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Picturing a World

La Grecque

The models in some late 19th C photographs contort their bodies, demonstrating what they could do. Others flaunt their sexuality, perhaps from pride, perhaps on orders from the photographer. The weary resignation in this model's face says worlds about how hard and unglamorous the work actually was. In my novel, the model nicknamed La Grecque, has a fiery personality; but this picture influenced me very much in thinking about her. Just as actors often tell themselves back stories in order to inhabit a character more fully in performance, writers must know more about their characters than makes it to the page. Yet I have never forgotten what another novelist once told me, "I feel I must allow them some privacy, too." La Grecque froze me out, but that stubborn defense of her private self became part of what I could tell.

Fan fiction writers, do you prefer to take a minor character and go off in a new direction, or do you prefer sequels and prequels? Do you see a story here? Read More 
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Countess Marie Bashkirtseff

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! Read More 
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Costumes

Rodolphe Julian brags to Jeanette on the size of his school's collection of costumes. As I wrote, I was aware of American illustrators, e.g., Abbey, and imagined a future for Jeanette in that field.

For a contemporary illustrator's explanation of why actual costumes are important and tips on how to make or obtain them, click hereRead More 
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No-nonsense woman artist

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 hereRead More 
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Whistler's Peacock Room

I can't resist an out-of-sequence post. A website has just come to my attention that helps wonderfully in visualizing the gold room that James MacNeil Whistler decorated for the 1878 World's Fair, the room that so overwhelms Cousin Effie. The post for February 14, 2013, at Britain's National Trust blog, Treasure Hunt, concerns "The Peacock Room," designed in London by Whistler in 1876. Even that short post provides a glimpse Whistler's decorative taste. Best of all for Where the Light Falls, it alerted me to The Story of the Beautiful, a website that includes a virtual tour of the Peacock Room as it was first installed in London and later in Detroit. Visit and then use your imagination to create a room at the World's Fair! Read More 
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Académie Julian

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.  Read More 
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Boulevard Montmartre

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, Read More 
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Jeanette Sterling Smith

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? Read More 
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Lift-off!


PUBLICATION DAY! Whoop! Halloa! Hurray!
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