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Picturing a World

Book and illustration (4): Lost Words

Jackie Morris's superb paintings and Robert MacFarlane's intriguing "spells" combine in The Lost Words to make a book that is greater than the sum of its equally splendid parts. You would treasure a print of any of the pictures; you might memorize one of the clever acrostic verses (spells as MacFarlane punningly calls them) to chant against the evils of our days. Together with the book's size, depth of color printing, and lovely page design (including a set of puzzles that delight once you figure out what they are doing), they combine into a classic.


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Prévost’s panorama of Paris

Sketches in gouache and watercolor by Pierre Prévost for his panorama of Paris were auctioned on October 23, 2019, by Sotheby's. I love being able to zoom in on the catalogue essay for details like the one shown here. The location of the Académie Julian in Paris's Passage des Panoramas had sent me to 19th C panoramas years ago when I was researching Where the Light Falls. At that time, I had read about Prévost in The Painted Panorama by Bernard Comment (which has lots of fold-out pages). Now, as a stimulus to building a world in historical fiction, just look at the washing on the houseboat, the cabs, and the lamps strung across the bridge! Much, much more available at the Sotheby's site.

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Effie studies

Reviewing some old files, I found these sketches by Edgar Degas, which I had labeled "Effie studies." It made me smile. Ordinarily, I like to highlight female artists in this blog, but who can resist the occasional work by the other sex? In this case, I remember thinking that it was as if I were seeing dimensions of my own character revealed to me by an artist who had seen her in a slightly different way. The seated woman in the middle one is, self-effacing, but not unintelligent. The one on the right—unself-consciously clutching her bag or a book and her umbrella—catches aspects of the Cousin Effie who made her way around Paris on her own while Jeanette was in class in Where the Light Falls. And, of course, they really pertain to Degas' depiction of Mary Cassatt in the Louvre (ca. 1880).

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Beaux sketch

Sketches, studies, and unfinished work of any kind have an appealing immediacy. They are good for characterizing artists, and good reminders that rough drafts, false starts, and revision are all part of writing any sort of story. Cecilia Beaux's autobiography, Background with Figures, was a key source for me when I was researching Where the Light Falls. Wouldn't I have loved to have this image then! For anyone who wants a quick look at Beaux and the Breton art scene, the blog my daily art display has a good post on Beaux in Concarneau, the summer of 1888.

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Monet by Carolus-Duran

Website tip: I've just run across this drawing of Claude Monet by Carolus-Duran, which is up for sale. They were friends, and it's fun to see that they posed for each other informally. I suspect both would be astonished (and flattered?) at the asking price of $26,000!

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Blog tip: In my fiction, I stay away from religion except for the externals, e.g., glances at my characters’ church attendance and Christmas. In recognition of the solemnity of Good Friday, however, I’m posting these studies as a reminder that artists have been drawn to religious topics throughout the ages. I first ran across the image in the archives of the Inspirational Artwork blog, which are worth exploring. Read More 
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Rodolphe Julian

Mention of Rodolphe Julian (1839–1907) in last week’s post on the clothed model made me realize that I should post on Julian himself—and, lo, another kneeling figure.

Born (and buried) in the village of Lapalud, Haut Vaucluse, in Provence, he was sent at an early age to Marseille to work in a bookstore. In the store he read  Read More 
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Emily Brontë sketches a place

Blog tip: Oh, the serendipitous discoveries available on the web! Emily Brontë left sketches? I never knew until I was taking a break and came upon this picture Sketchers too, an archived post at the blog Sketchuniverse. Does anyone know whether this illustrates a story Brontë wrote? Is anyone inspired to write one based on it?  Read More 
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Clothed model

When Jeanette first goes to the Académie Julian, Rodolphe Julian explains that he offers three classes to women in which the models are nude, draped, or fully clothed. The last was intended primarily for amateurs whose embarrassment at naked flesh could be accommodated. Nevertheless, the folds of clothing also required careful study as  Read More 
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When Jeanette and Amy take up the full nude at the Académie Julian in the fall of 1879, they have taken informal anatomy lessons from Wee Willie Winkham, based on the skeleton he owns as a medical student. Know the Skeleton, a recent post at  Read More 
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