Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Nancy Biyleau & The Tapestry

Tapestry coverThe Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau is the golden star of this Tudor mystery trilogy, featuring novice nun Joanna Stafford and her difficulties and adventures through the tumultuous reign of King Henry the VIII. This novel to the best of my knowledge explores for the first time ever the arts of Tudor England in historical fiction. I reveled in learning about “arras”, the formal term for Flemish tapestry work of the sixteenth century and the fact that England was in possession of one of the world’s greatest collections of them. Bilyeau takes us inside King Henry the VIII’s court and into his royal artist studio under the helm of German artist Hans Holbein the Younger who produced numerous paintings for the king like the little painting “The Dance of Death” featuring a floating skeleton visiting a ruler, for no one, not even a king escapes death’s clutches. Full of secret plots and twisted motives this mystery weaves a story that keeps you wondering until the end. You’ll be surprised, dismayed, and consumed by the tale that unfolds and enjoy learning about the art and artists of this time.

Sketch, paint, catalog…throw the loom shuttle and try to please the tastes and temper of King Henry the VIII or else…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Artistically what sets the Tudor period apart from other eras as highlighted and celebrated in The Tapestry

Thomas Cromwell portrait

Thomas Cromwell portrait

Nancy Bilyeau:  The 16th century was a magical time in English history, full of beauty and poetry and song, of romance and danger—and yet, English painters were not part of this magic. People might not realize that there really wasn’t a school of English painters in the late medieval times and into the modern age, right up to the early 18th century when William Hogarth finally made an impact. There were important paintings and murals created by artists that were seen in the Tudor and Stuart courts, but the artists themselves were foreign born: Hans Holbein the Younger and Anthony van Dyck. In the case of Holbein, he was paid commissions by King Henry VIII and some of his ministers and chief nobles to paint portraits. Those portraits, such as the ones of Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More that now hang in the Fricke Collection in New York City, are expressive and convey the spirit of their subjects very well. But back in the day, most Tudor homes did not have paintings on the walls.

What truly sets the reign of Henry VIII apart is a different kind of visual art that was celebrated at the highest level of society: tapestries. The king inherited a collection that was begun by the later Plantagenet rulers and he became a passionate, if not obsessed collector. He owned more than 2,000 at the time of his death, and many of them were incredibly expensive. Tapestries were woven with silk and wool, gold-edged threads in Brussels, within workshops ruled by exacting guild standards, and each one could take a team months to complete. They were stunning in their colors and quite complex, often showing a famous scene from the Old Testament, or from Classic Greek legends.

The story of Abraham tapestry

The story of Abraham tapestry

For instance, The Story of Abraham, commissioned by Henry VIII, is a set of ten panels, each depicting a different story, like the return of Sarah or the separation of Abraham and Lot. The series was valued at the sum of £8,260, much more than any other work (or collection of works) of art. Historians think that he paid more for The Story of Abraham than for two warships! It’s believed that the king commissioned this set after the birth of his son, Edward, when he felt he had a lot to celebrate. King Henry had the tapestries mounted at Hampton Court, and the kings and queens who came after him often displayed them too. About ten years ago, they were restored to some of their former glory—tapestries don’t age all that well.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

NB:  Art is extremely important to me on multiple levels. The first one is personal. My father, Wallace Bilyeau, was a watercolor landscape artist. He had a basement studio, and he’d come home from work as a commercial artist, first in Chicago and then Detroit, and after dinner head downstairs to paint. So I saw from childhood the importance of expressing yourself through art. I also feel that in fiction, the arts can provide another level to your narrative. What the characters see in art, their reactions, and how they share those responses, is important. And I think artists are fascinating characters! Hans Holbein the Younger has an important role to play in my third novel, The Tapestry.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

NB:  My novels are mysteries, and I thought of tapestry at first as a way to convey secrets, hidden within the stories displayed in the weave. That runs throughout The Crown. My main character, Joanna Stafford, is a Dominican novice, hoping to take vows as a full nun at a real-life priory in Dartford, Kent (I traveled to Dartford to research the book). She and her fellow sisters have a small loom at the priory to weave their own tapestries. In that I was being creative. There was an enormous amount of beautiful embroidery being created at the priories and the large manor houses and the palaces (several of Henry VIII’s six wives were talented embroiderers), but we don’t know of any looms used in England until the reign of Elizabeth I. Tapestries were imported. But I know that the nuns during this time did a lot of needlework, and so I expanded the scope of their output. In the second novel, when Henry VIII has destroyed the priory and Joanna is struggling to make a life for herself after being ejected with the others, she decides to make tapestries her vocation. She’s going to keep weaving them, and then try to sell them. Joanna is quite good at this, which has the unintended consequence of making Henry VIII aware of her tapestries, and in the third book she is pulled into this orbit, at great danger to herself.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

the crownNB:  I use a lot of historical objects in my novels, some of them real and some of them building on my imagination. The “crown” in my first novel, The Crown, is a mysterious and mystical object that Joanna Stafford tries desperately to find. It was once worn by the Saxon ruler, Athelstan, and it might—or might not—be an ancient relic as well. I uncovered a lot of fascinating research about Athelstan and holy relics. One of the descendants of Charlemagne may have given Athelstan some precious relics in his quest to marry the English king’s beautiful sister.

In my third novel, The Tapestry, a certain book becomes important to the characters. It’s a grimoire, actually, which is a book of spells, and the author may—or may not—be Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, a German scholar, astrologer and magician. In the early 1530s Agrippa published De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres, which is “Three Books of Occult Philosophy.” Then there is this infamous “fourth book,” putting into practice the philosophies and ideas of the first three volumes with invocations of good and evil spirits. As you can imagine, publishing books of occult instruction was risky during this time, with the Inquisition in full force! Agrippa has inspired a lot of writers since his lifetime, including Mary Shelley in Frankenstein.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

NB:  In all of my novels, the weaving and the purchase of the tapestries have a great deal of narrative meaning. Joanna Stafford, in The Chalice, seeks out a drawing for her first privately woven tapestry of The Rise of the Phoenix. This is what she wants to weave. At certain critical times in the story, other characters wonder if Joanna, a member of a vanquished religious order, is trying to put across a subversive message through her choice of the phoenix, which rises from the ashes. I think art in history could be a way for people without power to try to express powerful ideas.
6. What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?
These stories provide another rich level in the narrative. In novels, the art and the artists can be pretty to look at—and they can be profound. It depends on the writer!

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

NB:  Well, I think last year I may even have shared with you on social media, Stephanie, that I was terribly excited about including a certain spectacular painting in my third novel: The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch. In The Tapestry, Joanna Stafford travels to Brussels, and this painting was on view in that city in that year, 1540. What an opportunity! The Garden of Earthly Delights is gorgeous, it’s complicated and it’s a little mystical—in other words, it’s exactly what I love. But there was no reason I could come up with for Joanna to see it and be moved by it, to be sent in a certain direction needed for story momentum. It could only be a tangent. So I regretfully did not write a scene including it.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

Triumph_of_Hercules_tapestry

Triumph of Hercules tapestry

NB:  Art can be used in many ways in a novel, some of them obviously important. In my books, certain characters are artists; the creation of art is a livelihood. But art can serve a more subtle purpose too. In my third novel, Henry VIII commissions a tapestry showing the feats of Hercules (this is taken from history, it actually happened). The feats are those of courage, of violence, of seduction. Hercules himself is muscular and skimpily dressed. When the finished tapestry arrived in England, Henry VIII was devastated by the collapse of his fifth marriage to a much younger woman. He was grossly obese and stricken with all sorts of illnesses that made it hard for him to even walk. The tapestry, when it arrived, was put in a prominent place. What was Henry VIII trying to say about himself, his own feats, and his feeling about his manhood, in selection of this subject? That is woven through one of my last chapters, but it’s subtext.

SRDS:  Does art play a part in your new novel?

NB:  It does indeed. And my next book is not set in the Tudor time period. But it’s too early to share. Check back with me, please!

Nancy Bilyeau (Photo credit-Joshua Kessler)About the author: Nancy Bilyeau is a magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Entertainment Weekly and Good Housekeeping. Her trilogy of historical novels set in the reign of Henry VIII and featuring the struggles of a Dominican novice, have won awards and been published in nine countries. A native of the Midwest, she lives in Forest Hills, New York, with her husband and two children.

For more about Nancy’s works:  

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tudorscribe

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/NancyBilyeauAuthor

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tudorscribe/

To buy The Tapestry:  http://www.nancybilyeau.com/order.php

Join us here July 25th for an interview with Andromeda Romano-Lax, author of The Detour!

Interview posting schedule: 

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release) July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Laura Morelli, The Gondola Maker

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Lisa Barr of Fugitive Colors

Fugitive one finalSome novels are an honor to read because the story is so vital to humanity and history, Fugitive Colors by Lisa Barr is one such story.

Written in bold and emotive strokes like the Expressionist painters and modern artists the novel tributes one can’t help but be deeply moved by this arresting and driving drama.Told with heart and precision, one is drawn into the Parisian and German art world at the onset of World War II.

