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Picturing a World

Clearing the clutter (3): Artist, frames, and lay figure

Man, had I forgotten this one! But I see why I saved it. A 19th C artist, his studio, a lay figure, mirror images, picture frames—so much to linger over. An art-appreciation teacher might point to the way verticals and diagonals direct the eye, or the way the lighting picks out the gilding and that impressive mechanical figure. But what attracts a writer? What stories does His Favorite Model suggest?

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Audrey Munson, sculptors’ model

Blog post alert: Audrey Munson, Artists' Muse at Gurney Journey is a post on the career of a professional model in New York City during the early 20th C. It has several pictures and links to longer coverage. In brief: she posed for Beaux-Arts sculptors, appeared nude in a 1915 movie about a model, lived to be 104, and spent half her life in an insane asylum. I don't think she has figured in any historical fiction, but she sure could!
Image via Wikipedia Commons

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Drēma Drudge

Drēma Drudge, Victorine (2020)

Blog post alert: In 2020, Drēma Drudge, author of a lively blog about fiction and art, published a novel, Victorine with Fleur-de-Lis Press, which brings out first books by writers who have been featured in The Louisville Review. This historical novel is based on the life of Victorine Meurent, one of Édouard Manet's models who was a painter herself. All the arts are now and always have been hard, but they are more than deeply rewarding—they are necessary. Thanks, Drema, for reminding us of the stories hidden in the past and for keeping them alive through your own creativity today.

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Bertha Newcombe’s model

I'm always on the lookout for images that reveal something about the life of Parisian artists' models. Bertha Newcombe was an English suffragist, who studied at the Académie Colarrossi in Paris. Here, her woman's-eye sketch of the end of a day captures how tired the hardworking her fellow art students were and how matter-of-fact the model was in putting her clothes back on. More of Newcombe's work can be found at Wikipedia Commons, including a nifty women's suffrage poster.

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Flower sellers and models

The characters in Where the Light Falls buy flowers variously from street peddlers, at stalls in big outdoor markets, and in an upscale florist’s shop. I have posted some of the beautiful depictions of the motif in the blog. Doré’s painting brought me up short, however, with its reminder of  Read More 

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Audrey Munson, model

Website tip: Writer Polly Shulman sent me a link to a fascinating article about a sculptor's model, Audrey Munson, who posed for statues in New York City in the early 20th C. Polly asked, "Might Mattie have known her?" Sets me thinking! How I hope so! Read More 
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When Amy returns from Pont Aven to find that Sonja has brought La Grecque and Angelica into their studio, she makes the best of what she considers a bad situation by insisting that the model earn her keep by posing. The idea of Amy’s unflinching desire to take advantage of the chance to study a sick woman’s appearance was suggested to me by several 19th C paintings of sick beds or death beds. The most haunting case, which Carolus-Duran recounts to Jeanette later in the novel, was Monet’s oil sketch of his wife, Camille, in the hour after her death. Read More 
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Lay Figure

The carelessly thrown woman at the feet of painter Henri Michel-Levy is a lay figure. These were mannequins, usually made of wood, that artists used as models in place of a live person (who would have to be paid). Jeanette’s friends would never have allowed their Poupée to sprawl so awkwardly, considering her, as they did, a mascot to be treated with affection.

For John Fergus Weir’s wonderful image of an undressed lay figure that shows its construction, click here. And for the first of a wonderfully informative series of blog posts on lay figures by Dinotopia artist James Gurney and links to the rest, click hereRead More 
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La Grecque

The models in some late 19th C photographs contort their bodies, demonstrating what they could do. Others flaunt their sexuality, perhaps from pride, perhaps on orders from the photographer. The weary resignation in this model's face says worlds about how hard and unglamorous the work actually was. In my novel, the model nicknamed La Grecque, has a fiery personality; but this picture influenced me very much in thinking about her. Just as actors often tell themselves back stories in order to inhabit a character more fully in performance, writers must know more about their characters than makes it to the page. Yet I have never forgotten what another novelist once told me, "I feel I must allow them some privacy, too." La Grecque froze me out, but that stubborn defense of her private self became part of what I could tell.

Fan fiction writers, do you prefer to take a minor character and go off in a new direction, or do you prefer sequels and prequels? Do you see a story here? Read More 
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