Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Frederick Andresen & The Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan

51kmULCeAnL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_ - CopyThe Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan: The Story of the Yusupov Rembrandts by Frederick Andresen recounts the inception and life history of two of Rembrandt’s most celebrated masterpieces:  The Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan and Portrait of a Gentleman with Tall Hat and Gloves. The story takes us through the centuries, through country upheavals, and the ongoing pursuit to protect these exquisite portraits. With courageous female protagonists charged with seeing to the welfare and care of these important works of art. Historically fascinating, this novel shows us the long enduring struggle great artworks and their caretakers have weathered and what familial ties to important art demands. While exploring what those in search of gaining or maintaining societal status will risk in the name of art, family and personal honor. The book is unique in its scope of recreating the history behind who two important paintings and what they and their custodians endured through the centuries so that we today are now blessed with the ability to enjoy and view these masterstrokes.

Pass the family treasures on, protect the pieces with your life, risk losing them forever so they are safe from the threats of revolution, obsessive parties and personal interests, American law — until the paintings find a public place to call home…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Will you please tell us about your unique structuring of the novel? Why did you chose this particular format?

Frederick Andresen: The format is dictated by the long, exciting, and sometime perilous journey of these extraordinary paintings. The Rembrandts and their descendant family of caretakers witnessed critical points of history and were threatened by life-changing events. While the time zones of these 282 years and evolving historic places can be divided into six ages, the story still fits into a broadly expressed dramatic three acts. The format is natural as the story is based on actual facts and historic events.

Act 1 Holland. The life expectation of protraits being painted, the artistic immortalization by Rembrandt, the sudden death of the woman, then the ups and down of the Dutch Golden Age, and the escape of the paintings via auction to Paris where the Russian connection happens as the Lady and the Gentleman escape the death threat of the French Revolution and are taken to “safe” Russia by the famed and rich Yusupov family..

Act 2: Russia. The Rembrandts and their protecting family experience, over the entire eighteenth century, the dramatic threats from war and domestic uprising and the eventual fall of the Russian Empire, including the theatrical murder of the notorious monk Rasputin by the controversial Felix Yusupov who then escaped sure death with his jewels and the Rembrandts, to London.

Act 3: In the entirely foreign Western art world the future of the Rembrandts seems at the whim and tactics of possessive art collectors, agents, and a scheming Felix Yusupov. Ending in a New York courtroom the art is possessed by the famous but aging Widener family who finally give the entire collection, to the new Mellon museum in Washington, DC. Visiting the 1942 wartime  opening days of the National Gallery of Art, are representatives of the Dutch legation view the art, the woman official a direct descendent the woman in the portrait and of those who lived with the art since its painting. The Rembrandts find their permanent home.

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

switchFA:   One afternoon I was in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and I happened to call a friend who asked if I knew of the Yusupov Rembrandts. I said, “No,” and then I went to see these famous portraits. In an hour or so, I had the start of a story. Why? It was the eyes—the eyes of the lady in  Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich- Feather Fan and her partner in Portrait of a Gentleman with Tall Hat and Gloves. They set me wondering about the message in the eyes of those mysterious characters, especially the woman’s—Rembrandt’s woman.

paintings in new home

Both paintings in their now home The National Gallery in Washington D.C

The driving force was The Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan painting and the story wanting to come out from behind those eyes. When I questioned NGA Curator Arthur Wheelock, Jr., I could see the path for a story was open to explore.

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

FA:  Rembrandt! What else! But also the environment of The Golden Age, Holland’s magnificent seventeenth century. And what was to follow in European history and the how the art was protected and guided through that tumultuous time — 282 years until the paintings find their home in the NGA.

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

image002

Moika Palace of the Yusupov family in St. Petersburg with the largest art collection in Imperial Russia, including the two portrait Rembrandts, called home in the late 1800s

FA:  The Dutch Golden Age, Czar Peter the Great’s visit to Holland, The French Revolution, the historic Yusupov family, the Russian 19th Century especially in St. Petersburg, The Russian Revolution and fall of the aristocracy, the murder of Rasputin, post war England and America, The Widener family, the founding of the National Gallery of Art by Mellon.

