A Christmas present to myself was Barry Lopez's meditative Horizon. Early in the book Lopez describes going to the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York City to see the work of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, who painted in the Himalayas. In Remember, Lopez was struck by all that is implied about the immensity of the mountains and what is happening between the people shown. To my joy, his publisher had the goodness to reproduce the picture as endpapers (the colors are richer than in this image). Even in reproduction, it is as suggestive as Lopez says. For more of Roerich's work, click here. And do read Horizon.
Picturing a World
I still have my childhood copy of Christmas in the Country. It was garish when it was new. Now it is foxed and stained, but I read it every year. Maybe it's why I've always loved to imagine animals observing Christmas in the barn. For grown-ups, here is Thomas Hardy's lovely, wistful version of the idea:
A Spitalsfield Life post on old London trade cards includes this image of a card for a "Chimbley Sweper." For an historical fiction writer, all the cards are worth looking at (who knew that chimneysweepers even had them?). But what struck me particularly about this one was the spelling chimbley. That pronunciation can signal lack of education; but like many non-standard pronunciations, it should instead raise interesting questions about regional dialects and word history. An article on "The Elizabethan Influence on the Ozark Dialect" notes that "[t]he Ozarker will often use an "l" sound instead of the "n" in chimney so that it sounds like chimley or chimbley. This is an old pronunciation, for Sir Walter Scott in Rob Roy refers to a "kirk with a chimley in it."
Aside from possible use in dialectical dialogue or historical fiction (and a loosening up of schoolmarmish value judgments), I find such old words good inspirations for rather Dickensian names. Nicodemus Chimbley, anyone? Maybe Nicodemus Chumbley?
Lighting at night before electricity or even gas is hard for a 21st C westerner to imagine. That's something writers must keep in mind both in visualizing a scene and enabling their readers to do so. I read somewhere that, in Jane Austen's day, evening parties were scheduled for when the moon was full to make it easier for guests to get home. This painting by Petrus van Schendel implies that candlelight on the night of a full moon would make it possible for market stalls to extend the selling day into at least early evening. Glad I ran across it—and glad to find that the Athenaeum has 37 additional works by the artist, many of them night scenes.
Sketches in gouache and watercolor by Pierre Prévost for his panorama of Paris were auctioned on October 23, 2019, by Sotheby's. I love being able to zoom in on the catalogue essay for details like the one shown here. The location of the Académie Julian in Paris's Passage des Panoramas had sent me to 19th C panoramas years ago when I was researching Where the Light Falls. At that time, I had read about Prévost in The Painted Panorama by Bernard Comment (which has lots of fold-out pages). Now, as a stimulus to building a world in historical fiction, just look at the washing on the houseboat, the cabs, and the lamps strung across the bridge! Much, much more available at the Sotheby's site.
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.
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!)