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Picturing a World

Walter Gay (5) The Gilded Age

Here is Walter Gay depicting the Gilded Age interior splendor for which he is best known. The word is luxe. (And, yea, the painting is shown in its ornate gilt frame.) I'll leave it to art historians to discuss Gay as an artist. For those of us who write fiction his pictures offer loads of period details for life among the rich in the latter part of the 19th C and into the 20th, especially in France.

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Walter Gay interiors (4): Creative misprision

"Creative misprision" is a concept in literary criticism. Briefly put, an artist or a writer misinterprets someone else's work and takes off from there in a new direction. When I first saw this pastel drawing by Walter Gay, I thought the window looked out onto the brick wall of the next building. I saw the room as empty, dusty, and formerly grand but now hemmed in and down-at-heels. Maybe it could be the setting for a young protagonist who is thrilled to find a romantic apartment which is cheap because of the blocked view. Maybe it could illustrate a melancholy last view by someone moving out. The fact that the image is non-narrative in itself makes it more potent in a way for stimulating imagination.

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Walter Gay's interiors (3) Himself in his studio

This photograph shows how many props, bibelots, and other furnishings filled Walter Gay's own studio. In looking for a photo of Carolus-Duran in his for comparison, I was delighted to find that a post—Where the Light Falls: An American Artist in Paris—is still available at the American Girls Art Club in Paris … and Beyond website. It has many images that illustrate the novel, including one of Carolus in his studio at his organ.

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Walter Gay’s interiors (2): Another Paris studio

As a first follow-up to my last post, here is another painting that could be a "portrait without a person," one that could help a writer create the character of late-19th C artist and visualize a setting. Notice that this picture is not attributed to Walter Gay himself, but to an unnamed follower.

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Walter Gay’s interiors (1)

In Where the Light Falls, my character Jeanette sketches and paints what she calls "portraits without people." The latter part of the 19th C saw many artists turn to picturing furnished rooms from which figures are excluded or very much subordinated to representations of light, textures, furniture, wall hangings, ornaments, house plants, etc. These are not genre pictures with implied stories, and yet they do let us catch glimpses of personalities, either the occupants' or the artist's.

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Jessica Hayllar

Blog post alert: Charley Parker's Lines and Colors strikes again and introduces me to British female artist contemporary with Jeanette— Jessica Hayllar—a painter who depicted those quiet interiors, "portraits without people." You can find more paintings by her here. To me as a storyteller, they suggest either a quiet harbor to retreat to, or a world about to be disrupted.

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Pigs and lace

Serendipity: Cold weather sent me searching for images of hot-water "pigs," ceramic bottles used as foot warmers (my old dissertation director once told me about how the monks in an Irish monastery provided her with one when she was doing research in their unheated library).  A thumbnail at Foot warmers: hot coals, hot water sent me next on a hunt for an enlargement of a Dutch painting that shows a family using boxes of hot coals to warm their feet. No luck. What I found instead is a different painting by the same artist, Quirijn van Brekenlenham of a family in an interior. No foot warmers, but wow! what an exquisite depiction of lace-making. In this time of pandemic and Zoom, a reminder that we should all find time to work with our hands.

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Cluny interior

This week, an astonishingly acute reader notified me that I had got Quilliard's name wrong when I mentioned this  watercolor in a 2013 blog post. The old link no longer works anyway, so I'm delighted to post the image itself with a stable museum link. I used this watercolor to help imagine Jeanette's week at the Cluny in Where the Light Falls. Lovely to see it again! How I wish the novel could have been illustrated by an artist who took inspiration from such 19th C paintings.

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Miniature Bag End

Blog post alert: Dollhouse miniatures and The Lord of the Rings? Two of my pleasures, unexpectedly combined in Maddie Chambers-Brindley's astonishing and delightful My Hand Made Hobbit Hole. Nearly forty photographs of a spectacular craft project. In these last days of the election campaign amid a pandemic, it's a welcome little escape—and it comes with a link to How I made the Hobbit Hole.

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Naughty, naughty

Website alert: I hope this link to a copy of Poetical Sketches of Scarborough for sale will be viable for a while. It's a source for a set of twenty-one lightly satiric illustrations of life at the English sea resort of Scarborough in 1812. For anyone researching public baths in the early 19th C, voilà! The picture also fits my running theme of using imagery as prompts for original fiction. Obviously, there's a story here. 

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