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

FA:  The art history message is that there is so often a history to art, surely unexpected or known to the artist, and often unnoticed by the succeeding owners, museums, etc. And history is filled with that entertaining trick called “unintended consequences.”

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

FA:  The art subject is an innocent character in an unpredictable series of events. In well-written historical fiction, the fiction becomes real, and the history is seen through new eyes.

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

FA:  Oh, so much. There is the story of the “Seven Rembrandts” and the one about “Coco Chanel and who? Rasputin?” 

It is amazing how things “happen.” As a side event to the Russian Revolution, a deciding one in some people’s minds, was the murder of the mystic Gregori Rasputin by, it was popularly assumed, Prince Felix Yusupov.  In my historical novel The Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan, this short side-story actually took place after that famous murder. But my story here is not about Prince Felix Yusupov or even Rasputin, both of whom figure largely in my book. This is about a happening that resulted from the Yusupov/Rasputin affair—an “unintended consequence” as they say. In researching and writing, many side stories surface, some new and some known.  This is a truthful and fun one.

It involves Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, first cousin of Czar Nicolas II, and who was one of the handful of conspirators, led by Prince Felix Yusupov, who murdered Rasputin in the basement room of the Yusupov Palace on the Moika in Saint Petersburg in December, 1916. Czar Nicholas II sent the murdering conspirators far out of town and Dimitri was sent to a military unit in Persia. In the next year, 1917, it was all over for Czarist Russia and the Grand Duke never returned to his homeland. Like many other fleeing Russians, he ended up in Paris. And who do you think took notice of the aristocrat’s arrival? Coco Chanel. She was eleven years his senior but that didn’t stop either one.

The French perfume business was booming because the scents didn’t last past eleven in the evening. So they bathed in the stuff. (Can you imagine?) However, as I heard the story, Dimitri said to Coco that she should not sell big bottles of perfume for cheap prices, but small bottles for high prices. There is much written about this affair. Dimitri introduced Coco to Ernest Beaux, a successful Russian-born perfumier from St. Petersburg. Beaux’s grandfather was part of the Napoleon invasion of Russia in 1812, was captured by the Russians and upon release, decided to stay there. Ernest Beaux found himself in France after World War 1. His French employer, Rallet, would not follow his suggestions. From his Russian experience, Beaux insisted that the addition of deer musk would make the perfume last the night. On Dimitri’s suggestion, Coco hired Beaux, added deer musk to the eighty-some other ingredients and voilà- we have Chanel No. 5. That was 1920.

The Coco-Dimitri affaire lasted a year and while she moved on to others, the relationship is indeed historic. You may have seen the film “Igor and Coco” about her affair with Stravinsky. It seems she liked Russians—famous Russians. But as an unintended consequence of the murder of Rasputin, our lovely ladies have Chanel No. 5.  Ce qui arrive, arrive.

To read more about all this read Chanel by Edmonde Charles~Roux.

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

self-portrait-with-two-circles

Self Portrait by Rembrandt

FA:  “The painting is not over until the viewer walks away.”  I don’t know the source, but it comes out in Act 1, the painting by Rembrandt. This is true and because the viewer, each viewer in fact, may well come away with a different message or feeling, it is story, you can call it fiction. So as art may move to varying cultural environments, the reaction, the message changes.

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?

FA:  Oh yes, but let’s first get the present “art in fiction” story published and in the hands of the reader. But, yes, there is a new idea. In The Hermitage is the famed painting by Rembrandt of The Prodigal Son. That parable of Jesus is my favorite—what a story! When one looks deeper into the possible mind of Rembrandt and his last years, this being his last painting, what are the signals in the painting. After long study of the painting, I have a story and one which is universal and eternal. And I plan to set it in early California.  But first, The Lady with the Ostrich Feather Fan will see the light.