Fleeing his American Jewish past, painter, Julian, enters the Paris art scene, having no clue the course his life will take when he is welcomed into an artist circle of friends made up of the talented couple Rene and Adrienne and German born Felix. Julian is young, talented and devoutly devoted to art. Barr reveals the Paris avant-grade modern art scene through the art studio of Dubois and Gallerie Rohan-Levi as the group of friends play out their passions, jealousies abound, while the Nazis rise to power. Lured to Germany to attempt to heal a rift in their their friendship with Felix, Julian and Rene find themselves at the doorstep of the local Expressionists’ plight to save their art and livelihood as Hitler and his henchmen are pledged to purge those connected with and creating modern art. A dangerous and devastating struggle unfolds, and the victims and the costs are beyond belief and will tear you at your very soul. If you love humanity and the arts, this novel will touch you at your core, as it gives passage into the eye of destruction and resurrection after all has been seemingly lost. You’ll be surprised as to what unravels in the end.

When your fingers to brush, to paint, to canvas are your life soul and line, what won’t you do to save that which connects you and others with the sublime, the divine?

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Fugitive Colors features German Expressionist painters Ernest Engel and Max Kruger, are their stories based on historical facts? 

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Otto Dix, War Cripples (45% Fit for Service), 1920, oil on canvas, lost work. Dix was a Dadaist painter and I (Stephanie) fell in love with his provoking works as a young artist.

Lisa Barr:  Hitler and his posse despised the avant-garde — particularly Cubists, Dadaists, Surrealists, and especially his homegrown band of German Expressionists, who fell into two groups of artists — Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). The Expressionists painted the emotion that a subject evoked, rather than the subject itself. Nature, people, architecture were a wild collage of chaotic and lush brush strokes. Nothing made sense, and yet the provocative imagery brilliantly impacted the viewer. Expressionism drove the orderly, neo-1kirchner-compclassical-loving Nazis crazy. Among the household name “Degenerates” were Beckmann, Kirchner, Marc, Dix, Nolde and Heckel. Two of my main characters, Expressionists Ernst Engel and Max Kruger, are based on a composite of these artists. Details were drawn from where they went to school, to where their work was shown, to experiencing a similar fate once they were forbidden to paint (and later, when their works were confiscated and destroyed) — suicide, murder, smuggling, hiding, fleeing the country, and sadly, in some cases, betraying one another in order for their own works to survive the Nazis cultural terrorism. Many of these Expressionists’ works were shown at the official Nazi exhibition of Entartete Kunst or “Degenerate Art”, which opened in Munich on July 19, 1937,  to portray an age of “decadence and chaos.” This exhibition was also the most widely seen display of modern art ever. In Munich alone, there were more than two million visitors. Both Engel’s and Kruger’s artwork were also exhibited at that exhibition — mixed in with “real” artists of the day.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel? 

LB:   It was 1991, and at that time I was serving as the managing editor of a woman’s magazine in Chicago. I was also 150 pages into another manuscript. I was sent by the magazine on assignment to cover the “Degenerate Art” exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. Entering the museum, I literally stopped in my tracks—I had found my story. I knew at that moment I would push aside the other manuscript. What I saw at that exhibit would later morph into the historical-fiction tale of my debut novel Fugitive Colors. Even as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I never knew about the Nazis’ relentless mission to destroy the avant-garde—particularly painters. Hitler and his henchmen went after the German Expressionists with a vengeance never seen before in art history. I am a writer not an artist, but I needed to understand what made someone like Adolf Hitler both a murderous madman and an artist. For Hitler, his hatred for the avant-garde was not political—it was personal. He was considered a third-rate artist who, once in power, wanted payback. I wanted to—had to— explore this in depth. Once the ideas began percolating, I knew that I was going to utilize my journalism skills to turn a little-known piece of Holocaust history into good fiction. It became an issue of no choice: I had to write this novel.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

250px-EntarteteKunst

Great Exhibition of German Art catalogue cover, 1937 (left) and Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition, catalogue cover, 1937 (right)

LB:  I love art, but I have no background in art, yet I do have a strong background in investigative journalism. Once I had my story line, I began to research the fate of the Expressionists under the Third Reich. Once I began exploring, it became a series of a-ha moments. My goal as a writer was to teach this piece of history through osmosis— to “bring it on” through fiction. Expressionism, which focuses on the emotion not the subject — had me at “hello”. Ask my kids and my husband — I do not run on logic — I’m emotional to the bone. This aspect of art spoke to me, drew me in. I wanted to create a story, a thriller, filled with drama, love, lust, friendship, and revenge to convey the most important quality of any artist: passion. I particularly wanted to explore how far would an artist go for his or her passion. Would he kill for it, like my “evil” character Felix von Bredow? Would he paint to his last dying breath, like the handsome and über-talented René Levi? Or would he protect art at all costs, like my protagonist Julian Klein. It was also immensely enjoyable as a woman to write about the fate of three young male artists, and how their passion for art both united and destroyed them. Of course, there are strong women in my novel (a non-negotiable), and plenty of lustful moments in between the brush strokes.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

LB:  I knew everything historical in this novel had to be true, verified, fact-checked. The research alone took me more than four years. I traveled to Europe, I researched testimonials, artwork, I spoke to survivors, I read everything I could get my hands on. Two major works — Lynn H. Nicholas’ masterpiece,“The Rape of Europe: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and The Second World War”, and Stephanie Barron’s powerful exhibit and book “Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Germany”, were my most important resources. I also interviewed the grandson of an aristocratic Nazi family for hours. I spoke to those who were investigating stolen art, as well as to those whose artwork had been stolen. I did not begin writing until I felt satisfied that no stone had been left unturned. My main characters are composites of real artists, real art dealers, real Nazis. And then . . . I was put on bed-rest for nine months (yes, nine!) while pregnant with my eldest daughter. That’s when I got down to business and wrote the first draft of Fugitive Colors, from my bed in Jerusalem (where I was then living and working as a reporter).

On an emotional/artistic level, I wanted to explore the concept of rejection and shame. There is no greater shame than being an artist without talent. One of my main characters, Felix von Bredow—like Adolf Hitler—wanted other artists to suffer because of his own lack of talent.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

LB:  I believe what was really going down culturally in Germany in 1933 was this: a division had been created—not of men, but of talent; the haves and have-nots—equally dangerous.

Jean_Metzinger,_1913,_En_Canot,_oil_on_canvas,_146_x_114_cm,_missing_or_destroyed

Jean Metzinger, 1913, En Canot (Im Boot), oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm, exhibited at Moderni Umeni, S.V.U. Mánes, Prague, 1914, acquired in 1916 by Georg Muche at the Galerie Der Sturm, confiscated by the Nazis circa 1936 from the Kronprinzenpalais, Nationalgalerie, Berlin, displayed at the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich, and missing ever since

Ironically, Hitler’s War began with art, and it’s incredible to me that nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, stolen art is still making front-page news. I always say if only art could talk . . . thousands of stolen paintings have a hidden past just waiting for the truth to be exposed.

According to the Jewish Claims Conference, the Nazis seized an estimated 650,000 artworks and religious items from Jews and other victims. The artwork that has been returned to the rightful owners is just a drop in the bucket, if that. Yet, I truly believe that this country-by-country exposure of stolen art – Germany, Austria, Norway, Canada, France, etc., will soon travel from Europe to our front door – where similar murky “unknown” histories of beloved artworks hanging in major museum and private collections will surely be unveiled. Like everything else, it’s all just a matter of time. There is nothing black or white within the pages of “Fugitive Colors”. It’s all about the grey; a secret history that I am determined to unveil, in hopes of bringing THIS lost legacy to light.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

LB:  I started researching this book 18 years ago — this was before “Monuments Men” and “Woman in Gold” (fabulous by the way) came out — and it was back then a little known aspect of Holocaust history. Most provocative were my dealings with those who were trying to get their stolen paintings back from governments and museums who were determined to hold on to this precious artwork. My conversations with those seeking the return of their artwork were all off-the-record for obvious legal reasons — and now several of those who I had the opportunity to interview over the years have had their paintings returned. But this is a fight that’s going to continue for years to come. I had no idea how big this story was when I began writing, and how many countries are still harboring stolen artwork. I started with a “this subject is really fascinating” to Wow — this is way bigger, much more intricate than I’d ever imagined.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

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Dancer and Harlequin Emile Nolde – 1920

LB:  I think all of us art-in-fiction types have had those moments, especially as children, imagining what it would be like to jump inside a painting (Forget Cabo —Give me Monet’s Giverny any day!). And then as a writer, you think, I can really make that happen, and bring my readers with me on that journey, inside that painting, inside the thoughts of that artist. I have three teenage daughters. So for me, as a Mom/Writer it all comes down to sharing your love of art with the next generation. Dig deep, and explore their imagination … show your kids that through art, they can release their anger, they can explore love, and most of all, they can self-reflect. Believe me, there is no greater truth than a this-is-my-family drawing by your five year old. Encourage expression, lead the way, and I guarantee we will create a new generation of art-in-fiction aficionados.

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

LB:  I pondered writing a sequel to Fugitive Colors, and then I decided after spending so many years on this book, I needed a break do something entirely different— more contemporary yet still a historical page-turner— which is definitely my thing. I’m excited for this summer to really delve into my next novel.  That said, “Fugitive Colors” will always be my baby. I cried when the book was finished, and I was (off-the-record) madly in love with my main character (though he is 20 plus years my junior … but hey, who’s counting?). What’s coming next will be passionate of course, historical without a doubt, visual — and what the hell, this girl can’t help it … you just may see a painting or two working its way into the pages.

bookjacket.get-attachment-1.aspxAbout the author:  Lisa Barr’s award-winning debut novel Fugitive Colors, a suspenseful tale of stolen art, love, lust, and revenge on the “eve” of WWII, won the IPPY gold medal for “Best Literary Fiction 2014″. Fugitive Colors was named one of HEEB Magazine’s “Top 10 Best Books” in 2014, and won first prize at The Hollywood Film Festival for “Best Unpublished Manuscript (Opus Magnum Discovery Award).

