and her mural art is a reminder of the beautiful mural work done by female illustrators and fine artists of the period (the best known in America being the the Red Rose Girls).

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…)

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.”

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…)

Searching for words

January 19, 2016

Tags: fantasy, women artists

The conceptual artist Catherine Chaloux tickles my fancy. Although fantasy fiction is a part of my reading and writing life, I have not reacted to her witty, luscious work as a source of stories so much as illustrations of my imaginary self. This picture combines (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…)

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…)

Little Woman in Blue

December 29, 2015

Tags: Nieriker, women artists

Blog tip: I have just read this post on Jeannine Atkins’ new novel Little Woman in Blue: The Story of May Alcott Nieriker with great interest. And, of course, I love it that Where the Light Falls is included in the recommended reading list at the end!

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…)

Elizabeth Butler

November 20, 2015

Tags: Elizabeth Butler, Carolus-Duran, Sargent, women artists

An important new show, Artist & Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, will be opening at the Tate Gallery in London on November 25, 2015. It features this painting by Elizabeth Butler among (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!

Women on an omnibus

January 19, 2015

Tags: Cassatt, women artists, transportation

It’s hard to know why some topics fascinate us. I ride public transportation whenever I can; maybe that's why depictions of riders in a train or on an omnibus always catch my eye. For my fiction, moreover, it just seems part of world-building to know how my characters get from one place to another and how long it takes them. Mary Cassatt's In the Omnibus" reminds me of crossing the Charles River on the Red Line in Boston during the day when the cars are sometimes uncrowded. For Daumier's more typically crowded omnibus, click here. (more…)

Wish I'd seen Bauck in time

January 15, 2015

Tags: Bauck, Wegmann, Scandinavian artists, women artists

It is gratifying to run across paintings (like Vollon’s Mound of Butter) that seem to jump right out of the world of my novel, but here’s one I wish I had seen while I was writing. What an engaging gaze!

The subject of Danish artist Bertha Wegmann’s portrait’—the Swedish-born Jeanna Bauck (1840–1926)—would have been Edward's contemporary (more…)

Woman reading

January 11, 2015

Tags: Bashkirtseff, women artists

Blog tip: I’ve just discovered Bas van Houwelingen’s long-running blog Reading and Art. Each post features a single artist’s images of people reading. For more from Bashkirtseff, click here.

Black hats

January 5, 2015

Tags: Carlsson-Bredberg, Hale, Scandinavian artists, fashion or clothes, women artists

(l) Ellen Day Hale, Self-Portrait (1885); (r) Mina Carlsson-Bredberg, Study, Académie Julian
After I saw Manet’s Woman Reading, I came across these two pictures, both by students in the 1880’s, both of women with the same sort of bangs and ears showing, each wearing a soft-crowned black hat. Could they be the same student?!? (more…)

Christmas tree

December 26, 2014

Tags: Christmas, women artists

Elizabeth Forbes, Christmas Tree (n.d.)
Whoops! I forgot to hit "Publish" on Dec. 23rd—a bonus from Canadian-born Elizabeth Adela Forbes Stanhope (Jeanette’s contemporary). Happy Boxing Day.

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…)

Pauline Carolus-Duran

December 18, 2014

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Sarah Bernhardt, Sophie Croizette, fashion or clothes, women artists

Pauline Marie Charlotte Croizette was an artist and the sister of actress Sophie Croizette. In 1868, Pauline met Carolus-Duran in the Louvre, where she was copying old masters, and married him that year. I love (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…)

Female magazine illustrators

December 8, 2014

Tags: women artists


Some readers have been kind enough to ask whether there will be a sequel to Where the Light Falls. So far, my answer is “I don’t know. I don’t have a story yet, but I do know that Jeanette becomes an illustrator.” Partly with her future career in mind and (more…)

Ellen Day Hale

December 1, 2014

Tags: Académie Julian, Carolus-Duran, Hale, women artists

Ellen Day Hale's 1910 picture of a reclining woman with a guitar (taken here from a post at It’s About Time) can help me with the atmosphere of ANONYMITY in a way that photographs cannot. There’s something fresh and vivid (more…)

Another record sale

November 21, 2014

Tags: women artists

Breaking news: A Georgia O'Keefe painting has sold for a record price for a painting by a woman. I suppose this just upped the price (not the value!) of all her other work, but why does my heart sink that dollars dictate the discussion?

