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Picturing a World

Pigs and lace

Serendipity: Cold weather sent me searching for images of hot-water "pigs," ceramic bottles used as foot warmers (my old dissertation director once told me about how the monks in an Irish monastery provided her with one when she was doing research in their unheated library).  A thumbnail at Foot warmers: hot coals, hot water sent me next on a hunt for an enlargement of a Dutch painting that shows a family using boxes of hot coals to warm their feet. No luck. What I found instead is a different painting by the same artist, Quirijn van Brekenlenham of a family in an interior. No foot warmers, but wow! what an exquisite depiction of lace-making. In this time of pandemic and Zoom, a reminder that we should all find time to work with our hands.

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Cluny interior

This week, an astonishingly acute reader notified me that I had got Quilliard's name wrong when I mentioned this  watercolor in a 2013 blog post. The old link no longer works anyway, so I'm delighted to post the image itself with a stable museum link. I used this watercolor to help imagine Jeanette's week at the Cluny in Where the Light Falls. Lovely to see it again! How I wish the novel could have been illustrated by an artist who took inspiration from such 19th C paintings.

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Miniature Bag End

Blog post alert: Dollhouse miniatures and The Lord of the Rings? Two of my pleasures, unexpectedly combined in Maddie Chambers-Brindley's astonishing and delightful My Hand Made Hobbit Hole. Nearly forty photographs of a spectacular craft project. In these last days of the election campaign amid a pandemic, it's a welcome little escape—and it comes with a link to How I made the Hobbit Hole.

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Naughty, naughty

Website alert: I hope this link to a copy of Poetical Sketches of Scarborough for sale will be viable for a while. It's a source for a set of twenty-one lightly satiric illustrations of life at the English sea resort of Scarborough in 1812. For anyone researching public baths in the early 19th C, voilà! The picture also fits my running theme of using imagery as prompts for original fiction. Obviously, there's a story here. 

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Getty—recreate art

As a way to help us all cope with self-isolation, The Getty posted a challenge to recreate art in their collection using household objects. The Hammershøi response was so perfect for this blog (with its running motif of rooms as portraits without people) that I had to choose it for this alert. But really you should see the other colorful, witty examples at the Getty website and even better examples at Sad and Useless. (Now, is there a short story to be derived from some sequestered people using household objects to …?)

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Visualizing comfort

Up to now, many of us who blog have tried to offer cheering ways to occupy minds during this time of isolation and stress. As things worsen, a different approach is to seek out quiet consolations. On the cheering side, I have been searching for on-line versions of images reproduced in Jeremy Banks's Strangers and Pilgrims to file away their detailed depiction of everyday life. It gives me one of those pings! of pleasure to find a good, clear example like this one of Buytewech's Interior (the map, the clogs, the bedwarmer!). On the consoling side, this lovely domestic scene also offers a suggestion: the calming, meditative quality of lacemaking and knitting. Two friends who do needlepoint have reported that they are stitching a lot these days. May we all find the right activity to stay safe and sane.

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London portraits without people

Blog post alert: Rebecca Wright At Dennis Severs' House at Spitalfields Life has several of illustrator Rebecca Wright's interiors of the historic Dennis Severs' house on Folgate Street in London. The house belonged to Huguenot silk weavers. My character Jeanette would love to see 21st C versions of her "portraits without people." Check it out!

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Holsøe’s daydream

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?

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Holsøe’s Candlelight

Mostly, I like to highlight lesser known women artists, but sometimes it's worth calling attention to a man. A post at GurneyJourney reminded me of Danish painter, Carl Vilhelm Holsøe. Holsøe's depictions of rooms are atmospheric interiors, a genre at which his generation of Scandinavian artists seems to have excelled. (Think Harriet Backer or Anna Ancher.) I didn't know about him when I was imagining Jeanette's "portraits without people," but his work illustrates the way a room can embody psychological insight.
Pictures of rooms are also a boon to historical-fiction and fantasy writers for the details they provide—in this case, a candle in the darkness. 21st C people have little idea how dark rooms really were before electric lights. Older stories in which characters are hidden in shadow become much more believable when you experience a black-out, or light a room with only a candle or two as an experiment, or, as here, see the effect in art.


To see this still life as part of a larger interior, click here.


For more of Holsøe's work, click here.

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Elwell Landing

Website tip: Is it one of Jeanette’s Portraits without People or simply a painting of an interior? Either way, it’s a pleasure to be introduced to Mary Dawson Holmes Elwell—an artist who married a man twice her age, had a happy marriage (he supported her art), and after his death married the artist Frederick Elwell. Read all about it here.

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