A journalist for more than 20 years, Lisa served as an editor for The Jerusalem Post for five years, covering Middle East politics, lifestyle, and terrorism in Jerusalem. Among the highlights of her career, Lisa covered the famous “handshake” between the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and President Bill Clinton at the White House.

Following the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, Lisa profiled his wife Leah for Vogue magazine, and they maintained a friendship until Mrs. Rabin’s death. She later served as managing editor of Moment magazine based in Washington, DC, which was co-founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Most recently, she worked as an

editor/staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, covering lifestyle, sex & relationships, and celebrities. She earned her master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University.

Lisa is also the creator of the popular website and blog “GIRLilla Warfare: A Mom’s Guide to Surviving the Suburban Jungle” (girlillawarfare.com) which launched in May 2012. Her greatest joy is raising her three beautiful daughters, and “coffee time” with her husband David Barr. She lives in Chicago with her family, two dogs, and lots of girl drama—fodder for her next novel.

For more about Lisa’s works:  Amazon: tinyurl.com/pdav8ym ;  Book Site: www.fugitivecolorsthenovel.com ; Twitter: @lisabarr18 ; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FugitiveColors

To buy:  Fugitive Colors

Join us here June 27th for an interview with bestselling author Lynn Cullen, author of The Creation of Eve!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release), October 31st Laura Morelli The Gondola Maker

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Lisa Burkitt & The Memory of Scent

Memory of ScentThis art-based historical mystery The Memory of Scent by Lisa Burkitt is set 1883 Paris, France. It is a story of two French women, Fleur and Babette, both artist models, and how their lives diverge when the painter they both pose for is found dead. Fleur lives her life on the fringes of the Impressionist movement listening in on artist conversations of Degas, Renoir, Monet and Toulouse Lautrec, spending time in the turpentine fumed artist studio, and haunts of Paris’ nightlife where bohemians convene. Beautiful Babette’s lucky star falls after the death of the artist as she is subsequently thrust into the underbelly of Paris and into dark corners and streets. This novel focuses on the senses and upon the deep reflections of protagonist Fleur and Babette, revealing nineteenth century Paris life and the art scene in all its various colorful and not so colorful shades. Scent, memory, love, and loss are explored, and where it appears the ties which hold people together can also tear people apart.

Two models, two contary lives…”Patchouli is Paris. Lavender hinted at warm bread and plump maternal women.” The Memory of Scent

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Your main protagonist Fleur is an artist model and how does she exemplify models of the day? From what social classes were most models from and how were they regarded socially in 1883?

Lisa Burkitt:  Fleur was typical of the type of young working class, Montmartre dwelling model who would have moved from job to job.  Modelling was not a regular source of income – though when they were paid, they could make what was considered good money, sometimes ten francs a day. Some models would find work in Institutional and academic settings, but artists would often look to hire them from the ‘model markets’ one of which was on the Place Pigalle. Young girls would be accosted by artists in the street or in cafes and asked to pose, which of course was an income boost, but in many cases, there was a thin and fluid line between modelling and prostitution. Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec chose prostitutes as models and also painted in brothels. Modelling was often viewed more critically than prostitution. Girls initially prized as models, were rarely used as they began to age and this often became another route to prostitution.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

SValadonSelf portrait

“Self Portrait” by Suzanne Valadon

LB:  About 25 years ago, I had this idea to write about a female model who wanted to be an artist.  I was always interested in the Impressionist era and knew that this would be my setting.  I took myself off to the library (this was pre internet days!) and cross-referenced the various artists of the era to get a sense of the life of a model…and this one name kept popping up; ‘Suzanne Valadon’. She sat for Puvis de Chavannes, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and many others, and it can be assumed also became lover to several of the artists. She was an instinctively talented artist herself. I was fascinated to find out that this woman in my head actually existed in real life and I became intrigued by her.  What did I do about it?  Absolutely nothing.  I carried on my day job and then several years later, I came across June Rose’s fascinating biography; Suzanne Valadon; The Mistress of Montmartre.

The desire to write a novel stayed with me and when I decided to just get on with it, I knew I had to keep Suzanne involved somehow, so instead wrote her up as a secondary character in the book using available facts of her life.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork and/or artist?

LB: In choosing to make The Memory of Scent a strong character study of the Suzanne Valadon and her contemporaries of the day, some real, some fictionalised, I have used a very specific timeline, that of the year 1883. I have concentrated events within this timeline and referenced actual paintings that would have been created within it. (pg 88. ‘I stop by Maria’s on my way home and she beckons me into her cramped one-room apartment. She wipes her hands on an old cloth and steps back from the easel. Staring defiantly at me is a self-portrait in pastel that she has been working on. This chin is slightly raised, almost scornfully; the hair severely parted in the middle and tucked behind the ears; the neckline of the dress is conservative and prim. The general effect lacked even a hint of flattery. It was a powerful drawing, bold and unforgiving.’)

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

Cafe Guerbois, a 19th century hangout for artists and art lovers

Cafe Guerbois, a 19th century hangout for artists and art lovers

LB:  Because The Memory of Scent is embedded in such a specific year, several sources were available to me to draw events as authentically as possible. ‘The Timetables of History’ by Bernard Grun is a very useful reference volume as it maps out what is happening ‘simultaneously’ in the world of science & technology, politics, philosophy and religion, arts and musical happenings within a given year. This was how I knew to have the young courtesan, Lily, be taken to the opening night at the Opéra Comique of Léo Delibes, Lakmé which that night, starred the American singer, Marie van Zandt.

Archived newspapers are always a useful tool to set the tone of an era and I find that advertisements are very revealing as to the preoccupations of the day, so I have Fleur distractedly looking at an advertisement for things like ‘Curling Fluid’ and ‘Bloom of Roses for giving beauty to the lips and cheeks.’

The Memory of Scent has been described as a novel of the senses and food was always to be a part of the story – both the lack of it and by contrast, the indulgence of it through the gourmand character of Walrus. I was hugely informed by the luscious approach to food of the 19th century food critic, Grimod de La Reynière.

SRDS:  Is there an art history lesson you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

Renoir's 'Dancing pictures'

Renoir’s ‘Dancing pictures’

LB:  I think I have always been fascinated by the lives of artists and how their lifestyles inform their art. I am always curious about that balance between bravery and self-absorption. My preference is to read biographies on artists and then to place their art within that. I like to try to visualise what they were doing when a particular work was created and who was in their circle that may have had any influence on their choices and decisions. I can bring nothing new to the table when it comes to writing about the Impressionist era so it was really just a question of trying to immerse myself in the sounds and smells of 1800s Paris, to pull up a chair at the Bonne Franquette bar in Montmartre and down some absinthe.

SRDS:   What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie- ins?

LB:  Sometimes the art world can be too precious. It can have its own language, vocabulary, terminology, and fraternity. It can be divisive – the initiated versus the uninitiated. Art is organic and stories with art tie-ins give a more honest insight into that reality. They lift the corners and do not restrict us to simply being ticket-buying spectators forced to stand behind the rope.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

LB:   When I sent one of my girls to prison…that became an eye-opener! There was a lot about prison life for women that I could have gone off on a tangent on. Lesbianism was a given; the problems of menstruation were handled with little care or concern (straw was swept in on the floor for the women’s use); syphillitic women were identified by their headgear. A whole microcosm of humanity existed on the fringes.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

LB:  Art in fiction is an endless vein to mine. There’s the work itself, how it came about, who brought it into existence, what became of it. It spans genre’s (thrillers/historical/romance/drama/literary). Art can act as a minor plot point in fiction or as its central theme. And the best thing about art in fiction is that it tends to inspire further curiosity. It often piques your interest enough to check into something further or more closely.

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

LB:  I am currently finishing a crime thriller, Anatomy of a Jump which is set in modern day New York with no art tie-in (other than a few visits to the Museum of Modern Art!) but am constantly researching female protagonists within the art world that I can build my next novel around. It is a genre I will definitely return to.

Lisa Burkitt picAbout the author:  Lisa Burkitt worked in the media for eighteen years in both print and broadcast journalism. She also wrote for several years as a weekly columnist with the Johnston Press group. She is now a fulltime writer and artist based in Co. Donegal, Ireland. Lisa has been anthologised in ‘Best Paris Stories’ and The Memory of Scent is her debut novel.

 

To buy:  The Memory of Scent

Join us here May 30th for an interview with Lisa Barr, author of Fugitive Colors!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release), October 31st Laura Morelli The Gondola Maker

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

 

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring M.J. Rose & The Witch of Painted Sorrows

WOPSSpellbinding. Entrancing. All-encompassing. The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J Rose was an impossible to put down Gothic mystery. Have you ever had a desire, a passion so great that it literally over took you…consumed you? This is what it’s like reading this novel of an artistic love affair like no other, set during the Belle Epoque era in Paris, France. When Sandrine Salome flees New York to her grandmother’s Paris home trying to escape her dangerous husband, unbeknownst to her she is reentering into an ancient long cast spell. And what she discovers at her grandmothers renowned lavish mansion, home to an extensive art collection and tantalizing salons will far surpass her wildest imaginings and fears. Her grandmother insists she can’t stay in Paris, and heaven forbid not in her now closed up for “renovations” mansion. Sandrine defies her grandmother’s warnings, coming into contact with the intriguing residence renovator architect Julien Duplessi. Together Sandrine and Julien explore the haunts of the house and discover its hidden secrets and uncover intoxicating pieces of the past, and a witch legend of sixteenth-century courtesan, La Lune, in which Sandrine becomes possessed. La Lune opens Sandrine up to life’s dark and erotic side as she and Julien delve into the world of artist and muse, the Paris night world, and forbidden occult underground culture as Sandrine careens into her deepest desires and the gifts of the dark or are they curses of the night?

