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Picturing a World

Getty—recreate art

As a way to help us all cope with self-isolation, The Getty posted a challenge to recreate art in their collection using household objects. The Hammershøi response was so perfect for this blog (with its running motif of rooms as portraits without people) that I had to choose it for this alert. But really you should see the other colorful, witty examples at the Getty website and even better examples at Sad and Useless. (Now, is there a short story to be derived from some sequestered people using household objects to …?)

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Visualizing comfort

Up to now, many of us who blog have tried to offer cheering ways to occupy minds during this time of isolation and stress. As things worsen, a different approach is to seek out quiet consolations. On the cheering side, I have been searching for on-line versions of images reproduced in Jeremy Banks's Strangers and Pilgrims to file away their detailed depiction of everyday life. It gives me one of those pings! of pleasure to find a good, clear example like this one of Buytewech's Interior (the map, the clogs, the bedwarmer!). On the consoling side, this lovely domestic scene also offers a suggestion: the calming, meditative quality of lacemaking and knitting. Two friends who do needlepoint have reported that they are stitching a lot these days. May we all find the right activity to stay safe and sane.

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London portraits without people

Blog post alert: Rebecca Wright At Dennis Severs' House at Spitalfields Life has several of illustrator Rebecca Wright's interiors of the historic Dennis Severs' house on Folgate Street in London. The house belonged to Huguenot silk weavers. My character Jeanette would love to see 21st C versions of her "portraits without people." Check it out!

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Holsøe’s daydream

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe's painting is obviously not one of Jeanette's "portraits without people"; but it is an example of that stillness in a near empty room, interior recessions (in this case in the mirror), and the importance of a door that appeal to me and led me to invent the genre for her. Glimpses outward through a window are also always mysterious invitations. The October 23, 2019, Sotheby's catalogue calls this a "a tonal poetics of greys and blacks" and observes that "[t]he mirror imperceptibly reveals the imprints of a personality." It also refers to "the enigmatic effect of the silent atmosphere." Right. Can't you feel yourself becoming quieter just by looking at it?

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Holsøe’s Candlelight

Mostly, I like to highlight lesser known women artists, but sometimes it's worth calling attention to a man. A post at GurneyJourney reminded me of Danish painter, Carl Vilhelm Holsøe. Holsøe's depictions of rooms are atmospheric interiors, a genre at which his generation of Scandinavian artists seems to have excelled. (Think Harriet Backer or Anna Ancher.) I didn't know about him when I was imagining Jeanette's "portraits without people," but his work illustrates the way a room can embody psychological insight.
 
Pictures of rooms are also a boon to historical-fiction and fantasy writers for the details they provide—in this case, a candle in the darkness. 21st C people have little idea how dark rooms really were before electric lights. Older stories in which characters are hidden in shadow become much more believable when you experience a black-out, or light a room with only a candle or two as an experiment, or, as here, see the effect in art.

 

To see this still life as part of a larger interior, click here.

 

For more of Holsøe's work, click here.

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Elwell Landing

Website tip: Is it one of Jeanette’s Portraits without People or simply a painting of an interior? Either way, it’s a pleasure to be introduced to Mary Dawson Holmes Elwell—an artist who married a man twice her age, had a happy marriage (he supported her art), and after his death married the artist Frederick Elwell. Read all about it here.

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Kitty Kielland's Studio

I love the way this painting illustrates a young artist’s studio as a place to live. The plain floor and dormer window hint at upper-storey, cheap digs. I didn’t include potted plants in any of my characters’ studios, but they turn up in other paintings and would be part of making an  Read More 

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Inside Looking Out

I had never seen a reproduction of Kitty Kielland’s Paris Interior until I read the catalogue for Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900. Now I can hardly wait to see it, first and foremost because it represents the life of a young woman artist, the life explored in Where the Light Falls. Second because I love pictures of views out windows (in fact, I love real views framed by real windows). And third because of the samovar. Read More 

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Anna Alma-Tadema

Today at an exhibition, Orchestrating Elegance: Alma-Tadema and Design at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., I saw a reproduction of this watercolor by Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s daughter Anna Alma-Tadema. Another portrait without people! As a novelist, I find these 19th C paintings of unpeopled rooms helpful aids to imagination. The suggest a sensibility but leave me free to imagine my own stories.  Read More 
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Ellen Clacy

Serendipity landed me on an unattributed posting of this image. I have a friend who has a specialist’s knowledge of blue-and-white china, so pictures of it always catch my eye. This painting, moreover, made me think of Jeanette at the Musée Cluny.  Read More 
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