Windling and King

November 19, 2014

Tags: fantasy, women artists

Blog tip: Any of you who read fantasy fiction know Terri Windling as a writer or editor. I have just stumbled across her blog Myth and Moor while researching Glasgow women artists (I think Amy Richardson may wind up in Glasgow). A visit to her page is a two-fer, Windling herself and Jessie M. King.

Clay maquette

October 20, 2014

Tags: Bonnier, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Swedish artist Eva Bonnier accompanied Hanna Hirsch to Paris in 1883.* Bonnier was primarily a painter; but like my characters, Amy Richardson and Sonja Borealska, she practiced sculpture in clay. (more…)

Breakfast tables

September 11, 2014

Tags: gardens, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Here in New England, mornings are getting too cool to eat breakfast on the porch; but before summer fades entirely, I was pleased to run across this painting at the always interesting Lines and Colors blog. It is an example of blogger Charley Parker’s feature, “Eye Candy for Today,” which demonstrates the value of looking at an art work bit by bit instead of always as an integrated whole. My interest in garden history has led me to peek into backgrounds of portraits and biblical paintings to catch glimpses of gardens in the past. For writers, realistic details spring out, e.g., the single blossom in a wine glass on the table in this picture. (more…)

Girl with a dog

September 10, 2014

Tags: Morisot, dogs, women artists

This morning's post on girls with dogs in the blog It's About Time ties in nicely with a question I had for myself last night. I have just finished a short story set on a farm about a family who would surely have had a dog. Should I have given them one? I didn't because dogs have such personalities it would have to become a character with a role in the plot. Writers, have you found yourself making similar decisions? Readers, if there is a dog in a story or novel, how much do you expect it to contribute to the action or the emotions? What about a cat?

Guns of August

August 5, 2014

Tags: women artists

Website tip: In this centenary of the start of World War I, the Imperial War Museum in London has mounted a page devoted to 6 Stunning First World War Artworks by Women War Artists.

Martha Walter

August 1, 2014

Tags: women artists

Blog tip: A post on Martha Walter introduced me to this American artist who studied in Paris. She spent time in Chattanooga, Tenn., at a time when the real Jeanette lived there. If anybody has an idea how to learn more about Walter's connection to Chattanooga, please let me know!

Marie Bracquemond at her easel

July 28, 2014

Tags: Bracquemond, Dammouse, women artists

I only recently found Dammouse’s pastel of Marie Braqemond at the Galerie Ary Jan in Paris (where it sold). The picture feels like reentering Jeanette’s world, and so it’s a good place to begin running through Where the Light Falls again, more or less chronologically.

My first ever post showed three women artists in a studio. Because I love novels in which I share friendships vicariously, Jeanette’s time with Amy, Emily, and Sonja was always a major theme for me. Another was the seriousness with which women artists worked in the 19th C—a dedication that seems evident in this image. (more…)

Monterey Peninsula Art Colony

July 7, 2014

Tags: frames, art colony, women artists

Monterey was not one of the summer artists’ colonies that I had studied when news of a 2006 exhibition, Artists at Continent’s End: The Monterey Peninsula Art Colony, 1875-1907, set me wondering whether Jeanette might go there at some point in her life. (more…)

Grez-sur-Loing

July 3, 2014

Tags: Carolus-Duran, Low, Nieriker, art colony, women artists

When I was researching summer artists’ colonies and first saw those striped socks on Robert A. M. Stevenson in Will Hicok Low’s A Chronicle of Friendships p. 209, I badly wanted to base a character on him for one of the artists at Pont Aven. (more…)

Mary Fairchild MacMonnies at Giverny

June 26, 2014

Tags: Giverny, Low, MacMonnies, art colony, women artists

In 1895, two married, successful artists, Frederick and Mary Fairchild MacMonnies, bought an old priory in the town of Giverny, where Claude Monet was the reigning artistic deity. High walls enclosed their house, studios, and a terraced garden, which became a center of activity for the American art colony drawn to Giverny.

