Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Paintings Described in my Novel

In writing a novel about John Singer Sargent, naturally one must include references to many of his paintings, and in my book, there are more than a dozen that are described at length or referred to in passing. The "portraits" who tell the story are, of course, illustrated by the actual images Sargent painted of them, but I thought I would use this space to fill out the Gallery, so to speak, of the characters and persons that make up my novel. I hope you enjoy seeing them along with a quote from my novel for context (page references in parentheses) This is the first installment of probably four posts on this subject.

El Jaleo or The Gypsy Dancer (p. 34)

In front of the enormous painting--it was nearly eight feet high and eleven feet long--a middle-aged, somewhat portly man, with the air of a professor or lecturer, was pointing at the canvas with no little indignation. "Is this art?" he said. "These low types of men and women, sitting in the background against a dirty wall, their mouths open, heads flung back yowling with the degraded music that, no doubt, has sent this gypsy woman into contortions that no living woman could actually replicate!"

The Gondolier (p. 61-62)

Violet...approached another canvas, somewhat obscured by a scarf thrown at hazard across it, which she drew back. A young, mustachioed man gazed out with frank, dark eyes, his full lips sensual, the dark curls of his hair falling across his forehead from under a wide-brimmed hat. His brown coat had slipped off one shoulder slightly, revealing a strong, smooth neck and collarbone under a gauzy white collarless shirt.

Venetian Street Scene (p. 82-83)

[The painting] depicted a narrow alley with crumbling, exposed brick and plaster walls--what isn't crumbling, in Venice? I thought--the perspective sharply slanted as the two walls and the pavement raced to the very center of the far back of the painting, where a reach of hazy afternoon sunlight whitened a wall with windows and trellises overflowing with plants. A dark doorway was set into the right half of the alley wall, and a woman in a black, fringed shawl and a full, frilly, pinkish lavender skirt, stood nonchalant, one arm crooked with her hand on her hip, one foot resting on the doorstep, as if hesitating at the moment of entering.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

John Singer Sargent as a Fictional Character

The paper I gave at the Sargentology Conference presents a brief survey, review and comment upon fictional stories and novels in which Sargent figures as a character, in either a major or minor role, including his role in my own novels. Issues discussed include: how far story-telling can outrun fact and still be plausible, interesting and even informative; what the imagination adds to our understanding of the facts of Sargent’s actual life; how an author creates the psychological “truth” of a person whose mind and thoughts cannot be known or tapped into; what human depths can be explored in regard to Sargent’s paintings and portraits by imagining the scenes or interactions that are captured in the paint. These and other questions will be addressed, using illustrations from various novels, short stories, a play, and the influence of Sargent’s paintings on the written work.  

If you would like to read this paper, please send me your email in a comment below and I can send you an email copy.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sargentology Conference was fantastic!

The first ever Sargentology Conference was held at the University of York, at King's Manor, (left) a centuries-old building that is used for conferences as well as for academic pursuits. Some forty attendees from universities and museums throughout Europe and North America gathered to share and discuss "new perspectives" of John Singer Sargent and his art. My talk on Sargent as a Fictional Character was part of the "Sargent and Literature" panel. There were other presentations and panels which explored his music, the way he painted, the materials available to him, and various other interesting aspects of his life and art. We all met for dinner at Gray's Court Inn (right) where we dined in style and with scintillating conversations. I'll write more soon about the presentations, but here for now are some photos of the wondrous, magical City of York.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sargentology Conference in York, England

The University of York is hosting a "Sargentology" conference at the end of April -- and my paper on "John Singer Sargent as a Character in Historical Fiction" has been accepted! The conference will be held at the King's Manor conference center (seen here) which looks old and beautiful! 
I'm going to be on a panel with other presenters for the "Sargent and Literature" section, and I'll also be chairing a panel on "Sargent and the Zeitgeist". You can see more about the conference at

My initial research has turned up several children's and YA stories or short novels featuring Sargent, some of which are really interesting. Of course I'll be talking about my own novel, and the new mystery series I've started with Sargent and his friend Violet Paget as the amateur sleuths. There was another mystery with Sargent in it written in 2002 titled "A Weekend at Blenheim" which portrays Sargent as a fairly racy, adulterous and randy sort who gets busy with Consuelo, the wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough (Winston Churchill's uncle) in 1905. A very interesting short story by Allan Gurganus (author of The Last Living Confederate Widow) is included in his collection, The Practical Heart. It's intriguing and wonderful to see how writers depict this famous painter, who was, by all accounts, a very private person and hard to pin down in many areas of his life--so much room for imagination!

And of course I'm looking forward to a first-ever trip to the famous city of York, with its incredibly beautiful cathedral church, or York Minster.

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:  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!