Fred's Optimized.1903_new.jpg vs_editedAbout the author: Fred Andresen draws on a lifetime of international adventure and travel. A businessman in Asia, Europe and Russia, he founded his success on understanding the people, their history, and their stories. He lived in Russia for six years and has continued to maintain an interest there for the last twenty years. He writes historical fiction and non-fiction: The Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan: The Story of the Yusupov Rembrandts;  Walking on Ice: An American Businessman in Russia (2007), which details his Russian experience with an “openly Chekhovian” narration, according to Andrei Zolotov, Jr., of Russia Profile;  Dos Gringos (2010) is a true and hilarious account of his Norwegian immigrant father’s escapades in The Mexican Revolution. “A Norwegian and an Irishman meet in a Texas bar…” His essays and short stories have appeared in magazines in Russia, England, and America.

He is a Director of Chamber Orchestra Kremlin and was president of the Los Angeles-   St. Petersburg Sister City Committee. A graduate of Thunderbird School of Global Management and Colorado State University.

A guiding motto of Fred‘s adventures and storytelling is Robert Frost’s “Two roads diverged in a wood, And I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

For more about Fred’s works: 

www.fandresen.com

To buy: The Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan: The Story of the Yusupov Rembrandts

Join us here August 26th for an interview with Laura Morelli, author of The Gondola Maker!

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 Andromeda Romano-Lax & The Detour

11792214

The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax is a well-written and time period atmospheric novel. In 1938 Germany, art expert, Ernst Vogler is sent to Italy by the Third Reich’s Sonderprojekte, which is procuring Europe’s masterpieces on orders from the Führer. Vogler is to see to the transport of a famous Classical Roman marble statue, The Discus Thrower, and deliver it from Italy to the German border. It is to be a simple three-day mission.

But things immediately go awry upon his arrival in Rome. Escorted by Italian police twin brothers, Vogler sets out to fulfill his assignment while not being able to really confirm if the sculpture is in their possession as they truck it to the Gestapo. Meanwhile, the brothers seem to have other agendas: the pursuit of romance and suspect criminal side jobs. Vogler loses control of the delivery. As the twins steer the task off-track and onto a detour in which Vogler fears he may lose his work position, the highly sought after work of art, his life. When the whole mission spins out of complete control Volger is forced to find a way to survive and meet totally unexpected challenges; while discovering beauty, charm and love along the back-roads of the Italian countryside on the brink of World War II.

The Detour is full of flowing prose, fascinating observations on art and sculpture, interesting Italian folkloric tradition details, reveals disturbing Nazi policies and values, and closes with a surprising ending.

Be awed and admire artworks of the past and do whatever it takes for a masterpiece to live on…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Where and how did you glean your knowledge about sculpture? As there are many insightful passages about the medium in The Detour that I found exquisite and educational.

Andromeda Romano-Lax:  The original statue was a bronze, now lost, created by Myron in about 450 BC. Many Roman marble copies were made, and one can read here and there about the discoveries and histories of each; I found information online, in footnotes of art books, and in museum guides. But my greatest information came from seeing the statue in person, in Rome. Comments by art historians helped provide a context and helped me appreciate what I had the pleasure of seeing with my own eyes: a figure that is dynamic–about to release the discus–but also static, frozen in that aesthetically pleasing but not exactly realistic posture. (The inherent symbolism of that balance between action and paralysis intrigued me, offering parallels to the lives of Germans in the late 1930s, including my main character.) The discus thrower has a calm expression on his face. The musculature is perfect, and the male figure is generic, blending styles from two eras and speaking to an ideal (noble and impersonal; poised for action but not straining) that resonated greatly with German collectors. Perhaps the best thing about seeing the statue in its current location and visiting the place where it was briefly kept, in Munich, was being able to contrast it more easily with many other ancient statues, illuminating what was particularly special about this one coveted work of art.

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

ARL:  I’d already written about classical music as well as more general artistic themes, including the subject of political pressure put upon artists, in my first novel, The Spanish Bow. I wasn’t intentionally looking for a new art subject, but then I happened to see a photo of the Discus Thrower with a footnote explaining that Hitler was obsessed with the ancient marble and succeeded in buying it, against the objections of many, in 1938. I immediately wanted to know: what was so special about this statue? Why did it speak to Hitler, and how could one particular piece of art symbolize Nazi intentions? Through my first novel, I’d discovered many odd connections between the world’s greatest art, politics, and individual obsessions. Looking only at a small photo, I couldn’t tell why this statue would matter so much, but I felt the first tingles of a potentially fascinating exploration.

