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Picturing a World

Sonja

Given Sonja’s friendship with sculptors, disregard of clothes, and brawn, is it any wonder that I exclaimed “Sonja!” when I ran across this image? I love imagining her sitting on the floor while she’s building her big picture frame for a Salon submission—although she would be in trousers.

The pose fits  Read More 
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Malade

When Amy returns from Pont Aven to find that Sonja has brought La Grecque and Angelica into their studio, she makes the best of what she considers a bad situation by insisting that the model earn her keep by posing. The idea of Amy’s unflinching desire to take advantage of the chance to study a sick woman’s appearance was suggested to me by several 19th C paintings of sick beds or death beds. The most haunting case, which Carolus-Duran recounts to Jeanette later in the novel, was Monet’s oil sketch of his wife, Camille, in the hour after her death. Read More 
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Hot stove in a studio

I loved this picture when I came across it early in my research—it was so specific and full of workaday details. Here was what the gray walls artists wanted for neutral light looked like, along with a chair for a sitter, a paintbox, a palette. Bazille’s studio is not exactly how I later imagined Sonja and Amy’s—oh, but look at that hot, hot stove! Coal supplied by Count Witkiewicz! And now that I look at the picture again, I see it as one of Jeanette’s empty rooms as a portrait.

For a very similar painting, see Gustave Caillebotte’s Interior of a Studio with Stove.  Read More 
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Studio omelettes

As I said in an earlier post, my editor teased me about how often my characters eat. In a scene that got dropped from “Winter’s Cold,” Jeanette demonstrates breaking two eggs at once (a trick my college roommate, the writer Elaine Fowler Palencia, taught me) and  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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Sonja's Studio

I can’t find the photograph of super-cheap studios in an industrial district on the Left Bank that inspired Sonja’s studio, but this Marville photograph with its sign, “Sculpture at the back of the court,” tickles me as a substitute. It even has the wet gutter!

Click on the photo to reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Zoom feature, which makes enlarging the picture almost like moving down the alley. When you reach the handcart on the right, you'll see that if it were decorated with crepe paper, it would fit right into Chapter Twenty-One, “Moving Day.”

For a wonderfully informative website that plots Marville’s photographs on a map alongside present-day shots of each location, 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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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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