A frequent visitor was Will Hicok Low. During my research, I read his amusing and generous-hearted book A Chronicle of Friendships (1908) with pleasure. To see one of his paintings of the MacMonnies’ garden, click here. For one of her garden paintings, click here.

A nursery for the MacMonnies children with Mary’s copies of murals by Puvis de Chavannes on the back wall exemplifies the MacMonnies’ way of making their home as ideal a world as possible. Unfortunately, Frederick had affairs with (more…)

Women, art, and marriage

June 23, 2014

Tags: Académie Julian, Bracquemond, Carolus-Duran, Cassatt, Gonzalés, Morisot, women artists

When Amy Richardson and Louise Steadman confront Jeanette with the need to choose between art and love, they remind her of Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot, whose opportunities to show were sadly curtailed by marriage. They also point out that Mary Cassatt knew better than to get married. For a well illustrated post on (more…)

Club for women artists

June 19, 2014

Tags: Nieriker, women artists

During my earliest research, I read Studying Art Abroad, and How To Do It Cheaply by May Alcott Nieriker (1879) in the Boston Public Library. (How I yearned for my own copy! How easy now to read it on line!) A couple of sentences struck me forcibly and ultimately pointed to part of my dénouement: (more…)

Polish woman artist

June 15, 2014

Tags: women artists

Website tips:Look! Another woman artist from Poland in a blog post on paintings of women with parasols or umbrellas. For more about Boznanska at Culture.PL, click here.

Sonja

June 12, 2014

Tags: Sonja, Académie Julian, Bilinska-Bohdanowicz, women artists

Given Sonja’s friendship with sculptors, disregard of clothes, and brawn, is it any wonder that I exclaimed “Sonja!” when I ran across this image? I love imagining her sitting on the floor while she’s building her big picture frame for a Salon submission—although she would be in trousers.

The pose fits (more…)

What I'd like to do

June 4, 2014

Tags: women artists

Blog tip:Yesterday, my garden club met at my house. Today, this image appeared in a post at It’s About Time. Perfect!

To read more about the artist, Jane Sutherland (who was new to me), click here.

Amélie Helga Lundhal

May 14, 2014

Tags: Académie Julian, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Blog tip: For a Cyrillic-alphabet blog post with several images of work by the Finnish artist Amélie Helga Lundhal (1850–1914), who studied at the Académie Julian and painted in Brittany, click here.

Nordic women artists

May 8, 2014

Tags: women artists, Scandinavian artists

While I was working on the previous post, about Anna Ancher of the Skagen colony, I ran across an archived blog post on the Finnish painter, Elin Kleopatra Danielson-Gambogi (1861–1919). She was an almost exact contemporary of Jeanette and, after training in Finland, went to Paris and Pont Aven, where she became a follower of Jules Bastien-Lepage. (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…)

Women Painters of the World (1905)

April 6, 2014

Tags: women artists, work-in-progress

Web link: Check out the website of The Public Domain Review. I immediately found this this book on women painters from 1905, which Mattie my current heroine might give to Jeanette. No telling what what you'll find!

Henrietta Johnston, portraitist

April 4, 2014

Tags: women artists

Blog tip: For a blog post on the first known American woman portraitist, click here. Always worth keeping an eye on the blog, It's About Time!

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…)

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?

Copies and what came after

March 31, 2014

Tags: Schjerfbeck, Velázquez, copyist, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Art students in the 19th C studied older artists’ paintings by copying them,Velázquez being a favorite. Many continued the practice throughout their careers. The work of Jeanette’s contemporary, Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946), shows how interesting the copies could be and how different their original work eventually became. (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…)

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…)

Lucy Lee Robbins

October 14, 2013

Tags: Lucille Dobbs, Lucy Lee Robbins, Carolus-Duran, Cassatt, women artists

The character Lucille Dobbs is based only very loosely on this portrait of Lucy Lee Robbins, an American who studied with Carolus-Duran in the 1880’s. Although Robbins was considered for the prize of painting a mural in the Women’s Building at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, she was said by Mrs. Palmer Potter to be “not above reproach” (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…)

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…)

Effie's "Lady's Guide"

August 19, 2013

Tags: Nieriker, Effie, Jeanette, Edward, cafés and restaurants, women artists

An early Eureka! moment on this project came when I saw a reference to May Alcott Nieriker’s Studying Art Abroad and How To Do It Cheaply. Wow! Louisa May Alcott’s sister wrote a book for women who wanted to study art in Paris in 1879? (more…)

Baby faces

July 22, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Morisot, sketches, women artists

When Amy hires a young mother with a baby to model for the afternoon class at the Académie Julian one week, Jeanette makes studies of the child’s face for future reference and includes the sheet in the portfolio she shows to Carolus-Duran later in the novel. Morisot’s sketches depict a somewhat older child, a toddler, but illustrate the same need to jot down impressions of children quickly because they don’t stay still for long.