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

Discus Thrower by Romano-Lax with children

The Discus Thrower

ARL:  I love art and music but I had never spent much time looking at statues. All art begs to be seen in person, but a three-dimensional statue is really different in life than a photo of the same piece. I knew from the start I would have to visit this statue in Rome—not a bad “must” to have on one’s to-do list! When I made that trip, in 2009, I loved being able to walk around the piece, seeing it from all angles, appreciating marble’s qualities in natural light, and also seeing it in relation to other statues. When you think of the paintings and statues that are immediately recognizable to many people around the globe, there really aren’t that many. Why does this statue represent the idealized human form; what does it say about beauty, athleticism, perfection, controlled emotions, dynamism without strain, ancient Greece and 20th century Germany? Why did it represent an artistic advance in one era, and an ideological tragedy in another? I wanted to find out.

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

ARL:  The Discus Thrower itself, naturally. I also visited the Glyptothek museum in Munich, where the statue was kept prior to repatriation to Italy, and encountered an amazing art collection there, as well as a larger history of German art collecting, which pre-dates Hitler. (The Bavarian King Ludwig I was an avid collector of Roman and Greek art in the 1800s). Well before Hitler, many leaders have tried to acquire and control art and artifacts as a way of linking their nations to previous empires, legitimizing their claims of superiority, and shaping narratives that may encompass ancient myth, Biblical history, philosophy or science. Singular, recognizable works of art are potent symbols.

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

Hitler and The Discobolus original source unknown

Hitler and The Discobolus

ARL:  In this particular story, my main character, Ernst, is obsessed with the idea of the perfect body and the depiction of that perfection in ancient Greco-Roman sculpture. The idea of perfection itself, and the corruption of that idea into hatred of self or others, can be explored on many levels. It’s troubling but irrefutable that art appreciation does not necessarily lead to compassion, morality, or love of mankind. Mussolini played the violin; Hitler was a failed painter; the Nazis as a group were rabid art collectors. Art for me represents one of the most beautiful expressions of humanity, but like everything, it has an extremely dark side. The unethical acquisition of art and the use of art (or destruction of art) for political ends is a key leitmotif in 20th century history.

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

ARL:  Art teaches us something that is more important in a distracted age than ever before: how to slow down, to look. It connects us to timelessness—other people, other places, values both similar to and different from our own time—while inviting us to project our own stories and ideas onto and into the work. That makes it a great subject in fiction, which in its best form, allows us to see the world anew, challenges us to empathize with others, reflects our own experiences, and connects us with something larger.

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

ARL:  I spent a lot of time learning about the Nazis’ unprecedented, seven-year attempt to collect most of the Western world’s art. That’s a postscript to The Detour, which is set in 1938, so the full story doesn’t make it into the book. But it helped me understand how this first, more innocent art purchase of a single statue foreshadowed a campaign to control art, period. I also enjoyed research digressions into Nazi documentary-making (including the controversial work of Leni Riefenstahl), Greco-Roman ideas about sport and the ideal body, details from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the history of eugenics (including pro-eugenics movements in America) and much more. I have bits of these subjects in the novel, but I had to leave so much out. Everywhere I turned in my reading and research travels across Europe, art, the human body, and politics seemed to be connected.

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

Discus Thrower closeup by Romano-Lax

Discus Thrower closeup

ARL:  Whenever we are in an art or history museum, we get more out of the experience by trying not just to see a physical object in front of us, but by using the object as a gateway into a larger story. It’s an interactive, ongoing process. Really great art novels role model that way of looking for us, by presenting us with vivid, complex stories that bring art to life.

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?

ARL:  My next book, BEHAVE, features 1920s psychologists John and Rosalie Watson, so it’s more about science (including the science of parenting) than it is about art. But I’m always on the alert for other art history tie-ins, since I love spending time learning about that world.

