One of the things I'll have to think about is whether Jeanette is more attracted to Japanese objects per se or to the art of Western Japonists, e.g., Henri Somm—or Mary Cassatt. Certainly, one of Jeanette's friends can be caught up in the craze for netsukes and small decorative objects. They all love fans and parasols. Amy can add Japanese blue-and-white to her teacup collection. Meanwhile, I love this image for reflecting my process of musing. See also Somm's Fantaisies Japonaises of 1879
Picturing a World
Helen Hyde, Japoniste
Back to a possible future for my character, Jeanette Palmer, and Japonisme. I have thought for a long time that children's book illustrations could be one direction for her career to take. In that connection, the Red Rose Girls offer lots of hints. And now, although I don't yet know a thing about it really, the influence of Japanese woodcuts on early twentieth century illustrators seems clear. So hurrah for Helen Hyde! She actually went to Japan and learned woodcut technique. A quick search on-line has quickly turned up three informative, well illustrated websites to get me started: (1) An American in Japan: Helen Hyde. (2) Pioneering Women Printmakers: Helen Hyde and Lilian May Miller in Japan. And (3) In Memoriam Helen Hyde, American Japoniste. If you only look at the picture, enjoy!
It's not hard to find 19thC depictions of women wearing kimonos painted by male artists—Monet, Stevens, Whistler, Chase. But what interests me as I think about how Japonisme might touch my character, Jeanette, is the extent to which female artists drew or painted them. Et voilà, in addition to Marie Danforth Page—Fanny Fleury! She even studied with Carolus-Duran.
Blog post alert: The Origins of L'Art Nouveau: The Bing Empire is firing off all sorts of little explosions in my mind as Japonisme becomes my entry into a What-Came-Next for Jeanette. Take ornamental combs: Was there a connection between Japanese combs and pompadour hairstyles? No answer to that one yet, but a quick Google search led me to Historic Hair Accessories We Can't Stop Thinking About. It's worth a look just for the breadth and excellence of its images. For this particular comb, see also the object page at the V&A.
In The Posthumous Papers of the Manuscripts Club (p. 481), Christopher de Hamel reports that Belle da Costa Greene " had a miniature portrait of herself painted in 1910 wrapped in apricot silk like an odalisque of the Middle East, explaining it to [Bernard] Berenson as showing 'the Belle of one of my former incarnations — Egyptienne.'" The artist, Laura Coombs Hills, was an exact contemporary of the real Jeanette Smith, which was enough to interest me in her. For her part, Greene was the great librarian of medieval manuscripts for J. Pierpont Morgan, an endlessly fascinating woman. And then I saw the portrait in its frame! Oh, that frame!
Blog post alert: James Gurney's technical comments on Vasily Polenov's watercolor of a 19th C woman artist at work are interesting. But a correction: the subject is not N. Yakunchikova. Rather she is Maria Yakunchikova whose sister Elena (also an artist) married Polenov in the year this portrait was painted. Maria studied for a year at the Académie Julian with under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury (as does my fictional Jeanette). For more of Maria's work, click here. And for an article about her at Musings on Art, A Platform for Women Artists, click here.
Jeanette Palmer, the central character in Where the Light Falls, is from Circleville, Ohio. One of my readers was surprised to hear that Circleville is a real place. It is and, as far as I can tell, lives up to its perfect name as the quintessential Midwestern small town. A paragraph in a 1909 diary I'm reading describes a late-June storm in Circleville so dark that fireflies came out at 5:00 p.m. The diarist and the people she is visiting play bridge, escort another visitor to the streetcar, "and then took in the picture show but declined to go with the crowd to see Hargus Creek out of bounds."
Oak Street house
During the pandemic, a good project for me has been sorting through family papers. The Real Jeanette, like her fictional counterpart, spent the first years of her married in Cincinnati; but after a few years, the family moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Woodward family lived around the corner; and lo and behold, when I Googled, up popped this picture of Mrs. Woodward and her children. I love being able to see the daughter's dress, the shutters closed against the heat, that trumpet vine on the porch, and most of all, of course, a glimpse of the neighborhood. Does it inspire me to send my fictional Jeanette and Edward to Chattanooga? Naaah. Could a story grow out of finding an old photo? Maybe!
Via Old Tennessee.
I saw this painting by the Norwegian painter Asta Nørregaard at an exhibition while I was researching Where the Light Falls. At the time, I was unable to find an image on line, but memory of it influenced how I imagined Jeanette’s first studio of her own. Its spareness and gray walls, in contrast to the lusher studios so often depicted during this period, seemed specially appropriate to Jeanette’s pocketbook and her mood at that point in the novel. At the time I was writing, I thought that it was Cousin Effie’s love of Whistler’s decorative schemes at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 that made her to want to paint the walls yellow; I suspect now that the colors in this painting also subtly influenced my imagination of how the two characters would react to a studio space. Read More