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.
Picturing a World
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.
Blog post alert: For an insider's look at commercial art, ghostwriting, and publishers, the always interesting Kathleen Jennings has a long interview—"Ghoulish but sentimental"—with fellow artist and writer, Socar Myles. Myles's startling artwork is gorgeous. I've never read any of her fiction, whether ghostwritten or published in her own name; but I was fascinated by everything she had to say.
When I ran across this image at Costume History last September, it jumped out at me for three reasons: First, the real Jeanette worked at McCall's Magazine in her later life. Second, my work-in-progress, ANONYMITY, is set in 1908. And third, I'm always on the lookout for pictures I can use for this blog. Naturally, I saved it. So Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
Now that I've re-opened it, however, I'm also struck by its ambiguity. What is that pensive woman thinking?
Blog post alert: I'm a sucker for scale models, stuffed animals, and children's books. Imagine my delight in finding I Made Needle Felted Badger from "The Wind in the Willows." Perfect coziness, and perhaps inspiration for a hand craft or a story. A soothing way to end a week of impeachment, COVID-19, and winter weather, for sure!
Blog post alert: Yea! Real terracotta busts that retain their original paint, with the bonus of letting us catch a glimpse of a female hairstyle. These ladies two are among Dozens of terracotta cult figurines found in ancient Myra.
Via the History Blog
Website alert: Historical fiction may attempt accuracy (never achievable), a wild but serious alternative representation (Hamilton), or broad-stroked just-for-fun romance that should fool nobody (Bridgerton). Now, suppose you aim for accuracy. What a delight to find that doing so can still startle you out of conventional thinking. Consider these two heads of Caesar Augustus. On the left, the usual blank aura of marmoreal power. On the right, whoops! a somewhat worried weird young man. Now there's a stimulous imagination! It's not just that we need to realize that ancient statues were painted, it's that color helps us conjure up living people—and so, off you go to "HISTORY IN 3D" creates a series of accurate reconstructions of the first 12 Roman Caesars.
Blog post alert: Suppose you said to a computer, "Avocado-shaped chair," and it came up with these. Yikes! It's so over my head that I don't even really understand what the website OpenAI is, but it says, "We've trained a neural network called DALL·E that creates images from text captions for a wide range of concepts expressible in natural language." And they have. And they'll let you play with it at DALL·E: Creating
Images. Now how can a writer put this to use …?
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.
Yesterday, I attended an absorbing webinar on Boston artist Sarah Gooll Putnam. Every aspect of the topic interested me (see below), and I hope it will be posted to YouTube as planned. For this blog, it introduces one more excellent, little-known woman artist. Putnam was a successful portraitist in Boston elite circles, painting in a style reminiscent of John Singer Sargent and Cecilia Beaux.
An even bigger Wow! for the historical novelist are her voluminous diaries now digitized at the Massachusetts Historical Society. In them, she recorded daily events, illustrated her entries with drawings, and supplemented them with clippings and other memorabilia. If you have a hankering to undertake a story set in Boston in the latter quarter of the 19th C or early 20th, don't miss these.