AndromedaCU4About the author:  Born in Chicago, Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow, a New York Times Editor’s Choice that was translated into 11 languages, and The Detour, as well as numerous works of nonfiction. She teaches in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Anchorage Alaska and is a co-founder of 49 Writers, a statewide literary organization. Recently, she has divided her time between Alaska, Mexico, and Asia. Her next book, Behave, will be published in 2016.

For more about Andromeda’s works: 

Author website : http://www.aromanolax.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Detour-A-Novel-by-Andromeda-Romano-Lax/292416680782702

To buy: The Detour

Join us here August 29th for an interview with Frederick Andresen, author of The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan!

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”!

 

Recap of the 2015 Denver Historical Novel Society Conference panel-talk “Art and Artists in HF”

unnamed

We love art. We love artists. We love art history. We write about art, artists and history. Art-based historical fiction is an expanding and exciting niche in the historical fiction genre. At this year’s Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, June 26-28, writers Alana White (The Sign of the Weeping Virgin), Donna Russo Morrin (The King’s Agent), myself Stephanie Renee dos Santos (Cut From The Earth), Mary F. Burns (Portraits of An Artist), and Stephanie Cowell (Claude & Camille) came together to share our collective wisdom on how and what special challenges arise when writing about art and artists and what to keep in mind when delving into the world of the creative arts. A special thanks to the forty writers who attended our discussion. We hope each of you left with something to aid and enhance your stories!

Here’s the recap of the writing points we covered at the panel-talk:

edit Alana White

Alana White:  “Using art to advance the story in action and dialogue.”

In The Sign of the Weeping Virgin the setting of this historical mystery series is the Italian Renaissance when my protagonist, lawyer Guid’Antonio, conducts investigations for the powerful Medici family.  In the novel, the young ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, asks Guid’Antonio to investigate two mysteries for him. One involves a weeping panel painting of the Virgin Mary, the other centers on a missing girl. While there is considerable art in the narrative, it is Sandro Botticelli’s fresco of Saint Augustine that provides the clue to solve the mystery of the young woman who has disappeared.

Since this is a mystery, I wanted to “plant” the clue that enables Guid’Antonio to solve the riddle four times. While painting the “Saint Augustine” in Guid’Antonio’s family church, Botticelli overheard some young monks arguing among themselves. Amused, he recorded four lines of their dialogue at the top of the painting in the scribbled lines of a geometry book. (Restorers discovered the lines while cleaning the fresco in the relatively recent past.)

  • We see Sandro painting the lines at the top of the fresco:

Is Brother Martino anywhere about?

Brother Martino just slipped out.

Slipped out where?

Through the Prato Gate for a breath of fresh air.

  • Guid’Antonio has gone into the church to inspect the panel painting on the altar—the reportedly weeping painting. On the way out, he notices Sandro’s newly completed fresco on the south wall.  While Guid’Antonio sees the scribbles high up in the gloom, he cannot read the lines. “Guid’Antonio made out a fringed tablecloth and a couple of books, one leather bound, the other open to a page scribbled with a few odd markings and, hidden as it was in the shadows, a bit of text he could not make out.  Like his spirit, all the rest of Sandro’s masterful work was lost in a world of dark, and so he turned away.”
  • Very brief, but advances the mystery elements of the story. By now, Guid’Antonio—and we—suspect “Brother Martino” has something to do with the missing girl.
  • While Guid’Antonio is standing near the church front, his nephew and secretary, Amerigo Vespucci, swings the doors open, admitting sunlight.  At last Guido reads the dialogue.  Realizing Botticelli must know something about “Brother Martino,” he hurries to Botticelli’s workshop. Now close to the novel’s end, Sandro provides Guid’Antonio with the clue Guid’Antonio needs to wrap up the loose threads concerning the girl, and the mystery of the weeping Virgin Mary painting, too.

edited Donna Russo Morrin

Donna Russo Morin:  “Using specific artworks to reveal time period and/or social/political attitudes – to depict an art history advancement.”

