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:  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: and 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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Franz Hals - Inspiration for Sargent's Madame X?

For several months in 1883, John Singer Sargent worked feverishly to capture the image of Virginie Amelie Gautreau--soon to be known as the "infamous" Madame X--both at his studio in Paris, and later, at the summer chateau of the Gautreau family in the west of France in St.-Malo. Sargent had painted and sketched Mme. Gautreau in oils, watercolors, pastels and charcoal--sitting, standing, lying down, walking in the garden--and was unable to fix on the exact right pose and setting for what he desired to be a magnificent portrait. Here are some of his attempts.

In July he took a short break from his labors, and travelled with friends up to Haarlem, Netherlands. There he visited the Haarlem City Hall, which also served as an art museum for an incredible collection of Dutch masters, including one of Sargent's favorites, Franz Hals. (b. 1582 – d. 26 August
1666). Hals was known for having introduced a more familiar, intimate style of portraiture, especially in group portraits. Here on the left is a self-portrait done in his classic style, with loose brushwork, a plain background, and the sitter's shadow on the wall.
As I researched Sargent's life and travels, I took a close look at Hals' paintings, and decided that there was sufficient reason to consider Hals' style as an inspiration for the final portrait of Madame X. Not only is the plain brown background a striking effect, along with the shadow, but the odd twist of a sitter's body can often be seen in Hals' larger portraits. He frequently had his subjects touching a chair or table that was half in and half out of the frame. There is a subtlety and a richness in the deep blacks and browns, especially as contrasted with white collars and ruffs, and rosy skin. The most decided difference between any of Hals' subjects and the Madame X portrait is that Hals' people all look forward at the viewer, frank, open, honest, amused, interested. 

Not Madame X, however. She disdains to look the viewer in the eye. She is an inaccessible Beauty. Her skin is not rosy (except for her ear, where her pale powder makeup didn't reach, apparently--that rosy, natural-colored ear was quite a scandal). The alabaster color of her arms and shoulders, her neck and face, are the "white ruff" counterpart of Hals' paintings. Not even a necklace relieves the pallor of her skin, although the straps of her dress are diamonds in gold chain links. The original painting had her right shoulder strap falling down on her right arm--scandal again. She is dressed (or "barely dressed") all in black -- and as the ladies of Paris instantly realized, she's not wearing a corset, or any proper undergarments. It is a fact that shortly after Sargent returned from his trip to Haarlem, he fixed upon this pose, these colors, this dress as the component parts of his masterpiece, so I think I'm in a pretty safe place thinking Hals was the inspiration. After the uproar and outrage of its showing at the 1884 Salon, Sargent kept the painting in his studio and did not lend it out for exhibition until once in 1911 in Italy, and then finally at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. After that, rather than ship it back to England, he sold it to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it hangs in splendor today in the newly built wing of American Art.