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Picturing a World

Studio party

Trilby, a novel about art students in Paris by author and illustrator George du Maurier, was one of my richest sources for details and ambiance. This illustration contributed to  Read More 
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Painting Edward’s portrait

This painting by Jeanna Bauck (1840-1926) depicts a fancier, better equipped studio than Jeanette’s, but you can imagine my excitement when I found it last year—the right era, a woman assiduously painting a portrait of a sober-faced older man. Read More 
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Class critique

I recently came across this picture by Albert Guillaume. William Adolphe Bouguereau criticizing student work in Jeanette’s class at the Académie Julian? Not quite, but mighty close! It appears in the January 14, 1905, issue of the French weekly, L’Illustration, accompanying the magazine’s review of a play, La Massière by Jules Lemaître. Read More 
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Countess de V—

The quality of this photograph of Carolus-Duran’s Portrait de Mme. la Comtesse de V[andal] may seem poor, but I was thrilled to find it among montages of other works bought by the French government at the 1879 Salon. As those of you who do historical or genealogical research know, a digital image of primary materials is almost as exciting as physical objects that can be picked up. (If you have a story of such a find, tell us in a comment below!)

Admittedly, a digital reproduction of a photograph of a painting is tertiary evidence at best, but knowing that the French government took such pains in documenting its purchases demonstrated art’s importance in official policy. Governmental encouragement contributed to the sense of art students like Jeanette that Paris was the best possible place for them to be. Read More 
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Carolus-Duran (2)

Although I did not try to dramatize a scene in which either Carolus-Duran or John Singer Sargent played a keyboard instrument, it was tempting, for both were superb musicians. Carolus's organ was notable among the many props and objets d'art in his studio. Sometimes he played it to distract restless children who sat  Read More 
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Goblin Market

Writing historical fiction calls for focus, research, and deliberate decisions, but it also inevitably draws on whatever lurks in the writer’s mind. The English pre-Raphaelites have long been a part of my life because my husband, John, studied them in graduate school. When it came time dramatize a winter’s afternoon in Amy and Sonja’s studio, for some reason Christina Rossetti’s line about “It snows and blows and you’re too curious, fie” floated up into my consciousness. Perfect for the weather and for Emily.

When I began the project, I intended Emily to exemplify the sort of weak art student who fell by the wayside in tough competition. Instead, she turned strange and became far more interesting to me as the book went along. I came to imagine her in future painting melancholy, obsessive, dense fairy pictures,  Read More 
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Red Rose Girls

After Saturday's blog alert on moving pictures, here's a still that tickled me while I was writing Where the Light Falls. Although I wanted events in my novel to be accurate to 1878–1880, not everything that inspired me came from that period. The camaraderie, humor, and tensions of a shared studio as well as the fruitfulness of women’s friendship were exemplified by the three women artists shown in this photograph. Jeanette's somewhat younger contemporaries, they began living together in 1899 and called themselves the Red Rose GirlsRead 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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