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Picturing a World

Countess de V—

The quality of this photograph of Carolus-Duran’s Portrait de Mme. la Comtesse de V[andal] may seem poor, but I was thrilled to find it among montages of other works bought by the French government at the 1879 Salon. As those of you who do historical or genealogical research know, a digital image of primary materials is almost as exciting as physical objects that can be picked up. (If you have a story of such a find, tell us in a comment below!)

Admittedly, a digital reproduction of a photograph of a painting is tertiary evidence at best, but knowing that the French government took such pains in documenting its purchases demonstrated art’s importance in official policy. Governmental encouragement contributed to the sense of art students like Jeanette that Paris was the best possible place for them to be. Read More 
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Varnishing day

Without explaining the ins and outs of the annual state-sponsored art exhibition known as the “Salon,” I wanted readers to experience how important it felt to most professional artists, students, critics, and journalists. As Robida’s illustration for La Caricature (7 mai 1891) suggests, the last day before the official opening was a mad frenzy as painters varnished canvasses already hung or showed their works to special guests. Charlie Post's breakdown and Jeanette's horror were intended to dramatize the intensity of emotions. I also hoped that Chapter Thirty-Five would be vivid enough to carry over and intensify the reader’s experience of the Salon of 1880 in Chapter Forty-Eight.

For an article on the official annual art exhibitions in Paris and London, click hereRead More 
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World's Fair (IV): Merlin

Burne-Jones's Merlin was, in fact, shown at the Paris World's Fair of 1878. It played perfectly into my wish to touch obliquely on the topic of an older man's infatuation with a younger woman while dramatizing only the barest beginnings of Edward and Jeanette's romance.

To my mind, Burne-Jones is a strange artist, often gorgeous and repellent simultaneously. Readers, how would you answer Jeanette's question in the novel: Is this painting wonderful or ghastly? Read More 
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