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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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Walter Gay's interiors (3) Himself in his studio

This photograph shows how many props, bibelots, and other furnishings filled Walter Gay's own studio. In looking for a photo of Carolus-Duran in his for comparison, I was delighted to find that a post—Where the Light Falls: An American Artist in Paris—is still available at the American Girls Art Club in Paris … and Beyond website. It has many images that illustrate the novel, including one of Carolus in his studio at his organ.

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Walter Gay’s interiors (2): Another Paris studio

As a first follow-up to my last post, here is another painting that could be a "portrait without a person," one that could help a writer create the character of late-19th C artist and visualize a setting. Notice that this picture is not attributed to Walter Gay himself, but to an unnamed follower.

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Walter Gay’s interiors (1)

In Where the Light Falls, my character Jeanette sketches and paints what she calls "portraits without people." The latter part of the 19th C saw many artists turn to picturing furnished rooms from which figures are excluded or very much subordinated to representations of light, textures, furniture, wall hangings, ornaments, house plants, etc. These are not genre pictures with implied stories, and yet they do let us catch glimpses of personalities, either the occupants' or the artist's.

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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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Smith College art class

And now back to school! Early in my research on women’s art education, I  Read More 

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Scaffolding

Barriers to training and opportunity, and sheer prejudice are correctly cited as having held back women in the arts in the past (and now!). For painters, male and female, moreover, there was the cost of materials. Even easel-sized canvasses had to be paid for, as did pigments, brushes, props, and solvents. When I saw this image recently in a Gurney Journey blog post, it struck me that the sheer size of the support and apparatus required to produce a very large work meant that independent wealth, prior success, or an institutional commission was necessary before an artist could undertake the sort of grand works that won prestige in the 19th C. Poets and fiction writers were at an advantage when they could scribble away with no more investment than the cost of paper and pen. My main point, however, is that in visualizing a world for fiction, it’s the unexpected detail—like Detaille’s scaffolding—that can provide verisimilitude and possibly a plot twist. Read More 

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Kitty Kielland's Studio

I love the way this painting illustrates a young artist’s studio as a place to live. The plain floor and dormer window hint at upper-storey, cheap digs. I didn’t include potted plants in any of my characters’ studios, but they turn up in other paintings and would be part of making an  Read More 

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Asta Nørregaard

I saw this painting by the Norwegian painter Asta Nørregaard at an exhibition while I was researching Where the Light Falls. At the time, I was unable to find an image on line, but memory of it influenced how I imagined Jeanette’s first studio of her own. Its spareness and gray walls, in contrast to the lusher studios so often depicted during this period, seemed specially appropriate to Jeanette’s pocketbook and her mood at that point in the novel. At the time I was writing, I thought that it was Cousin Effie’s love of Whistler’s decorative schemes at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 that made her to want to paint the walls yellow; I suspect now that the colors in this painting also subtly influenced my imagination of how the two characters would react to a studio space.  Read More 

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Life drawing, 1809

Website tip: Today's post of images from Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin's Microcosm of London at the always interesting blog, Spitalsfield Life, is a dandy for historical fiction novelists and fans of Georgian England. And I love the way this plate shows early 19th C lighting for a life class. Read More 
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