Throughout this novel are stunning sound related metaphors and similes like nothing I’ve ever encountered.The prose is beautiful and evocative with captivating Art Nouveau historical details and exposes one to nineteenth-century French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau and his magical works.The love story is intense, allowing the reader a rare experience of what it’s like to be consumed by the desire to create and allows you to feel the explosive and dangerous potential of obsessive passion. You will be left speechless at how the story unfolds and what it explores, truly a masterpiece of storytelling!

Unlock the door, turn the canvases around, let the love spell come over you…lose yourself to La Lune

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

MJR:  I was six when I took my first art class. It was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. And I’ve never stopped studying or wanting to be painter. When I visit a city the first place I go to is the museum. I am more at home looking at paintings and sculpture than doing anything including reading. Of every subject I am always drawn first to art and artists.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

MJRoseInsidea MoreauPaining

“Insidea” painting by Moreau with author reflection

MJR:  I was in Paris and visited an exhibition of a late sixteen century female painter, Artemisia Gentileschi. She was a rarity and anomaly, a woman artist who succeeded despite enduring so much. While there was no suggestion she dabbled in the occult, her resilience and determination inspired me to create a woman named, La Lune, a sixteenth century courtesan, the muse of a great artist who becomes a great artist herself.

While she isn’t the main character in the book, she is at its heart. It’s her descendant, Sandrine, who three hundred years later, who comes to Paris and has to overcome society’s rules and mores in order to live out her passions — as a woman and an artist.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

a Moreau

Moreau painting

MJR:   It was the period itself. Belle Epoch Paris was a melange of many different styles of art and poetry and philosophies. The old guard still ran the salons. Impressionism battled for wall space with symbolism. Cults sprang up around occultism, spiritism and inspired artists and writers. All that diversity fascinated me. I spent a long time at the Gustave Moreau museum, looking not just at his masterpieces, but examining the hundreds of sketches hidden away. I searched out Art Novueau buildings and visited museums to look at the work of the Nabis whose name itself which came from the Hebrew word for “prophet,” evoked both their mysticism and determination to develop a new artistic language.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

A typical art class

A typical 19th century art class

MJR:  As hard as it is for me to believe, today, in 2015 women still don’t have full equality, not in our society, not in the art world.

I wanted to use another era to illustrate the struggles and the efforts that women have made to succeed the arts. To show that  sometimes to get what we want, we have to tap into our inner witch.  Nice girls often do finish last or they waste away bored to death. To me living a life without reaching outward and inward for ours dreams, no matter how impossible is seems, is a waste of our souls.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

MJR:  I think being able to look at the art that inspires the book it ads a dimension to the story.

MJRose_MarioMorgado20143About the author:  New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed. She believes mystery and magic are all around us but we are too often too busy to notice… books that exaggerate mystery and magic draw attention to it and remind us to look for it and revel in it.

 

 

For more about M.J’s work visit blog “Museum of Mysteries”: http://www.mjrose.com/blog/  Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMJRose

 To buy:  The Witch of Painted Sorrows

Join us here April 25th for an interview with Lisa Brukitt, author of The Memory of Scent!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release), October 31st Laura Morelli The Gondola Maker 

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

 

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Maureen Gibbon of Paris Red

paris red jacketThe artist and muse, the electric spark for high art, and in the case of Paris Red — high literature. This novel is artistic, poetic, exotic, and reflects deep care to reach perfection of prose, multi-dimensional characters and stimulating scenes. It’s as if this book was polished by a brunisseue, a “silver burnisher”, and their bloodstone, achieving a gleaming finish. It is an intense and bold story set in 1862 Paris of a young working-class woman, Victorine Meurent, who honors her internal pulse, despite the unknown and risks as she enters the world of wealthy painter Édouard Manet. This is a novel of discovery and an exploration of what drives and binds the muse and artist. Paris Red is like no other art-based historical novel I’ve read, it stirred not often accessed emotions and bodily drives, it is juicy in a way I could never have imagined nor expected. The story delves into brazen human and artistic hungers, but also lays bare an empowered female in protagonist Victorine, an adolescent coming into her own.The inquiry into the artist’s vision and how one sees and views the world and comes to understand what art means to oneself spoke deeply to me.

Drop the cloak, assume a pose on the divan, expose your essence, you feast, he devours and see if he and she can capture and reveal each others souls…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  What special challenges did you encounter to embody your protagonist, the artistic seventeen year old Victorine Meurent and the escapades she and her dear friend Denise find themselves exploring after meeting painter Édouard Manet? 

Maureen Gibbon:  When you’re young, you share so much with your best friend; the two of you really count on each other. I wanted to bring the closeness of female friendship to Paris Red. Before my fictional version of Victorine meets Manet, she is sharing a room with her best friend Denise in order to make ends meet, but also because the two are a great team. They are their own little family.

The day Victorine meets Manet, Denise is with her, so Manet meets both of them. He’s intrigued by the two young women, and by their intense friendship. That’s something I drew from my own experience in order to portray.

In 1983 when I was twenty years old, I studied and traveled in Europe. One day in Venice, a friend and I met an older man on the street, and we began to spend time with him. We walked the quiet city for hours, talking, laughing and teasing. There was a kiss on the street.

I never forgot the tension of our triangle, or the sensuousness of those summer walks in the dark. All of that went into Paris Red—along with plenty of research about how young working class women made their way in Paris in the nineteenth century. In many ways, their lives were not so different than the lives of young women today: they had to earn a living, they worried about unwanted pregnancies, and they craved independence.

Fiction is like that for me. I borrow anything I need for the sake of the story, and I blend research, memory and imagination. And I hope the result is an intoxicating mix for the reader.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

detail Olympia

detail from “Olympia” by Manet Musée d’Orsay in Paris

MG:  Édouard Manet’s Olympia was the starting place for the novel. I always had strong feelings about the nude in the painting, even before I knew anything about Victorine Meurent. After I read Eunice Lipton’s Alias Olympia and learned a little about Victorine’s life, I could not stop thinking about her. Victorine was a working class girl, just seventeen when she met Manet – but her story did not end with Manet. She became an artist, too, and that alone is astounding because she didn’t have resources. But she still found a way to make art, and she even exhibited in a Salon where Manet exhibited. She survived Manet by forty-four years, living into the 20th century

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

MG:  As I learned more about Victorine Meurent, I learned more and more about Manet and his work, and I fell deeply in love with both people. Manet had to break away from the lessons he was taught in order to come to his own style of painting. He began something so new and provocative with Olympia that he infuriated people, and they were vicious in their attacks on him. And still he went on painting.

So the initial draw for me was a single painting, but after I got just a little way into the research, these two specific people, artist and model,  kept me involved. I love and revere both Manet and Victorine as individuals. I admire the way they lived their lives.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

maitre albert from Place Maubert

“Maitre albert from Place Maubert” photograph by Charles Marville’s of Paris

MG:  In addition to Manet’s paintings, I relied on Charles Marville’s photographs of Paris, as well as detailed maps of Paris in the 1860s. I was also moved by the erotic photographs of Félix-Jacques Antoine Moulin, and a collection of photographs compiled by Dr. George Henry Fox, a dermatologist who studied syphilis in the late 19th century.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

MG:  The relationship between artist and muse is a two-way street.

In the past I felt uncomfortable with the word “muse,” but I’ve come to my own understanding about it as a result of writing Paris Red. From my own experience as a writer, I know I cannot wait to be inspired by an outside source in order to do my work – sometimes it’s work itself, writing my way into something, that brings about “inspiration.” But there are sources and practices I turn to in order to keep myself in touch with my own creativity, or with a story, and I think those sources and practices might be viewed as muse-like.

Portrait of Victorine Meurent

“Portrait of Victorine Meurent” by Manet, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

But if we really are talking about an artist inspired by a particular person, as Manet was so clearly inspired by Victorine Meurent, I think it’s essential to see that relationship as active. Whatever transpired between Manet and Victorine in his studio was profound and took on a life of it’s own; it’s why he was able to push through into a new style of painting. I don’t think that kind of energy could have happened if Victorine had been a passive figure or inert body. She was active and involved.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

MG:  My book would not exist without an art tie-in. I think people are tremendously interested in creativity, in where paintings and poems come from. Books that discuss the creative process are compelling to many people – and not just people interested in the arts. I loved The Imitation Game because I think it depicted how a creative mind works. Alan Turing created a computer and not a painting, but the machine came from the wellspring of his creativity, and from his utter focus. When we’re creative, we tap into something that is us and is also larger than we are, and I think people are fascinated by that, by the multitudes we all contain.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

manet

Manet

MG:  Manet went on painting almost until his death. He worked on small canvases of flowers up until about a month before he died. I learned this from The Last Flowers of Manet, by Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge, with translations by Richard Howard. Manet created art as long as he could. He is my hero.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

MG:  I’ve been in this love affair with Manet and Victorine for more than a decade. Paris Red enriched my life personally and artistically. I don’t know who I might have become without this book in my life, without Manet’s art, without his and Victorine’s story.

