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Picturing a World

Women on an omnibus

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.  Read More 
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Women, art, and marriage

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  Read More 
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Cassatt's blue chair

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. Read More 

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Lucy Lee Robbins

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”  Read More 
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Blue-and-white teacups

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  Read More 
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Needlework

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.  Read More 
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Ladies at the Louvre

I loved finding this image early on—Jeanette and Cousin Effie! Or, no, what fun: Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia posing for Edgar Degas, who reworked this basic composition in several media. (Besides this version, see also, for example, an etching and a study.)

On her first visit to the Louvre, Jeanette is humbled by the glories she encounters; but on later visits a part of her would want to strike a pose of confident, nonchalant connoisseurship. Effie would forever bury her nose dutifully in a guidebook. Read More 
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