  • Civilizations are remembered, discovered, through their artists and their art.
  • There are certain eras where humanity made significant social/cultural changes. The Renaissance is one of those times.
  • The Italian Renaissance artists changed the very nature of their mediums.
  • The Renaissance signaled the reemergence, the ‘rebirth,’ of Humanism, the belief in the intellectual potential and overall experience of humankind. Art reflected Humanism, turning to more realism.
  • A perfect example is Michelangelo’s David. In this scene, my female protagonist in The King’s Agent sees the statue for the first time: It was indeed a giant; Aurelia guessed it to be taller than three men. When she studied the face, all of David’s mysteries were revealed. The face was, as she had heard, a bit large for the size of the head, but upon his features, she saw all of the fear, tension, and aggression the real David must have felt when attacked by the colossal Goliath. Wrinkles perforated his forehead, thick brows drawn together, with a scornful twist to his full lips; fearful, yes, but with an inner assuredness that all evil could be felled. There was great nobility to the man etched into immortality, a beautiful determination astounding the eye as well as the soul.
  • Art mirrored the turn from religious themes; were instead infused with sensation that paintings were modeled after real people/real life. In this quote, the male protagonist scours a painting by Carlo Crivelli:  The painting was a combination of hard angled buildings and gracefully rounded people. It projected a vanishing perspective, with Mary glimpsed in the foreground just through an open door, two men in the gallery beside the building, and others in the background, the success of the dimensions depicted, were a function of the perfect spatial and size balance of each person and object rendered.
  • This is the sort of realism that found its birth in the rebirth of the Renaissance.

edit Steph

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  “Use of artist space to depict action in story – moments of crisis and conflict.”

I elucidated this point with excerpts (condensed versions shared here) from my forthcoming novel Cut From The Earth, the story of an empathetic Portuguese tile maker, Piloto Mendes Pires, who risks everything to save slaves and escape The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 that ushers Portugal into a New Age. 

Example 1:  Chracter Conflict

The back alley door slammed open as Rafa picked up a large rolling pin, double the size of a baker’s.

In stormed Senhor Guimares, the owner of the nearby Red Clay Tile Factory. His dark mustache quivered on his flushed face.

“Where’s Padre Piloto?” he demanded.

Piloto peered down through the floor’s grid. He remained quiet, waiting to hear what he’d come for.

“Hand me the template,” Rafa said to Jawoli calmly. Rafa placed the 14 x 14 metal template on top of a flattened slab of clay, and began cutting tiles out with a knife.

“I asked a question you ignorant peças!” Senhor Guimares bellowed. “Where is the Padre!?” He shook his index finger at them.

Piloto cringed. He rushed to the stairway. How to deal with this man?

Senhor Guimares stomped by the kilns and over to where the men worked.

“Who’s in charge?” he demanded, his mustache now twitching. “Comer o pao que o diabo amassou! I’m speaking to you!” Sweat ran down his temples and dripped onto his pressed linen shirt, taut on his keg belly.

Rafa put the scoring tool down and stared coldly at the intruder. “Padre Piloto.”

  • This excerpt shows how one can use the artist space and materials to demonstrate and create conflict between characters, while allowing the reader deeper into the specifics of the artists world.

Example 2:  Crisis

A jolt shot through Piloto’s body, ejecting the tile from the tong’s grip. It shattered on the floor. He dropped the iron-tongs. They clattered upon the shards. Barrels of chalky glazes shook, their thick soups boiling over their rims, mixing paddles churning in the vats. The viscous substances ebbed and flowed down the sides of their holding containers: manganese-browns, copper-greens, cobalt-blues, iron-oxide oranges, creating an amalgam of colors on the ground.

Rolling pins fell off counters, and ricocheted end-on-end before congregating in a pile, next to the vats. Dried goat balls the size of peaches filled with liquid glaze vaulted to the floor, glaze paints squirting out their nozzle ends. Buckets of paintbrushes careened, the brushes scattering like plucked feathers. Work pedestals spun. Small glass jars of pigments vibrated across tabletops; others wobbled off, exploding. Water spilled from barrel containers, housing gooey slip used to join clay pieces, and formed puddles on the floor’s low spots. The holding tank of white iron-oxide cracked down the front, its contents oozed out. Stacks of clay blocks toppled, hitting the floor with loud thuds.  Pails of wires, paddles, anvils, and ribs shimmered off back shelves, while the shelves themselves threatened to pitch forward.

Piloto dashed from spot to spot, arms outstretched, catching items and picking up others.  He filled his arms.

What is going on?  

The earth heaved again, a second more severe shock, a violent undulating ocean wave.

  • This scene uses the visually unique and exotic tile making factory to recreate what it might have been like for a tile maker the fatal day of November 1st, All Saints Day, when The Great Lisbon Earthquake leveled Lisbon, Portugal in 1755.

edit Mary F Burns

Mary F. Burns:  “Seeing and thinking through the eyes and heart of the artist.”

A question for all historical fiction authors is: Do you have to be a (Fill in the Blank) in order to write about one as a character?  Lawyer, Doctor, Midwife, Artist?   No, but it helps if you have an affinity for the work that person does, and of course, you have to understand how that kind of person thinks, feels, sees, understands, communicates.

I learned enough about how John Singer Sargent painted—his style, his technique, his preferred media—to be able to realistically portray him in his studio and as an artist.  He was very expressive and entertaining for his sitters—he fed them, played the piano and sang, dashed around the room with a cigar in his teeth, laughing and telling jokes.

But away from the canvas, I learned from biographies, he had a hard time with words, found it difficult to express himself, a very private person, genial, kindly, energetic. He loved light and shadow, as most painters do, and having a complicated personality himself, he wasn’t averse to showing both the lighter and darker sides of his subjects.”

However, he denied that he consciously depicted the “psychological” state of his subjects, said he “merely painted what was before his eyes.” But even his closest friends said otherwise. If he simply accurately painted what he saw, then it must be that our feelings, our principles, our character and background and griefs and joys are written upon our bodies, because that’s what appear in his portraits, which is why ultimately, I decided to write my novel with fifteen different voices telling the story,  the voices of people who sat for portraits by Sargent, some of them dear friends, some one-time clients, but all providing different perspectives and clues as to who Sargent really was. As Oscar Wilde said, “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” And Sargent definitely revealed himself through his portraits.

* A special thanks to Mary for creating our artsy book trailers for the talk!

(All except Stephanie Cowell’s which was made by her talented son!)

edit SC

Stephanie Cowell:  “How much artistic ‘process’ to reveal in scenes – when is enough enough?”

You cannot write truly and deeply about anyone’s work (be it laundress, cellist, teacher, or painter) without showing them doing their work yet you must be careful how you write this. I try to reveal the work of my protagonist in scenes in which he is also living his life.  In the panel, I read a scene where Monet has a fight with his wife, rushes off to paint to calm himself and loses track of the hours; when he comes back to his actual life, having been gone for a long time, he finds something bad has happened. So there is a contrast between the ecstatic, all-consuming hours of his painting and the relatively ordinary needs of the people he loves.  In the case of an artist, the art is indivisible from the person. But the language of any profession is unique to that profession and you can’t go so far into the way an artist works that you confuse the reader with terminology. You also can’t have so much of the creation of art that you lose the plot tension. But you can’t ever just say that someone is anything without showing how it affects everything, even the aches in his body. Painting ruled Monet’s life; if he felt it didn’t go well he would be in total black despair and you couldn’t go near him. So you have to show that. Art was so huge for him it was like being drunk; it affected everything in him and everyone to whom he was close.

For the Love of Art in Historical Fiction! 

To find out more about each author, their books, and to purchase their art-based historical novels: 

Alana White:  www.alanawhite.com

To buy:  The Sign of the Weeping Virgin

Donna Russo Morin:  donnarussomorin.com

To buy:  The King’s Agent

Mary F. Burns:  http://www.sargent-pagetmysteries.blogspot.com/

To buy: Portraits of An Artist

Stephanie Cowell:  http://www.stephaniecowell.com/

To buy:  Claude & Camille

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

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? 

f866201ab3ea92a829b14acad1f038437e250ec3

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?

0066ec4d2a3779dfa867e557c0a41afa

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

17165628

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.

3