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

MG:  I have three new projects going, and one of them has a tie-in to a film. In some ways, it also addresses the role of the muse. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to jinx myself. I believe in doing the thing and not talking about it until it’s done.

gibbon gray 2About the author:  Paris Red is Maureen Gibbon’s third novel. It will be published in the U.S. by W. W. Norton in April 2015. Christian Bourgois, Éditeur published the French translation, Rouge Paris, in October 2014.

Gibbon is also the author of the novels Swimming Sweet Arrow and Thief, which have been published internationally, and the prose poem collection Magdalena.

Her short fiction, nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Mail, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Playboy, Byliner, The Huffington Post and other publications.

​​A graduate of Barnard College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Gibbon was awarded a Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship in 2001, and Loft McKnight Artists Fellowships in 1992 and 1999. In 2006, she received a Mill Foundation Artist Residency at the Santa Fe Arts Institute.​She lives in northern Minnesota.

For more about Maureen’s works: http://www.maureengibbon.com/

 To buy (debut’s April 20th!):  Paris Red

Join us here April 11th for an interview with M.J. Rose, acclaimed author of The Witch of Painted Sorrows!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release), October 31st Laura Morelli The Gondola Maker 

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

For more on Paris Red, visit Sarah Johnson’s blog review at “Reading the Past”.

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Alyson Richman & The Mask Carver’s Son

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The Mask Carver’s Son by Alyson Richman is poetic and stirring, with tender and revealing artistic, cultural, and historical details. The story begins in 1890 near the Daigo mountains within the walls of Kyoto, Japan just before the onset of a turning point in Japanese history. Richman takes us inside the fragile paper walls of customs and those of sad luck.Through the ancient arts of the Noh theater and the constellation of artistic traditions that made up and supported this high art form we meet Ryusei, the tormented and gifted mask carver , and the renowned Yamamoto family. From an arranged marriage and subsequent tragedy Kiyoki is born, a son with longings that mirror the country’s changing times. Instead of desiring to carry on his father’s craft of mask making, he wishes to embrace oil painting. An ambition which will bring him great pleasure and anguish as he dreams of studying in Paris, France with the inspiring and vibrant Impressionist painters.

The rhetoric, the art history, the philosophy, the superstitions, and intimate details of this novel left me awed and at moments stunned by their exquisiteness. The scenes are evocative and emotive set in various places in Japan and Paris making one long to travel back to this time. One feels intensely the profound struggle between honoring tradition and family and the longings of the adventurous creative heart and the price paid for following one’s dreams. What can one do when you know in the depths of your soul that you must break away from your heritage? And how to honor one’s father, and yet fulfill one’s own destiny?

Many creative purists have their price, and the leaving behind of a way of life, one time-honored and as beautiful as the Noh theater is no light feat…Let the crowd gather, the actors grace the stage, with hand-carved masks infused with the souls of ancestors….a legacy with deep roots that cling to old bedrock as change abounds above… the great pine tree dying, branch by branch as a new sapling of another takes hold and grows forth, producing new blooms….but all at a cost of the magnificent venerable tree that has given so much…

Noh theater stage with revered old pine tree

Noh theater stage with revered old pine tree

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  What kinds of special challenges did you encounter while writing The Mask Carver’s Son since the story is set in a time and place and focuses on an art form that is little known outside of Japan? How did you meet these challenges?

Alyson Richman:  This is a wonderful question, Stephanie. You’re right. I couldn’t assume that the majority of my readers would be familiar with Meiji period Japan or the artistic traditions of the Noh theater when I was writing “The Mask Carver’s Son.” So right from the beginning, I tried to create a strong visual world for the reader. Since the novel is written in first person, Kiyoki’s voice allows the reader to see everything through his “artistic lens.” You feel as though you’re in the room with him as he watches his father carve the Noh masks. You can see the father’s hands as he grasps his chisels or grinds his pigments. In a sense, I wanted to create a world where my sentences painted a world for the reader.

The greatest challenge was trying to convey the silence between Kiyoki and his father. The Japanese culture avoids confrontation, so I knew I had to find another way to communicate the sense of strain between these two men. Both of them are artists, so I tried to create different ways they could communicate their emotions through their work since it was culturally impossible for them to use words.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

Noha mask by AR

Noh mask made by the author! (Yes, Alyson!)

AR:  “The Mask Carver’s Son” was my debut novel and it originated after I spent my junior year in college as an apprentice to a Noh mask carver in Kyoto, Japan.  I remember sitting in the tatami room with my teacher and four other apprentices and thinking to myself: “here I am a young Western woman studying a traditional Japanese art form, when did the reverse occur?  When did the Japanese first begin to study European art?”  After I returned to college for my senior year, I applied for a grant to research the first Japanese artists who traveled to France to study painting in the European tradition.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

AR:  I spent nine months in Kyoto carving a single mask. I wanted to incorporate my own artistic experience into this novel. I decided to create the character of Kiyoki, a young man who is born the son of one of Japan’s great mask carvers, but decides to forsake his ancestry and follow his own artistic path to Paris. I loved writing the scenes of the novel that drew upon my own background with mask carving. I savored the chance to bring to life the smell of freshly carved cypress wood, the silver gleam of a set of carving chisels, and the intimate space of a tatami studio.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

20090807-Japan Arts Council Kabuki Kamakura Gongoro 1895 img_4_01-04

Famous Noh theater actor Kabuki Kamakura Gongoro (1895)

AR:  I really wanted to show the internal conflict within Japan during the Meiji period. Up until 1868, Japan practiced an isolationist policy – no one was allowed to enter or leave the country except for the Dutch traders who were allowed to enter the port of Nagasaki. “The Mask Carver’s Son” is not just a novel that explores the relationship of a father and son with two different artistic passions, but also the conflict between the old and new generations of Japan. The nation was split between those who wanted to advance into the modern world and those who wanted to cling to ancient traditions.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

AR:  I think the journey of the artist is often fraught with personal perils. Kiyoki sacrifices his relationship with his father and struggles with a sense of outsidership as he pursues his life as an artist. He cannot escape the fact that he’s visibly different from his European colleagues, even though his artistic interests are the same as theirs. And when he returns to Japan, he cannot escape that he’s different from his fellow Japanese because his experience in Europe has changed him.  In the end, Kiyoki exists as an artist caught between two worlds.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

AR:  I hope readers learn about the history of the time period as well as the dedication and sense of craft of required to be an artist.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?  

Tsuguharu Foujita

Arttist Tsuguharu Foujita

AR:  It’s a wonderful question, Stephanie. I based the character of Hashimoto on a real life artist by the name of Tsugharu Foujita. He had such an interesting life. He married a French woman, converted to Catholicism, and spent much of his life living in France. I wish I could have covered more of his life in the novel.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

AR:  I love the ability to explore the creative life of an artist in my writing. I wanted to be a painter when I was little and now I feel as though I’ve been able to incorporate my love of art with my love of writing.

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

AR:  My next book, “The Painted Dove” explores the mystery surrounding the nineteenth century French courtesan Marthe de Florian and her Paris apartment that was kept as a time capsule for over seventy years. When the apartment was finally unlocked, a magnificent portrait was discovered of Madame de Florian by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.  Stay tuned for that novel in 2016!

Alyson Richman Stephen GordonAbout the author:  Alyson Richman is the internationally bestselling author of The Lost Wife, as well as four other historical novels: The Mask Carver’s Son, The Rhythm of Memory,  The Last Van Gogh, and the recently published The Garden of Letters. As of next year, her novels will be published in eighteen languages. The daughter of an abstract painter and an engineer, her novels are known for weaving art with extensive historical research. The Lost Wife is now being adapted to be a major motion film by Relativity Media. Ms. Richman is a graduate of Wellesley College and a former Thomas J. Watson Fellow. She lives with her husband and children in Long Island.

For more about Alyson’s works:  http://www.alysonrichman.com/

 To buy:  The Mask Carver’s Son

Join us here March 28th for an interview with Maureen Gibbon, author of Paris Red!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release), October 31st Laura Morelli The Gondola Maker 

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

Tile Works Tour of the Palácio Belmonte

palacio_belmonte_iv

Palácio Belmonte

“Quem nunca viu Lisboa, não viu coisa boa” 

He who has not seen Lisbon has seen nothing…

I meet Lisbon tour guide extraordinaire, Mary H. Goudie online while attempting to sleuth the whereabouts and gather information about a figura de convite (a tile welcoming figure invented in the eighteenth century) photo I found on her Pinterest “Lisbon Tour Designer” page. As it turns out she too became totally intrigued with the history behind this unique Portuguese artistic design innovation. We immediately hit-it-off and she helped confirm some information and seek out more fascinating facts about tiles works I was in the process of researching for my novel-in-progress, Cut From the Earth.The story of an empathetic Portuguese tile maker who risks everything to save slaves and escape The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 that ushers Portugal into a New Age.

Library Palacio Belmonte Lisbon

The hotel’s library where I and Maria and Mary exchanged over the artworks of Brazilian contemporary artist Adriana Varejao

September of last year I headed back to Lisbon to do some last minute fact finding and confirmation, along with walking sections of my novel. To reconfirm and again, to feel and to smell and to live my story. And while in Lisbon, I had the great opportunity of meeting in person and being guided by Mary H. Goudie and proprietress Maria Mendonca to view the fifteenth-century clifftop palace, and national monument, the exquisite Palácio Belmonte. Located in the Alfama hillside neighborhood and just down the cobblestone way from Saint George’s Castle, this is no ordinary hotel residence, here is where HRH Charles Prince of Wales and other prominent global and creative personages chose to stay while visiting Lisbon. What is it that draws people to this particular historic ambiance?

