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Picturing a World

View from a studio window

An artist about whom I read a lot at the beginning of my research was Cincinnati-born Elizabeth Nourse (1859–1938)), Jeanette's almost exact contemporary. She, too, studied at the Académie Julian (beginning in 1887) and made her career in Paris, where she lived with her sister. This view from her studio window fell in with my own (and Jeanette's!) love of pictures painted or photographed out of upper-storey windows. I gave Mabel Reade a studio on the Rue d'Assas because of this very image and had Cousin Effie talk her way into a studio more expensive than Amy and Sonja could afford for the same reason. Read More 
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Charlie Post

I’m not sure which came first, seeing Hovenden’s Self-Portrait or imagining Charlie Post. Like Charlie, Hovenden here seems to me pugnacious, introspective, dissatisfied, brooding, wistful, though his self-confidence is of a different stripe from Charlie’s obsessive belief in his work.

This self-portrait also points to a motif that could have been part of the novel but wasn’t, namely how musically accomplished many of the artists of this period were (including Carolus-Duran and John Singer Sargent). Notice how the scroll above the Hovenden’s violin peg box just touches the edge of the picture on his easel, symbolically joining the two arts. Similarly, in Marie Bashkirtseff’s self-portrait of 1880, the harp behind the painter just touches her palette. Read More 
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Sonja's Studio

I can’t find the photograph of super-cheap studios in an industrial district on the Left Bank that inspired Sonja’s studio, but this Marville photograph with its sign, “Sculpture at the back of the court,” tickles me as a substitute. It even has the wet gutter!

Click on the photo to reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Zoom feature, which makes enlarging the picture almost like moving down the alley. When you reach the handcart on the right, you'll see that if it were decorated with crepe paper, it would fit right into Chapter Twenty-One, “Moving Day.”

For a wonderfully informative website that plots Marville’s photographs on a map alongside present-day shots of each location, click hereRead More 
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Académie Julian

This photo gives an idea of how many women crowded into Rodolphe Julian's highly successful art classes, and the drawings mounted on the wall shows how good the best of them were. Notice how they are posed so that not everyone is staring straight ahead at the canera. That was a 19th C convention for group photographs. It is artificial, but it does enliven the composition—just a little prod toward the historical novelist's goal of imagining them as separate individuals, each with her own story.

For Jefferson David Chalfant's informative painting of one of the men's studios, click here.  Read More 
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The Tenth Street Studios

The cars tell you that this photograph of the Tenth Street Studio Building was taken in the 20th Century, but the picture gave me enough information to imagine the street as Jeanette, Effie, and Mrs. Palmer would have seen it. Notice how big the windows are compared to those in the building next door—an unmistakable sign of an art studio.
Artists with studios in the Tenth Street Building were nothing like the Romantic artist starving in his garret. These men wanted to entice and impress clients, to strut out as the accomplished professionals they were, as you can see here. For the sumptuousness of William Merritt Chase's studio, see this painting.  Read More 
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Cousin Effie's screen!

After I posted yesterday's image of Alfred Stevens' In the Studio, I noticed the Asian screen behind the painter for the first time and did a double take. That's just like the one Cousin Effie buys in Where the Light Falls! Well, not quite—I imagined Effie's as smaller. But it is lovely to have this confirmation that it belongs in the story.

Does anyone know whether Stevens' screen is Chinese or Japanese? Asian prints and objets d'art were were very popular among artists in 1870s and 1880s. Notice, for instance, the Japanese parasol mounted on the wall and the fan tucked behind a picture over the model's left shoulder. Read More 
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In the Studio

When I began research on women artists in the nineteenth century, I had no idea how many there were. Every new picture of women in an art class or an artist in her studio was an exciting revelation. Among the many, Alfred Stevens’ In the Studio stood out because it seemed to capture a moment in a story.

Once, just for the fun of it, I thought of the standing artist as Sonja. The visitor might be Jeanette. Maybe Amy was posing. Or was that Emily? In fact, no identifications from Where the Light Falls fit exactly. Nevertheless, every time I look at this image, I feel like I’m peeking into their world. Read More 
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