ADDENDUM: Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son!

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…)

Needlework

April 22, 2013

Tags: Cassatt, Cornelia, Effie, women artists

Soon after the dinner party, Cornelia Renick is clever enough to put Effie at her ease by casually revealing a problem she is having with a piece of embroidery. Needlework is a minor motif in the novel because it played a part in many women's lives in the 19th C. (A novelist needs to think about the nitty-gritty and not just the big patterns of history.)

Mary Cassatt's painting of her sister Lydia, knitting in the garden, gives me the opportunity to acknowledge four debts. (more…)

Bouguereau

March 4, 2013

Tags: Académie Julian, Bouguereau, schools, women artists

Jeanette Palmer is fictional; but one of the masters at the Académie Julian, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, fostered the career of a real American woman, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, whom eventually he married as his second wife. Click here for his portrait of her, which was also painted in 1879.

Is it my imagination, or does his self-portrait reveal a sadness and sensitivity unexpected in a painter of marzipan nudes and sentimental children? In any case, besides using him to dramatize the teaching methods employed at the time, I wanted the novel to portray the esteem with which he was held by his students. The touch of red on his collar is the much-coveted badge indicating membership in the Legion of Honor.

Countess Marie Bashkirtseff

February 25, 2013

Tags: Bashkirtseff, Académie Julian, caricature, schools, women artists

Artist unknown, Marie Bashkirtseff (1878)
Anyone researching women students at the Académie Julian comes up against Countess Marie Bashkirtseff from the get-go. Besides a self-portrait, she painted a picture, In the Studio of a women's class and kept a voluminous diary in which she recorded her drama-queen feelings, studio gossip, and lots of concrete particulars about what went on in the classes. Talented, vain about her looks, ambitious, and far from tactful, she attracted devoted followers but also provoked many of her classmates, some of whom rallied behind another star at the school, Louise Breslau. I suppose it was a detractor who produced this cartoon! (more…)

No-nonsense woman artist

February 18, 2013

Tags: women artists, Académie Julian, schools, Amy, Sonja, Bilinska-Bohdanowicz

It may be unromantic on Valentine's Day, but what I love about this self-portrait is Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowicz's straightforward gaze, no-nonsense hair, and that apron. Admittedly, the dress is not really what you'd wear in the studio, not without a painter's smock to cover it fully. Still, there is no doubt that she wants you to think of her as a working artist. In different measures, I transferred her attitude to Amy and Sonja.

She was a student at the Académie Julian. For more information about her, 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.

Jeanette Sterling Smith

February 7, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, Jeanette Smith, photograph, women artists

This is the Jeanette Smith whose expulsion from Vassar and subsequent studies in Europe set me investigating women art students in Paris. The photograph, taken in Dresden, is my only concrete memento from her time abroad. After I had written the early chapters of Where the Light Falls, I looked at it again and thought, "Nah, not Jeanette Palmer." A girl with this face and these clothes didn't fit into my story as I told it to myself (though I did adopt her plumpness). The image I have in my mind of Jeanette's face is much closer to that of Eleanor Norcross.

Readers, for you is it the mysterious girl on Rita Frangie's alluring cover for the novel? How do you form your mental images of characters in books?

Hotel breakfast

January 10, 2013

Tags: Morisot, Jeanette, fans, women artists

Literary criticism uses the term "misprision" to refer to an author's creative misreading of another writer's work. Morisot's young woman is presumably in a private house and the meal is specified as luncheon; but for me the flowers in the background call to mind the little garden behind the Hôtel des Marronniers on the rue Jacob, where breakfast was served (more…)

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.