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Picturing a World

Palace ruins

The American Civil War (1861-1865) has deeply affected the psyches of Cousin Effie and Edward; and as soon as I learned in my background reading that Carolus-Duran fought in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), I knew a shared experience of war could be an overt point of contact between him and Edward.  Read More 
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British Library images

Blog Tip! From a post at The History Blog, I’ve just learned about a million 17th, 18th, and 19th C images released by the British Library to its Flickr account. The view of the Appian Way shown here reminds me of the countryside around Rome that Edward and Carl would have seen. If you have ideas about how to use the new release or find an image that strikes your fancy in any way, please share your thoughts and discoveries! Read More 
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Romance in the Luxembourg Garden

From the time I started writing, Sargent’s painting of a couple strolling in the Luxembourg Garden was a key image for me. Edward and Jeanette. The fountain. The fashion silhouette of the woman’s dress (no bustle). Touches of red. Light. Read More 

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Fuchs’ iris

Gardening history is one of my hobbies, and I enjoyed giving Edward a pleasure I would dearly love to have had, namely, coming across a single illustration from Leonhart Fuchs’ illustrated herbal of 1542 at a stall by the river Seine.

Edward feels confident in buying it partly because of what he has learned from a  Read More 
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Blue dress at the café

While I was writing, the concept of "the male gaze” seemed more pertinent to feminist art history than to my novel. What made me chortle gleefully when I first saw At the Café by Forain was not the trio of repellent oglers, but that blue dress on the Parisiénne. Wouldn’t Jeanette love to see herself in it! Wouldn’t she love the hat! Let’s face it, she might even have enjoyed attracting the notice of strangers (she does want to be a star). But surely not these strangers: Edward was right to be dubious about the milieu and the people depicted. 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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Man with a boat

Whether Pissarro's Turkeys hung in the 4th Impressionist show (1879) or not, Caillbotte's Man Docking His Skiff certainly did. Because I had the good luck to see it in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and could examine the actual weave of the canvas and brushstrokes it went onto a short list of paintings for my characters to see, too. What fires the imagination is what matters the most in writing fiction. Read More 
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Impression: Sunrise

Monet’s Impression: Sunrise is the iconic one, the quintessential example of rapid brushwork used to capture a moment painted out of doors. I knew from The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886 (2 vols.; 1996) that it hung at the 4th Impressionist exhibition (April 10–May 11, 1879), but I chose not to mention it specifically during my characters’ visits to the show because other paintings served my thematic and narrative purposes more pointedly. For this blog, however, what better to pair with the study in the previous post? Read More 
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Bièvre

In the 1870’s, the small river Bièvre, which is now paved over within Paris, carried the waste of tanneries, leather factories, paper mills, and other noisome industries. Edward crosses it when he goes to help Effie at a McCall Mission clinic.

The McCall Mission was a Protestant missionary group. When I first ran across a reference to it in a published diary of sculptor Lorado Taft from his days as a student in Paris, I almost whooped with glee in the library. Now, I knew what Cousin Effie did with her spare hours!

For other views of the scummy river, click here and hereRead More 
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Edward's apartment

When he returns to Paris from Rome, Edward sublets an apartment on the Right Bank in a new, comfortable district of straight boulevards, harmonious architecture, and no haunting history. Some critics claim that painters of urban modernity in the last quarter of the 19th C depicted alienation and emptiness. They would call your attention to how far Caillebotte’s solitary viewer is removed from the street. But to me, standing as he is at ease above a boulevard lined with trees and handsome buildings, the man suggests Edward: alone perhaps, yet content to contemplate the gifts of civilization and peace in contrast to the horrors of war.

For a street-level view by Caillebotte of the same sort of neighborhood (and solitary man), click hereRead More 
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