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Picturing a World

Bertha Newcombe’s model

I'm always on the lookout for images that reveal something about the life of Parisian artists' models. Bertha Newcombe was an English suffragist, who studied at the Académie Colarrossi in Paris. Here, her woman's-eye sketch of the end of a day captures how tired the hardworking her fellow art students were and how matter-of-fact the model was in putting her clothes back on. More of Newcombe's work can be found at Wikipedia Commons, including a nifty women's suffrage poster.

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Smith College art class

And now back to school! Early in my research on women’s art education, I  Read More 

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Scaffolding

Barriers to training and opportunity, and sheer prejudice are correctly cited as having held back women in the arts in the past (and now!). For painters, male and female, moreover, there was the cost of materials. Even easel-sized canvasses had to be paid for, as did pigments, brushes, props, and solvents. When I saw this image recently in a Gurney Journey blog post, it struck me that the sheer size of the support and apparatus required to produce a very large work meant that independent wealth, prior success, or an institutional commission was necessary before an artist could undertake the sort of grand works that won prestige in the 19th C. Poets and fiction writers were at an advantage when they could scribble away with no more investment than the cost of paper and pen. My main point, however, is that in visualizing a world for fiction, it’s the unexpected detail—like Detaille’s scaffolding—that can provide verisimilitude and possibly a plot twist. Read More 

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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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Asta Nørregaard

I saw this painting by the Norwegian painter Asta Nørregaard at an exhibition while I was researching Where the Light Falls. At the time, I was unable to find an image on line, but memory of it influenced how I imagined Jeanette’s first studio of her own. Its spareness and gray walls, in contrast to the lusher studios so often depicted during this period, seemed specially appropriate to Jeanette’s pocketbook and her mood at that point in the novel. At the time I was writing, I thought that it was Cousin Effie’s love of Whistler’s decorative schemes at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 that made her to want to paint the walls yellow; I suspect now that the colors in this painting also subtly influenced my imagination of how the two characters would react to a studio space.  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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Carolus-Duran (4)

Readers of this blog know that I'm always on the lookout for pictures that illustrate Where the Light Falls. Jeanette specially notices the size of Carolus-Duran's palette when she first see him painting Cornelia Renick's portrait—et voilà!
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Studio party

This engraving of Gunnar Berndston's depiction of a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper appears in The Illustrated Catalogue of the Paris Salon for 1882. Such an engraved image might seem inadequate to eyes accustomed to photographic reproduction, yet turning the pages of the Salon catalogues in the research library of The Clark was a wonderful way to grasp the scope of the annual exhibitions. To see what I mean, click here for the next year's catalogue

In the 1882 catalogue, a few pictures seemed to leap out illustratively for Where the Light Falls. This one reminded me of Read More 
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A Tenth Street studio

Does the romantic ideal of the impoverished artist, unappreciated yet dedicated to the authenticity of his vision, survive into the commercialized 21st C? Its heyday may have been the 19th C, yet the 19th C also saw artists striving to be taken seriously as professionals. When William Merritt Chase painted his studio at the Tenth Street Studio Building, he wanted the viewer to recognize the opulence of his furnishings. An 1880 photograph shows the same chest and many props, framed pictures, mounted fans, etc.  Read More 
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Carolus-Duran’s studio in L’Illustration

Article tip: Wondering how many digitized images from the 19th French weekly, L’Illustration, are now easily available on the web, I Googled its title plus “Carolus-Duran” and up popped scholar Rachel Esner’s well-illustrated article about the magazine’s depiction of artists’ studios in the 19th C. To read it, click here. L'Illustration's fee-for-use archive can be accessed through its home pageRead More 
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