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Picturing a World

Paris street light

The absence of the Luxor obelisk, which was erected at the Place de la Concorde and opened to the public in 1836, and the long coats and top hats of the men suggest that Vauzelle painted this picture, when? ca. 1830? Anyway, what really interests me is that lantern strung over the road, presumably an oil  Read More 
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Life drawing, 1809

Website tip: Today's post of images from Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin's Microcosm of London at the always interesting blog, Spitalsfield Life, is a dandy for historical fiction novelists and fans of Georgian England. And I love the way this plate shows early 19th C lighting for a life class. Read More 
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Light and composition

We are so used to evenly lit rooms at night that it requires a real act of imagination to visualize stories from the 19th C and earlier as their authors and first readers did. And what about writers of historical or fantasy? Is it pedantic to try to imagine authentic lighting or (pardon the pun) illuminating? How does one convey to a reader what the characters should take for granted? Read More 
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Light and rooms

A recent e-mail exchange with a friend about the rise of the word living-room in America in the 19th C set me thinking about how important it is in historical fiction to get ordinary terms right. Front parlor, back parlor, sitting room, boudoir, withdrawing room, drawing room, living-room, salon, lounge—they  Read More 
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Mattie Stenographer

As I tried to say last Thursday, I'll be writing more about my new work as well as Where the Light Falls. For instance, the stenographer shown here taking shorthand on her pad is younger than my new heroine, but I found the picture helpful in visualizing how Mattie might be dressed (shirt sleeves, no hat, pleated skirt)  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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Autumn street scene

When Sonja is ready to begin work on portrait medallions for Edward, she and Jeanette walk one silvery, wet night from La Poupée en Bas to the studio on the Rue Madame. I’d say Hassam’s picture depicts October rather than November, and the hour is obviously closer to sunset than true darkness. Still, it is the sort of streetscape that helped me imagine Paris in various seasons and lights. Notice especially here, the streetlamps and shop widows in the misty distance horizontally across the middle third of the painting. Read More 
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Flight into Egypt

The Renicks’ copy of Rembrandt’s Flight allowed me to show Edward and Jeanette reacting together to the same evocative object but with different emotional responses. In this scene, the painting embodies emotional light and shadow, the need for safety and the longing for transcendence. In general, it illustrates artists’ concern for sources of light and where the falls. The hidden moon also echoes Charlie Post’s sickle moon, and the fire adds that touch of red or warm color that plays into several compositions in the book. Read More 
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Swiss Interlude

Geographical accuracy is one thing, inspiration another. Although Sainte-Addresse is on the coast of Normandy, not in Switzerland, in imagination I transferred the atmosphere of Monet’s seaside garden to a lakeside hotel terrace for Edward and Theodore’s conversation about Kiel and the Louvre. All the while that I pictured lawns sloping down to Lake Constance and mountains across the lake, this painting of full sun on bright nasturtiums, geraniums, and gladiolus, of flags snapping in the breeze, and an expanse water with boats also shaped the scene for me. Instead of viewing it from a high above, however, I squatted just behind and between the brothers. Read More 
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