Master tile works Palacio Belmontes 18th c. tile collection

Playful countryside mural by Manuel dos Santos

The Palácio Belmonte is home to some of the most valuable and well-preserved tile works from the eighteenth century in a public space today, those of Manuel dos Santos, a contemporary of my novel’s protagonist the famous master tile maker known by the monogram PMP. Imagine sleeping and sipping rich Brazilian coffee in the company of some of the greatest tile works from the eighteenth century…For me, I can’t think of any other better way to fully enjoy the exquisiteness of Lisbon and its grand artistic heritage than being in the presence of handcrafted masterly-made Portuguese tile murals.I swooned at the chance to be able to be in intimate proximity with such important works, to almost be able to touch time and the brushstrokes and compositions of one of my main character’s fellow artist works. It was an otherworldly experience to stroll the old halls and haunts of where a great tile maker more than likely walked while possibly overseeing the installment or finished installation of his masterpieces.

On tour of Palacio Belmonte with Mary, Rui, Maria

Lisbon tour guide Mary H. Goudie and driver Rui, Maria of the Palacio Belmonte and myself

Today, it is Maria Mendonca who is charged with the preservation of such a sacred place and the tile panels hidden within the edifice’s earthen walls. With humble graciousness she kindly showed us around, pointing out the old Roman subterranean foundation, walls and alcoves, along with sharing the history of this grand palace. Prior to becoming the Palácio Belmonte, the residence was owned by two elderly sisters who quietly lived with the fanciful decorated walls of room after room of Manuel dos Santos’ works.

Mary & Rui Lisbon Portugal Sept 2014

Mary & Rui Lisbon Tour Guides

If you are visiting Lisbon, I highly recommend booking a tour with “Your Lisbon Guide” Mary H. Goudie and her Lisbon-born husband and your driver, Rui. They will guide you to the secret and special places that only locals know about, and into contact with the heart and soul of this magnificent city and people, along with sharing with you local wine and food favorites.

And hands down, if you can stay at the Palácio Belmonte you are in for one of your most memorable and charming stays anywhere to be found in the world. It is a place like no other…the walls are literally adorned with old world and artistic charm, of a type only found in Portugal. Come and lookout across the terracotta rooftops and down upon the silver Tagus River from the hotel’s open air patios and balconies, walk the stone pathways under ancient arbors, reside in a princely room, read and take coffee in one of the many ambient salons, linger along the marble poolside edge, and retreat into reflective refuge in hidden nooks within the palace and its gardens.This is what awaits you at the Palácio Belmonte.

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Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Heather Webb & Rodin’s Lover

Cover 1- hdSome stories pierce parts our lives, our secrets, our wishes, and the characters stay with us for a lifetime, this is one such story. Heather Webb’s Rodin’s Lover is a novel that will enrapture creatives and captivate those curious about art, artists, and the world of art during the Belle Époque era in France.   This life story of sculptor Camille Claudel fully embraces her beginnings, family connections and conflicts, paranoid-abrasive spirit and social challenges, and her voracious passion for sculptor and the tempestuous but informing and agonizing relationship with fellow sculpture Auguste Rodin. Wholeheartedly, Webb ventures into the trails and triumphs of Cauldel and Rodin’s lives, the toil, dedication, works and opposition of being a talented cutting-edge artist female and male. The novel explores and exposes the unique concerns and hurdles the gifted and driven Caudel weathers and contends with while struggling to create masterful works in a tradition-bound male-dominated arena of competitiveness and connections, jealousy and gaming — one plagued by patriarchy. Claudel’s story is the heroine’s journey with monstrous obstacles, some overcome, others endured.

The novel’s mental illness thread of the gifted creative stalked by the disturbances of the mind tore me at the core as I have also lost a dear talented friend to mental illnesses. Webb has heart-piercingly rendered with perfection the devastating process of a troubled mind and how mental affliction slowly begins and takes over little by little, then consumes the precious person one has laughed with and loved for years.Through precise prose, Webb’s story undulates and flows like the surface of one of Camille’s burnished bronze cast pieces, shinning bright at the edges and going dark in the folds. This book is written with passion and love and with deep reverence for the call to create against all odds. I wept bitter-sweetly at the end of the novel because of Caudel’s fate, and because Webb expresses aptly the essence of the pursuit of the creative life. 

Enter into the artist studio…throw the clay, knead and roll, feverishly pinch and shape and score and mold and smooth and shave and cut and labor away on your life works, as did Camille Caudel, as does this story infused with raw heart and soul…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos: After spending so much time researching and writing about sculptor Camille Claudel’s art and world, what would say is the most important thing you learned from her life story? What has she left you with? 

Heather Webb: The most important thing I learned from Camille’s story is to take pride in the beauty we create, both in our personal lives and in our professional lives. When all is said and done, it is that beauty which transcends the tragedy of our lives and leaves a meaningful mark on the world–or at the very least, on the people we have known and loved. 

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

HW:  I’ve always been an art lover, even as a kid. We did a lot of moving with the military and I have to say, my parents did a great job of making sure we hit the big museums in every town we lived in, as well as any special exhibitions. To research more about sculpture was a natural extension of my interest.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

sakantula

Sakuntala by Camille Claudel–private collection that rotates through the Musee Rodin as well.

HW: I’ve adored Camille Claudel’s story since I saw the film Camille Claudel in my French film class in college. Camille’s struggles haunted me. As for sculpture, I’ve always been intrigued by it as an art form. It isn’t just inspiration and years of work, but brute strength and stamina that’s needed for all of the lifting, scrubbing, and building that goes along with being a great sculptor. To create this pearly structure that seems to breathe, leap from the stone, is just mind-boggling to me still—even after all the time I’ve spent researching it.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

HW:  Several of Camille’s works inspired the narrative including Sakuntala, The Waltz, and La Petite Châtelaine, as well as her Bust of Rodin. As for Rodin’s pieces, The Gates of Hell, Burghers of Calais, The Eternal Idol, and Monument to Balzac, among others.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

Burghers of Calais by Rodin

The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, Musee Rodin

HW:  I tried to show how art defines a creative’s view of the world, their passions, their dreams, as well as how those views shape their works. In addition, I’ve highlighted one political scandal in particular—the Dreyfus Affair—and how that affected both Rodin’s state of mind and his later pieces, as well as how the politics of art affected other artists during that time. His Monument to Balzac was groundbreaking in terms of beginning the revolution of modern art.

As for Camille’s works, she was caught in a web of male-dominated critics and artists, and I highlight how this affected her career and her mental instability. I believe if she were toiling today, she would have great success, which makes this book very relevant and era-specific.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

HW:  For one, they can learn all of the fascinating backstory behind different pieces—it creates a bond between the work and its viewer that is unique and cherished. It’s a special thing to be transported into the heart and mind of a creative. I think, on some level, we all wish we possessed one of these extraordinary talents and it’s truly intriguing to see how an artist views the world. Readers can also learn a bit about the politics of art and how the culture of the day impacted an artist’s pieces.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

The Waltz by Claudel

The Waltz by Camille Claudel, Musee Rodin

HW:  So much! I learned a ton about sculpting in general—about the different types of stone and where they’re mined, loads about Claudel’s and Rodin’s contemporaries including painters and writers from the day. I was dying to include more about Victor Hugo, for example, as well as Emile Zola, but I had to stay true to the book’s point of view and vision, which meant those two men could only be included as they intersected Camille’s and Auguste’s lives.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

HW:  I adore reading books with artists myself, so I hope authors continue to write them!

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

HW:  I can’t say too much at the moment, but I can share that my next book doesn’t have a visual arts tie-in, but a performing arts emphasis. It’s shaping up to be somewhat of a Gothic thriller, and a retelling of an old popular story.

Heather Webb Smiling (1)About the author:  Heather Webb is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover (Penguin 2015), a freelance editor, and blogger. In addition she contributes to award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

 

 

For more about Heather’s work:

website www.heatherwebb.net  Twitter @msheatherwebb

To purchase: Rodin’s Lover

Join us here February 28th for an interview with Alyson Richman, author of The Mask Carver’s Son!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release)

10 Favorite Historical Novels of 2014

This is my 2014 list! These novels all in some way brought joy, intrigue, further understanding and richness to my life. I can’t thank the authors enough for your efforts to bring these stories to life, to us, to your adoring readership!!! Thank you! Endless Gratitude!!!

18144112The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J Rose

For sheer fast -paced memorizing and exotic atmospheric reading I loved this novel. With scenes full of inspired and unforgettable images like butterfly footprints and evocative settings and characters, one can’t help but love this rich and ambient novel. And I loved how Rose ended with a clear resolution to the question of  reincarnation, bringing all the novel’s threads seamlessly together, and on a positive note — very Buddhist!  I also loved the wisdom woven throughout and I highlighted a lot of passages. I think it is a stunning time-slip novel that crisscrosses time as a sixteenth-century monastery trained perfumer, René le Florentin, and a modern day mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, seek the razor edge between “potion and poison, poison and passion…past and present.” I highly recommend this engrossing read.

20175586Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

Thoughtful, well-researched, carefully-rendered and moving, these are the words this novel conjures. With a scene mid-book that touched on the universal, giving me reason for pause and to deeply contemplate, what all great literature strives for. Vreeland’s mastery of language and descriptive images are on every page. The first word that comes to mind after reading the book: Exquisite. I loved Vreeland’s characterization of Parisian and Provençal life, along with learning about Marc Chagall and his wife’s plight and his thoughts on the effects of war on art and artists and culture. Throughout the novel I enjoyed the reflections and explanations of art materials and works and the meanings behind paintings such as Picasso’s “Guernica” and “Weeping Woman”. For anyone who appreciates vivid settings, specific time period details, characters and writing with soul and heart and a focus on art, you’ll love and revel in this novel. Once again, Vreeland has created an important story, one written as finely as a Pissarro painting, but in the rich colors of Cezanne’s palette.

