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Picturing a World

Light and rooms

A recent e-mail exchange with a friend about the rise of the word living-room in America in the 19th C set me thinking about how important it is in historical fiction to get ordinary terms right. Front parlor, back parlor, sitting room, boudoir, withdrawing room, drawing room, living-room, salon, lounge—they  Read More 
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Henry van Ingen

During my research, it was a delight to discover that there was a popular art teacher at Vassar. If I had known when I was writing that Henry van Ingen was so romantically sensitive in appearance, I suppose I might have given Jeanette a full-scale crush on him. It might have helped prepare for her interest in an older man. Then again, the student author of Letters from Old-Time Vassar, Written by a Student in 1869–70 (Poughkeepsie, 1915) wrote home that “we never think of our teachers as men or Miss Lyman wouldn’t have them here” (p. 70).

A photograph of van Ingen, cigarette in hand as he talks to a girl in the art gallery, captures some of the sly humor I believe the man had. I admit, however, that I pictured him as pudgier and more avuncular.  Read More 
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Vassar dorm room

“We had two of the dearest rooms, opening into each other, with four windows in the larger. That was mine—absolutely darling!—embroidered pillows all over the couch, and easy chairs, and a tea-table … and photographs stuck up everywhere … and a border of posters at the top of the wall, and signs which  Read More 

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Renicks’ vestibule

While I was imagining Jeanette’s painting of a vestibule in the Renicks’ house—the one Carolus-Duran commends and is accepted for the Salon—I had in mind the work of Walter Gay. During my research, I read about him and his wife, Matilda in A Charmed Couple by William Rieder.

What a pleasant life they led!

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Hassam's room

Quickly, another not-really-empty room to compare to Anna Ancher’s. Again, a female figure is hardly more than a part of the color pattern, but, oh, to be reading with her in that room! For this and two more “It’s almost summer” paintings at the It’s About Time blog, click here.  Read More 
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Ancher’s blue room

Although a little girl is, in fact, shown sitting on a chair in this painting, it was one of the pictures I had in mind when I invented Jeanette’s interest in rooms as “portraits without people.” Anna Ancher, an almost exact contemporary of Jeanette,  Read More 
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Dutch interior, empty room

This is the painting I have a melancholy Jeanette copy in the Louvre after Edward has gone south to Dr. Aubanel’s sanatorium. It would obviously appeal to an artist who perceives empty rooms as “portraits without people.”

Samuel van Hoogstraten was  Read More 
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Salon Doré

Blog tip: The reopening of the newly renovated Salon Doré at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco on April 5th is the subject of a fascinating blog post at The History Blog. The original hotêl's history and fate could be those of the Renicks' house. Read More 
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Book clubs

In the past week, two more book clubs—one in Athens, Ga., and one in Worcester, Mass.—were generous enough to invite me to discuss Where the Light Falls. It's wonderful to be invited into people's homes; and as a little thank-you, here is a link to a recent post on American Victorian domestic interiors. When I saw Lamson's Sitting Room, I thought of Maude Hendrick's sitting room in New York. It will be a continuing pleasure to remember the hospitality given me in yours! Read More 
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Inside the Renicks' House

The delicious Museé Jacquemart-André helped me invent the interior of the Renicks' house even if my fictional house is supposed to be older. Artist Nélie Jacquemart and her banker husband, Edouard André, built the mansion to display their art collection, which included many 18th C paintings, tapestries, and objects. To walk through it was to be in the house of connoisseurs with tastes similar to Marius Renick's. Gay's Grand Salon suggests why, after entering the Renicks' house, Edward finds that from now on he must expand his imagination for aristocratic scenes when he reads Balzac.

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