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Picturing a World

Telling, little details

When Jeanette goes into her first bakery in France, she notices the white cards with prices written in a Continental hand. Those price cards and their style of numbering had stuck in my mind ever since my student days in France, so it’s not surprising that I smiled this morning when I saw the price tickets in Schryver’s painting of a flower seller in Paris.

Black on white partly accounts for the eye picking these up, but the cards may have struck me more forcefully today because of a recent post on sales tickets at Spitalsfield Life. Someone could, no doubt, make narrative use of the methods that went into marking prices for goods. Tucking away small technologies is a habit for writers, especially mystery or historical fiction writers, or for that matter, authors of speculative fiction.

As for this Scrhyver painting, it pleases me that the flower seller in this one is shown as a soberly dressed, middle-aged woman, with the ruffles and frou-frou given largely to the customers (it would take a better clothes historian than me to comment on the little girl’s clothes, though that does seem to be a workaday apron over a plain, unshaped dress). Others of his paintings and those of his followers—as here— extended their catering to the sentimental tastes of buyers by making the sellers fancifully pretty and overdressed, a reminder that not every image is a reliable source for authentic fiction.
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