Blog tip: In 1843 (the year Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol), a civil servant named Henry Cole commissioned a card to be designed so that he could send greetings to friends and family. The rest is printing and commercial history. Read more at the History Blog's post, World's first Christmas card goes on display at Dickens Museum.
Picturing a World
Carl Vilhelm Holsøe's painting is obviously not one of Jeanette's "portraits without people"; but it is an example of that stillness in a near empty room, interior recessions (in this case in the mirror), and the importance of a door that appeal to me and led me to invent the genre for her. Glimpses outward through a window are also always mysterious invitations. The October 23, 2019, Sotheby's catalogue calls this a "a tonal poetics of greys and blacks" and observes that "[t]he mirror imperceptibly reveals the imprints of a personality." It also refers to "the enigmatic effect of the silent atmosphere." Right. Can't you feel yourself becoming quieter just by looking at it?
The Krampus—a half-humorous counterpart to Saint Nicholas, who snatches bad children at Christmas—came to my attention via artist Kathleen Jennings' post on Krampus Krackers from the Tiny Owl Workshop. In 2014, the workshop produced a limited run of hand-made, letterpressed crackers for sale at chosen bookshops and cafés in Australia. Each contained an illustration and a grumpy flash fiction. Imagine a short story about clever, disgruntled twelve-year-olds who hear about them and decide to make their own to hand out to friends and family! It could be an antidote to icky sentimentality and over-commercialism at Christmas.
Blog tip: Ordinarily, I like to showcase female artists, but this painting of a contemplative woman reader is so lovely, I refer you to the post on it at Lines and Colors. The artist, William McGregor Paxton (1869–1941), is yet another American who studied at the Académie Julian in Paris—and he, not only had the good taste to marry Elizabeth Vaughan Okie, but worked with her as part of the Boston School of painters. She may have posed for this picture. (And my fictional Mattie might have seen it!)
Blog tip: Just look! Another of Jackie Morris's Christmas fantasia designs, this one in supprt of the International Board for Books for Young People. Ladies who love to read, sigh with pleasure (and click on the image for an enlargement at her website).
Mysterious, lovely pictures originally created as Christmas cards to support a musicians' charity, then published in book form with stories to go with them? An invitation to readers to explore further by making up their own tales? —How could I resist?!? I bought a copy and plan to savor it slowly.
For a quick look to stimulate your imagination, spend a minute with the publisher's trailer. And don't miss Jackie Morris's own blog post about making The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow. It shows an early sketch of the title picture and reminds all creative people how daily life and doubts accompany achievement.
The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is a web project of Curious Recipes and Hidden Histories taken from a book in the collection of London's Westminster Archives Centre, and for Thanksgiving (or the day after), what could be better than a pudding made with bog, i.e., cranberries? A transcription is given at A Bog Berry Pudding. Looks to me like mixing together whole sweetened cranberry sauce, egg yolks, pumpkin pie spices, rose water (if you can find it), sherry, lemon peel and a whole lot of butter, then baking it should do the trick of giving you a taste not unlike something that might have appeared on an18th C table. Even if you only describe it in an historical fiction story, you might have mouths watering. Happy Thanksgiving!
In these fraught, puzzling, polarizing times, a what-if novel from before WWI is an oddly affecting picture of how citizens come to make peace with a new political order and their own violations of conscience. It offers shrewdly observed answers to the question, How could they?!? Set in an England that has been conquered after a one-week war with Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany, it is the work of a novelist, H. H. Munro (Saki) who knows human behavior too well and writes too slyly to produce simple-minded propaganda.
Writers jot down thoughts; artists jot down images. As a follow-up to my previous post on Edward Ardizzone's war paintings, here's a drawing from the same year, 1944, by Victor Alfred Lundy, a soldier who kept a notebook all through his service during WWII. He donated it to the Library of Congress, which has digitized the whole thing and made it available to the public. This particular page reminded me of Félix Bracquemond's etching of Bastion 84, the post where Parisian artists including Carolus-Duran served during the Franco-Prussian seventy-five years earlier. Like letters home, off-the-cuff drawings have an immediacy that historical fiction writers can plumb—but sometimes you also have to stand back and observe in silence. Six from L Company hurt here, six killed.
Thanks, James Gurney.
For Veterans Day: Ever since I was a child and loved Eleanor Farjeon's Little Bookroom, Edward Ardizzone has been one of my favorite illustrators of children's books. And now Art and Artists has shown me a whole new dimension in his work. This watercolor from the Second World War is nothing like any other war pictures I've ever seen, and it's just one of many by Ardizzone. Check out this post on Ardizzone at Art and Artists. (It's the fifth of fifteen installments! Believe me, I'll be exploring them one by one.)