23332984The Spoils of Avalon by Mary F. Burns

This unique two time period historical mystery is told through distinct characters and voices, all accomplished through polished and witty prose. Burns to my blessed surprise and honor, asked if I’d write an endorsement for this novel, my very first ever which marks a milestone for me. This revealed, here’s what I have to say about The Spoils of Avalon:

“An artist, a writer, a murder, a mysterious tome, a dissolving time, a crime, Arthurian legends, ancient saints books and bones. Burns’ prose drives and is sublime, with characters and settings that live on in your mind. This is an original historical mystery connecting the Age of Industry with the Age of Miracles.”

The chapters alternate between late eighteenth-century England’s Age of Industry, opening with a reunion of American portrait painter John Singer Sargent and his lifelong British writer friend Violet Page, both of whom are called upon to unravel a disturbing murder. Then we are transported back to the sixteenth century, the Age of Miracles, during King Henry the VIII’s reign and at the crucial moment when he was disbanding the Church island-wide. Burns takes us into the secluded stone chambers and the souls of the clergy in one of the last great standing monastery’s heart-wrenching saga of dissolution. Magically Burns weaves these seemingly disparate time periods and stories in the most astonishing way! Truly her storytelling is masterful and imaginative, keeping you quickly turning the page!

22702833The Interview by Patricia O’Reilly

In this fascinating time-slip read which investigates the lives of Irish designer/lacquer painter Eileen Gray and “The Sunday Times” reporter/art aficionado Bruce Chatwin, the story recalls a real intimate exchange between the two important figures. The characterizations of both personas was exemplary and the storytelling deep and insightful, with many wonderful sentences and original metaphors. If you like to read well-written books that explore the heart and soul of innovative art and artists you’ll revel in this novel. Eileen Gray was creating in Paris at the same time as Picasso and working also in the south of France. Gray’s works and story are world-class. The Interview shares with us the behind-the-scenes and looks into the heart of the courageous artist’s life story of Eileen Gray. I loved learning about Gray and imagining this moment in time when Gray was at the end of her artistic life and Chatwin interviewing her, and what in the end he decides to report on. 

18080204The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

This novel captured my attention because of its ancient Hindu lore reference. I can’t resist a novel that touches on the pantheon of Hindu Goddesses and Gods! I found the British Victorian time period perspective fascinating, along with the spiritualist medium thread. I loved learning about the priceless and sacred Koh-i-Noor diamond, claimed by the British Empire at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars and the story of its original owners. It was said to be a stone both blessed and cursed, exerting its power over all who encounter it. What unravels in the novel is the story of a living maharajah who is determined to reclaim his rightful throne and discover the secrets of eternity, a widowed queen who hopes the jewel can bring back her husband’s spirit. All while India born, British Alice finds herself in midst of others madness over the stone and must discover a way to regain control of her life and fate. This is a sensual Victorian novel of theft and obsession and spirit.

17165628The Mask Carver’s Son by Alyson Richman

If  you want to be floored, left with your jaw dropped in awe because of original and exquisite metaphors and similes this art-based novel is for you! Beginning and set in 1890 Japan is the story of Yamamoto Kiyoki, son of a famous Japanese mask carver who longs to embrace oil painting instead of his family’s traditional craft. Yamamoto dreams of studying in Paris with the inspiring and vibrant Impressionist painters.

With gorgeous, intimate and evocative scenes set in various places in Japan and Paris one longs to travel back to this time. And one feels intensely the profound struggle between honoring tradition and family and the longing of the adventurous creative heart and the price paid for following one’s dreams. What can one do when you knows in the depths of your heart that you must break away from tradition? And how to honor one’s father, and yet fulfill one’s own destiny?

spiral croppedSpiral by Judith Schara

I was immediately drawn into this time-slip novel and found I couldn’t put it down. I was excited each evening to dive into the book and to see where it went. The story goes between 2006 England and the Iron Age, time periods I’m not usually drawn to. I found the story line fascinating, along with the time period details. In addition, there are some wonderful metaphors and similes throughout the book. In 2006 England, a secret society of Druids on accident expose an ancient burial ground, a Celtic scabbard is found that hints at more treasures possibly abound. Troubled archaeologist Germaine O’Neill is called to the site to investigate, and in an attempt to salvage her career she takes a hasty risk with repercussions, but uncovers an unknown chamber dating back to the Iron Age of a Celtic queen. O’Neill’s discovery alters her life and possibly costs her it while discovering a new twist to the history of prehistoric England. After an accident, O’Neill is in a altered state and travels back in time to the fifth century, entering the life of Sabrann ap Durot—the woman whose burial O’Neill has just discovered and her far distant ancestor, for the two women are joined across time by identical mitochondrial DNA. Sabrann posses the special gift of “sight”  and is feared for it, and will be plagued and possibly saved by her clairvoyance? The protagonist Germanie/Sabrann is interesting and intriguing, along with her yet to be revealed life purpose (of which I suspect with be reveal in the forthcoming sequel!). The story is told in the omnipresent voice and it takes the reader eventually all the way to Carthage of old. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series! I recommend this novel if you like female protagonists, exotic settings and characters, and the idea of genetic destiny.

199 by 300The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones

This is a well-told story which left me in tears at a couple of points…that says a lot! When “art detective” Lauren O’Farrell sets out to unravel and potentially recover works of art stolen and absconded with by the Nazis during World War II, she comes into contact with elderly Isabella Fletcher. Is Isabella the daughter of a renowned German art gallery dealer, Hanna Fleischmann, whose life story holds mysteries and quite possibly the answers Lauren seeks, decades after masterpieces by modern artists have gone missing, the likes of Wassily Kadindskys, Franz Marcs, Gabriele Munters, Otto Dixs and many more. Through alternating chapters set in New York City in 2009 and back to between the two World Wars and through Hilter’s reign in Germany, Jones exposes the cutting-edge German art scene before World War II, the sweeping changes the population was confronted with, and the horrors that followed. And how modern art and artists were cast as “degenerative” and what that meant and what was lost. In this touching and tearjerking novel one comes to understand how destructive darkness was wreaked upon modern art in Germany during World War II and what would eventually be lost forever and what would be saved, but at great personal risk and costs. Through Hanna’s and Isabella’s stories we learn and see how those who were gifted and talented were forced or coerced to serve Hitler and make decisions none of us hope to ever have to make for life, for family and for the freedom to create what the spirit calls forth.

15811614I, Hogarth by Micheal Dean

In this novel Dean flawlessly reveals the rogue risqué life story of eighteenth century, British painter and engraver William Hogarth. Hogarth defined his period with works such as “Gin Lane” and “The Rake’s Progress”, depicting the ebullience, enjoyments and social iniquities of London. Dean takes us from Hogarth’s childhood spent in a debtor’s prison, his struggle to make a name for himself, his time as England’s preeminent portrait painter, his fight for artists’ rights instigating the Copyright Act, his unfortunate brush with politics, and to his deathbed in his wife’s arms. Told in the first person through the eyes and heart of the artist we come to learn Hogarth’s deepest desires, his frustrations, his triumphs, his downfalls. Dean brings to life Hogarth and his epoch, blending facts with fiction, revealing the man behind his famous and effecting work of art. Recommended.

13646255Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey

This is a historically fascinating novel with macabre moments set during the Belle Époque era in Paris. Children are disappearing in the “City of Lights”, as American born painter Theodora Faraday struggles with her painting and illustrating poems for the Revenants, a group of poets inclusive of her cousin, Averill, with whom she’s romantically infatuated. When Inspecteur Michel Devaux suspects the poets are somehow tied to the disappearance of the innocent youths, Theo’s world goes starless. Fey takes us into the underbelly and mysterious of Paris:  poetry readings in the catacombs, Tarot card fortunetellers, the asylum, a black Mass, and could it possibly be true that France’s most evil historic serial killer Gilles de Rais from the fifteenth century has somehow reincarnated?

Paris  is exquisite, beautiful, but not all its inhabitants embody and live for virtuous elegance, others celebrate wickedness, live for sot obsessions, and morbid delusions. If you are looking for an original and the shadow-side of the Belle Époque era this novel is if for you!

19486758Madame Picasso by Anne Girard

Love stories have inspired art and literature since time immemorial, and Girard’s novel marries both, in telling the untold life-altering love affair between Eva Gouel and artist Pablo Picasso at the end of the colorful Belle Époque era in Paris, France. Eva, an aspiring seamstress, who will become a designer, a creative in her own right, works behind-the-scenes in the famous Moulin Rouge under the adopted name of Marcelle Humbert. One evening, she spies the rising star Picasso in a group of show goers and is Instantly entranced by the painter’s persona. A chance meeting at an art exhibit brings them into each other’s aura, where a lifelong connection begins, but one with complicated obstacles to surmount and navigate in order for them to realize their love:  doubt, another woman, a protective group of artist friends, illness and death.

