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Picturing a World

Venice

Originally, I meant for the Dolsons just to vanish. People do (or did before the internet) and Jeanette’s circle of friends in Paris must inevitably break apart. Novels, however, make demands their own. When I reread my almost completed  Read More 
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Drawing at the Louvre

At one point during my research, I became enamored of engraver and librarian François Courboin’s colored illustrations for Octave Uzanne’s Fashion in Paris: The Various Phases of Feminine Taste and Æsthetics from 1797 to 1897. I studied the pictures both for the clothes and their various settings in Paris. Here two women are researching fashion history at the Bibliothéque Nationale. When I sent Jeanette to meet Emily in the Louvre after she has been invited to show her portfolio to Carolus-Duran, I wrongly remembered this picture as being set in the Louvre's print room. No matter.  Read More 
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Goblin Market

Writing historical fiction calls for focus, research, and deliberate decisions, but it also inevitably draws on whatever lurks in the writer’s mind. The English pre-Raphaelites have long been a part of my life because my husband, John, studied them in graduate school. When it came time dramatize a winter’s afternoon in Amy and Sonja’s studio, for some reason Christina Rossetti’s line about “It snows and blows and you’re too curious, fie” floated up into my consciousness. Perfect for the weather and for Emily.

When I began the project, I intended Emily to exemplify the sort of weak art student who fell by the wayside in tough competition. Instead, she turned strange and became far more interesting to me as the book went along. I came to imagine her in future painting melancholy, obsessive, dense fairy pictures,  Read More 
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Red Rose Girls

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 GirlsRead More 
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Café Tortoni

The Café Tortoni was a real place, posh and successful for most of the 19th C. Martial’s etching shows the Morris column or advertising kiosk that Robbie pretends to be perusing when Jeanette, Cousin Effie, and Emily arrive expecting to be treated to its famous ice cream.  Read More 
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Bathers

French artistic training in the 19th C centered on the nude figure, which was easily incorporated into paintings with classical subjects. Artists of modern life who wanted to put their training to use took up bathers as a subject, as Anders Zorn’s Against the Current illustrates the topic. My actual inspiration for the scene in which Jeanette, Amy, and Emily go swimming at Pont Aven was his painting Out, for which I cannot find a large reproduction online. I loved the way the figures in that painting are tonally part of the landscape, as they are in a related painting Opal.

EDIT: Well! Late in the day of this post, I have just double-checked the link to Zorn's Opal and been taken to the correct write-up but the wrong painting at the Worcester Art Museum. A weird computer glitch, which I hope becomes self-correcting. At least, the Eakins and Cezanne links below work! Read More 
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Jeanette's Party Dress

If Jeanette had seen this fashion plate of only a year earlier, she might not have been so mortified by the stripes in the outfit she had to wear to the Renicks' dinner party. Then again, according to Louise Hall Tharp, in 1877 Augusta Saint-Gaudens (the almost identically named wife of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens) had a Parisian dressmaker do over her Boston wardrobe, including pleating a striped skirt so that only the gray was visible.

Later in the novel, Jeanette, Amy, and Emily use plates from Cornelia’s discarded fashion magazines to get ideas for their own artwork. They were not alone: A current major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is devoted to Impressionism, Fashion, and ModernityRead More 
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In the Studio

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. Read More 
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