Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Happy Birthday, John!

John Singer Sargent was born on this day 160 years ago, in Florence, Italy -- 12 January 1856. Over the course of the next 75 years until his death in 1925, he drew, sketched, coloured and painted some
900 oil paintings and 2,000 watercolours! He was a prodigious, fast and exceptionally skilled artistic genius, and over the last two decades or so, his star has been rising again -- thanks for the most part to his great-great-nephew Richard Ormond, who has been instrumental in providing the world with the Catalog Raisonne of Sargent's works. Ormond was also the leading light behind the magnificent exhibition "Sargent and His Friends" that recently showed at the NY Met Museum, and previous to that, in London at the National Gallery.

I have been in love with Sargent and his work since 1999, when I saw my first exhibition of his work at the Washington D.C. National Gallery.  It was there and then that I vowed I would write a novel about this artist, and in particular, his amazing "Portraits d'Enfants", also known as the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. 

Much later, I was to learn that my very favorite author, Henry James, was an intimate friend and patron of Sargent, and my literary sights were set -- my novel Portraits of an Artist -- has three scenes with Henry James in them! (N.B. Henry James died in 1916, so this year is a huge year for all sorts of Jamesian gatherings around the world.)

Happy Birthday, John Singer Sargent!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Historical Novel Society Conference -- I'm on Two Panels

The last weekend in June will see scores of devoted historical fiction fans and authors (some are both!) descend upon Denver, Colorado to enjoy three days of talks, dinners, costume pageants, and special workshops--all about Historical Fiction!

I will be a member of a very special panel about Art & Artists in Historical Fiction, led by Stephanie Renee dos Santos, and featuring Alana White, Donna Russo Morin and Stephanie Cowell -- all of us have written books about famous artists or art pieces, and we are eager to share our love of art in historical fiction and our experiences writing about it.

In addition, I am the moderator for a second panel on the subject of The Historical Mystery Series, with Anna Lee Huber, Samuel Thomas, Lauren Willig, and Lindsey Davis. Mysteries are tricky enough to write, but add in the historical element and the fun gets even more intense! Hear all about it at our Saturday morning panel.

More information about the Historical Novel Society North American Conference can be found here: www.hns-conference.org.  Check it out today!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Visual Delights of Sargent's Watercolors

Here's a link to a video I put together of the many lovely watercolors displayed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit of John Singer Sargent's paintings -- plus a few of his very famous portraits in oils that the MFA also has. I think you'll enjoy it! 


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fabulous Watercolors Exhibit

Visiting Boston earlier this week, I spent several hours at the MFA's spectacular exhibit of Sargent's watercolors--and of course, paid my obeisance to the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (more on that soon). Here are some of the exciting paintings on view. Get there if you can do it!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Re-Creating Sargent's Glorious Watercolors

Serendipity strikes again! The Historical Novel Society Conference in June in St. Petersburg, Florida, has yielded up a great new connection and resource from the extensive network of the historical fiction sister-and-brother-hood! Bruce Macbain, author of Roman Games and The Bull Slayer, and his wife Carol, purchased my Sargent book and lent it to a friend, Wendy Soneson, who happens to be a terrific artist and great fan of Sargent's. Wendy is currently scheduled to give demonstrations of Sargent's watercolor  technique at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in October, in conjunction with the huge exhibit of Sargent's watercolors there. Her websites are well worth looking at: www.wendysoneson.com and www.watercolorweekly.com for both the Sargent paintings and her own portraits and landscapes.

In the meantime, here is a wonderful version by Wendy of that infamous Amelie Gautreau (Madame X) in one of the gazillion poses Sargent tried before he found the right one. And a few more of his paintings, a la Wendy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Living Madame X

A few weeks ago, I attended (and helped plan and run) the 5th North American Historical Novel Society, held at the Hotel Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Florida. Three hundred-some historical fiction authors, editors, agents and just plain fans had a great time over the long weekend of sessions and parties and gatherings. At our 'dress-up' Saturday night dinner banquet, including a Costume pageant, one of our author-attendees, Leslie Carroll (her nom de plume is Juliet Gray), showed up dressed very much like the infamous Virginie Amelie Gautreau, Sargent's scandalous "Madame X". Of course, I had to take a picture of her in the proper pose, although there wasn't an appropriate little table nearby.  Thanks, Leslie!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Family of Edward Darley Boit

After the period of time covered in my novel (1882-84),  hard times lay ahead for the Boit family, at least emotionally. Isa died in 1894, and the four girls (Florence, Jane, Mary Louisa and Julia), with their father, continued their travels throughout Europe, Great Britain and the U.S. But none of the girls liked America very much, and Ned, too, preferred the ease and openness of Europe to his native land. He was married again in 1897 to a very young woman, a friend of his daughter Mary Louisa, confusingly enough named Florence, and together they had two boys. Unfortunately, his second wife died a few weeks after giving birth to her second son, in 1902. After recovering from this untimely death, Ned renewed his interest in his painting, and mounted several exhibitions of his work (one with Sargent in Boston). Ned died in 1915, in Florence. 
As for the Boit daughters, Florence (leaning against the pillar in the painting) was always a rather odd duck, never evincing the slightest interest in marrying or attending the usual social events. She was an avid player of the relatively new sport of golf—which she introduced to the Boston area, inspiring the local rich folks to build a course at a country club in Newport. She and a cousin, Jane Boit Patten, nicknamed “Pat” to distinguish her from the innumerable Jane’s and Jeanie’s in the family, became fast friends and in later years, lived in what was called a “Boston marriage”, two spinster ladies living together. 
The second daughter, Jane (standing next to Florence, facing forward), both before Isa died and afterward, was ill a great deal, both physically and emotionally, and spent several periods of time in and out of “retreats” and institutions where she underwent various cures to allay her apparently rather violent fits of anger and depression. Not much is known about Mary Louisa (standing to the far left, hands behind her back) except that she and Julia (on the floor with her babydoll) were always together, and Julia became fairly well known for her paintings and illustrations in water colors. Florence died at age fifty-one, on December 8, 1919, in Paris. 
With the outbreak of WWII in 1939, the three remaining sisters moved back to the United States. Julia and Mary Louisa (also known as “Isa” like her mother) lived in Newport, where Mary Louisa died on June 27, 1945, at age seventy-one. Jane (or “Jeanie” as she was known) died at the age of eighty-five on November 8, 1955, in Greenwich, Connecticut. Julia passed away in February 1969, at the age of ninety-one.