Girard takes us into the cabaret and cafés, the artist’s studio and chic salons, countryside hideaways, under the sheets, and into the unexposed chambers of the heart of twentieth-century artist icon Pablo Picasso; revealing a compassionate, loving and devoted man behind his notorious womanizing character. Through the story, we learn how Eva’s relationship with Pablo affected and inspired his works, visibly noted as Picasso left the Rose period (prior relationship with Fernande Oliver) and evolved into the epicenter of his Cubist era (involved with Eva Gouel). There’s stability, a confidence, a grounded structure in Picasso’s Cubism during his involvement with Eva, reflecting those attributes she quite possibly brought to the artist’s life. Also, the novel explores a plausible artistic influence she, whom he called his ‘Ma Jolie’, may have had on him too, which I really enjoyed speculating about. Madame Picasso is a love story exploring how passion sparked form and was recorded in masterful works of art.

These novels are currently on my highly anticipated 2015 reading list, some are newly released or soon-to-be-released…delicious….can’t wait! Euphoria by Lily King, The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J Rose, The Rebel Queen, by Michelle Moran, Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb, The Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan by Frederick R. Andresen, Vanessa and Her Sister by Pirya Parmar, Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon, The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau, Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (released 2008), and Race for Tibet by Sophie Schiller.

And already in print novels part of the ongoing “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”:  The Memory of Scent by Lisa Brukitt, Fugitive Colors by Lisa Barr,The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen, The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax.

2015 reads

 

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Kelly Jones & The Woman Who Heard Color

COVER WWHC 2011Happy Holidays! For most readers here you are now in the dark winter months, Christmas past and the new year soon to arrive. Tis the season to snuggle up under warm blankets and escape into a good book! And this is what Kelly Jones of The Woman Who Heard Color promises you! When “art detective” Lauren O’Farrell sets out to unravel and potentially recover works of art stolen and absconded with by the Nazis during World War II, she comes into contact with elderly Isabella Fletcher. Is Isabella the daughter of a renowned German art gallery dealer, Hanna Fleischmann, whose life story holds mysteries and quite possibly the answers Lauren seeks, decades after masterpieces by modern artists have gone missing, the likes of Wassily Kadindskys, Franz Marcs, Gabriele Munters, Otto Dixs and many more. Through alternating chapters set in New York City in 2009 and back to between the two World Wars and through Hilter’s reign in Germany, Jones exposes the cutting-edge German art scene before World War II, the sweeping changes the population was confronted with, and the horrors that followed. And how modern art and artists were cast as “degenerative” and what that meant and what was lost. In this touching and tearjerking novel one comes to understand how destructive darkness was wreaked upon modern art in Germany during World War II and what would eventually be lost forever and what would be saved, but at great personal risk and costs. Through Hanna’s and Isabella’s stories we learn and see how those who were gifted and talented were forced or coerced to serve Hitler and make decisions none of us hope to ever have to make for life, for family and for the freedom to create what the spirit calls forth. 

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Please tell us about protagonist Hanna’s special ability to hear and see color, the condition called synesthesia, a characteristic she shares with the novel’s featured artist Wassily Kandinsky in The Woman Who Heard Color?

sketch for Composition II Kandinsky 1910 Guggenheim NY

Sketch for Composition II by Wassily Kandinsky 1910 Guggenheim, NY

Kelly Jones:  Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the senses are blended. Stimulation of one sense creates an involuntary experience through another sense. In Hanna’s case she not only sees color, but also hears color. Several years before I started writing The Woman Who Heard Color I read a couple of articles about this condition and I knew at some point I would create a character with synesthesia.  I clipped the articles and tucked them away for future reference. Later, when I began research for the book, I learned that the artist Wassily Kandinsky, who plays an important role in the story, was thought to have had synesthesia. I’m not sure when I realized Hanna (a fictitious character) would also be a synesthete.  I knew from the inception of the story that this farm girl from Bavaria, who finds work as a domestic in the Munich home of a Jewish art dealer, would become caught up in the art world. Because of her gift of synesthesia her enjoyment of art takes on a whole new dimension.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artists in your historical novel?

KJ:  As a child I loved creating art. This developed into a fascination with the history of art when I took an art class in junior high.  My interest continued to grow, particularly when I had the wonderful opportunity to study in Florence, Italy, during a university year abroad. I graduated with a degree in English and an art minor, with no thought of writing. Yet, much later when I started writing fiction, art and the history of art seemed like a natural place to start. The Woman Who Heard Color is my third novel in which art and artists play important roles, but it’s my first historical novel. The story spans a period of over 100 years, from the early 1900s in Munich to the twenty-first century in New York.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

KJ:  In my first book, The Seventh Unicorn, a set of medieval tapestries plays an important role. In The Lost Madonna, the plot develops around a missing Renaissance painting. For my third novel I wanted to write about the modern art movements, but didn’t have a particular theme or even an artist in mind. I went to the library and gathered a stack of wonderful, full-color art books and spent hours going through them. I came across the work of the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. I had never been a great fan of his later, and probably most reproduced art (created during his Bauhaus period), but I found his personal story intriguing and I was particularly drawn to the colorful paintings he did in the early twentieth century in Germany. When I learned he was labeled a “degenerate” artist by Hitler and was one of many whose work was banned (and ridiculed) in Nazi Germany, I wanted to know more. And this was the starting point for writing The Woman Who Heard Color. 

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

Murnau the Garden II Kandinsky 1910 private collection Switzerland

Murnau the Garden II by Kandinsky 1910 private collection Switzerland

KJ:  The artwork of Wassily Kandinsky, and others, mostly German Expressionists such as Franz Marc, inspired the story. The fact that they were labeled “degenerate” added to my curiosity and desire to know more, particularly about the time leading up to Nazi control in Germany.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

KJ:  Yes, definitely, a message about the value of freedom in artistic expression and the difficulties that arise under a suppressive government. Hitler began his control of Germany under the guise of presenting art and culture to the masses. But, he actually dictated what was to be considered art. This has been a popular topic in recent times—government control of art—but it is something that has been going on throughout history.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

KJ:  Readers can learn so much about history and people through stories about art, especially fiction that is based on authentic events. Art produced during a particular time might reflect the mores of society and the ideology of those in control, but ultimately it is a personal and very individual form of expression within a specific environment.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

KJ:  I started out believing I would write a story about Wassily Kandinsky, but then Hanna let me know it was her story. Though Kandinsky is one of the artists prominently featured in the novel, I discovered a great deal about his life that I wasn’t able to incorporate into the book. I was especially interested in the time he spent painting in Murnau with the German artist, Gabriele Münter. She was his student, then mistress, and eventually partner. The work they created, painting side by side, at times sharing the same palette, was fascinating. I had many questions about how his style was developed and what influence she had on his work. Their paintings from that period were very similar, yet it was Kandinsky who gained greater fame. I visited Murnau and loved this little village. I could see how it had become a favorite place for them to live and paint. I wrote a scene with Hanna visiting Gabriele in Murnau, but it was ultimately cut from the book as I concentrated on Hanna’s personal trials and efforts to protect her family and save the art. Gabriele Münter is barely mentioned in the novel, yet she should be given credit for saving much of Kandinsky’s work, keeping it hidden away during the suppressive days of the Nazi regime. There might be another story (and book) here.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

BLUE HORSES Franz Marc 1911 private collection Hamburg

Blue Horses by Franz Marc 1911 private collection Hamburg

KJ:  For me, studying art has been a way of learning history. I’ve always been a fan of art, but as a student, history was never my favorite subject. When I started writing about art, I found it necessary to learn more about the historical context in which artists create. Particularly in writing about the art condemned as “degenerate,” I learned a great deal about the events in Germany leading up to both World War I and World War II. I never expected to be so fascinated by William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but it was a necessary read to write my novel. Through art I have gained a greater understanding of history.

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

KJ:  I have a new novel coming out in early January. It is set in Prague and involves a precious religious icon, a small statue of the Christ Child.  The exact date of creation and the artist are unknown, though such images were carved by masters throughout Europe as early as the mid 1300s, using such media as wood, ivory, bronze and wax. This particular icon was most likely created in Spain and brought to Bohemia by a Spanish princess early in the seventeenth century. It is now on display in a small church in Prague. The upcoming novel has a contemporary setting, but this ancient religious icon plays an important part in the story, as does the history of the Czech Republic, particularly the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Currently, I’m working on a story set in a Tuscan vineyard.  I’ve just started writing, but I am curious—can I possibly write about Italy without involving art and history?

 

Kelly Jones Author PhotoAbout the author:  Kelly Jones grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho.  She attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English and an art minor.  She spent her junior year in Italy at the Gonzaga-in-Florence program and developed a love for travel, a passion she now shares with her husband, Jim.  An art history class in Florence fueled a love for the history of art, which has become an integral part of her writing.

Her Berkley/ Penguin published books include, Lost and Found in Prague (January, 2015), a novel of mystery, murder, and miracles; The Woman Who Heard Color (2011), a story of family loyalty, banned art, and creative freedom; The Lost Madonna (2007), set in Florence, Italy; and The Seventh Unicorn (2005), inspired by “The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries” in the Cluny Museum in Paris, France. Evel Knievel Jumps the Snake River Canyon . . . and Other Stories Close to Home (June, 2014), is a novella and short story collection, the first release from Ninth Avenue Press. The title story is set in her hometown of Twin Falls.

She is a mother and grandmother and is married to former Idaho Attorney General Jim Jones, who now serves on Idaho’s Supreme Court.  They live in Boise.

For more about Kelly’s books:  Website , Facebook , Goodreads Twitter  

To purchase: The Woman Who Heard Color

Join us here Saturday January 31st for an interview with Heather Webb, author of Rodin’s Lover

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th, Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan