PART 1 – Review of panel-talk “Art and Artists in Historical Fiction: The special challenges of writing about art and artists”

panel talk 2014 London HNS Conference

Patricia O’Reilly (far left), Michael Dean, Stephanie Renee dos Santos, Alicia Foster

Art and artists stories of bygone days transport us, prompt us to ask questions, to wonder, and to explore the time and places and enigmatic figures whose creations line museum walls and podiums today. Who were these creatives that’ve blessed the world with their enduring artistic visions and awe-inspiring works? What are the life stories inside and behind the glossy varnishes and layers of paint and glaze? What provoked an artist or group of artists to conceive of such masterful pieces? These are a few of the pertinent questions to ask and investigate when interested in writing historical fiction about art and artists.

panel-talkAt the London 2014 Historical Novel Society Conference, writers of art-based historical fiction Patricia O’Reilly (The Interview,Time & Destiny, A Type of Beauty: the story of Kathleen Newton), Michael Dean (I, HogarthThe Crooked CrossHour Zero, Thorn), myself (working title Cut From the Earth), and Alicia Foster (Warpaint) came together to discuss some key points to consider when writing about art and artists.

The points we addressed:

-Seeing and thinking through the eyes and heart of the artist

-How much artistic ‘process’ to reveal in scenes – when is enough enough?

The points we didn’t have time to thoroughly discuss:

-Use of artist spaces to depict action in story – moments of crisis and conflict

-Using specific artworks to reveal time period and/or social/political attitudes – to depict an art history advancement.

The Panel-Talk

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Beginning with the panel-talk’s first discussion point  — seeing and thinking through the eyes and heart of the artist – Michael Dean began our talk referencing his recent release I, Hogarth.

Michael Dean:  I have written four novels that deal with art:  I, HogarthThe Crooked CrossHour Zero and ThornI, Hogarth tells the story of an artist from the moment of his birth to the moment of his death from inside his head.  It blends Hogarth’s life and his art into one narrative – so sometimes the story of his life is what happens in his paintings. I, Hogarth also blends the style and the content, so it’s not my voice and not my writing style.  It’s Hogarth’s voice speaking in Hogarth’s style, reflecting Hogarth’s character.  In the scene I am about to read from, Hogarth is a very young man, early twenties. He is about to marry his beloved Jane Thornhill, who is a barely legal sixteen.They have eloped and are marrying against the wishes of Jane’s famous painter father James Thornhill. They get to the church and find another couple being married ahead of them.

This is Hogarth’s view of what he saw.

“The bride was an ancient crone in a thick ivory-white girl’s wedding dress and strange white chapeau arrangement dangling off her head, a thin-lipped smile of triumph masking a lack of teeth, and her wrinkled, flat breasts peeping out, like antique water gourds; half empty now but still strapped to the saddle after a long horse ride. 

Also, she lacked the full complement of eyes, the poor dear, having only the one.  This facilitated the groom’s gazing at the girl’s pretty maid, as she adjusted the ancient’s dress, on her blind side. This damsel bride was old enough to be the groom’s grandmother, but, I would have hazarded, rich. 

Conducting the ceremony, the Reverend Winter cast a glance our way, but the words gurgled on.  In fact, it occurred to me that if the Reverend Winter did not speed up somewhat, he would have to proceed seamlessly to the funeral service, as the bride looked ready to expire.” 


The Marriage

SRDS:  The passage brings to life in prose the visual story depicted in Hogarth’s painting “A Rake’s Progress V”, “The Marriage”, showing Hogarth’s youth, happiness and iconoclasm. Notice how Dean depicts what the artist sees, “…thick ivory-white girl’s wedding dress…flat breasts peeping…”. While Alicia Foster elucidated this point with an excerpt from her novel Warpaint that features four WWII female artists working from two different angles to aid the war effort:  the black propaganda side scheming against the enemy, and the home front artists with the task to rally the bull-dog spirit of the British populace.

Alicia Foster:  [This is from the point of view of character Vivienne who works for the covert black propaganda front.]

“A picture of the drawing Vivienne had finished that day came into her head, the design of a salacious cartoon to be printed on several thousand ‘greetings cards’ and dropped upon occupied Greece. The Greeks were being starved to death by their German invaders, and any protesters shot without ceremony. Black was trying to help loosen Wehrmacht fingers from their rifles. The German soldiers would, hopefully, stop to pick up the cards because Vivienne’s drawing would bring thoughts of sex to them, fluttering miraculously down from the sky: for a moment they could remember and imagine, escape from death, hunger, dirt and fatigue. But the lust would quickly turn – because of the details of the drawing – into fear as to what might be happening back at home, and they would find it difficult to fire with the same zeal. Or that was the idea, anyway.

To attract as many as possible, the ‘cards’ must fall from the plane like a shower of obscene confetti: their size, and the amount of printer’s ink used, had to be carefully controlled so that they remained light. Yet the drawing was complicated: it had to show a foreign interloper (swarthy of skin, large-nosed,obviously not a son of the Reich) taking advantage of a buxom young Hausfrau whileher husband was away serving at the front. The couple had to be entangled in a position in which you could see, immediately, what they were up to, but also exactly who they were. This was where it became tricky. Clothes were important, and the figures couldn’t be lying down, as one of them would be half-hidden.So, then, stand them up, problem solved. But how? A side view would be best, you could see both of them clearly. The setting had been obvious to Vivienne: it had to be the kitchen, the very heart of the home that the soldier husband was away fighting for. But then there was another problem: what should she include to indicate a kitchen, while not crowding out the central characters? Here, Vivienne had a moment of inspiration, remembering the Rowlandson prints thathung in their bedroom – tarts and lechers pictured in graphic detail using only line and a limited range of colours. Of course Vivienne couldn’t mimic the subtlety of his draughtsmanship and tone, not with the crude stuff she had to work with, but then there was to be no subtlety about her design. 

Against a yellow background, strong enough to catch and hold the glare of the Greek sun, Vivienne had outlined in black a stove with bubbling saucepans and a window with flowery curtains. A cat and a crying baby in a highchair (why not go the whole way?) were sketched in to either side of the lovers. A framed portrait of Hitler hung above them. And how the pair filled the space! Drawn in heavier black, the girl had been pushed over the kitchen table, her thick pigtails swinging with the movement, with at each end a pink bow, to match the colour of her mouth in an O of surprise and of her round doll cheeks, and then carrying the eye down to his cock, in the same colour (Vivienne made a tacit acknowledgement to Rowlandson:  he knew how to draw these things clearly). Her laced bodice was black, also her dirndl skirt; you took in her arched body straight away, and could see her skirt had been pulled right up over her waist. His clothes – a scumble of greenish grey –stood out against the yellow kitchen.”

SRDS:  Again, through this passage Foster like Dean takes the reader into the visual mind and shows us what this unique, specific artist thinks, imagines, is concerned about, and in this case, trying to achieve through her art. Where as I shared these two quotes to highlight how tile maker protagonist, Piloto, in my work-in-progress Cut From the Earth views his world…

cut from the earth“Piloto paused and admired the red geraniums of the yard and the surrounding hillside’s vineyard grape leaves turning from saffron to the color of claret wine.”


“Clasping the rosary’s cruciform, he glanced at the blue and white tile he’d made for his mother prior to her death. The tile called to him. He took it and swiftly admired its design, turning it over, and held it up to his nose inhaling its earth scent. Images of the varved clay deposit appeared before his eyes.” 

What’s important in each of these clips is you are seeing what is important to the artist, the color and changing hues that surround his world, the remembrance of an earth smell first that still imbues the tile he’d given to his mother, and then a visual image of where the clay came from to make the tile. Artist notice everyday details that other characters may not give any attention to in fiction.

Patricia O’Reilly:  Artists, their thoughts and their work process are integral to my historical fiction titles Time & Destiny, A Type of Beauty, the story of Kathleen Newton and The Interview. For the Historical Novel Society Conference panel-talk, my focus was on art and the artist in The Interview.  

The prime character in The Interview is Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976). The works she is best known for are: The Destiny Screen (which earned her international fame in 1913 and again in 1972), apartment at rue de Lota (which brought photographers and journalists from America), and E.1027 (regarded as one of the most iconic houses of the 20th century).

Every fiber of Gray’s being was devoted to art – even when she was in the throes of her passionate love affair with nightclub singer Damia:  despite being out at clubs until the small hours, she rose early to work at her drawing board.  After WW 2 she returned to Paris, lived on a diet of potatoes and designed by candlelight.

Gray’s art embraced lacquer work, painting, photography and architecture. My research confirmed that it was harder for women artists to make a name for themselves and that they are undervalued in art history. Eileen Gray was no exception – to the extent that knowing the resistance to business women she named her gallery Jean Désért (a common first name in France and Désért for her experience of sleeping in the desert).


The passage below from The Interview shows Gray in artistic action on The Destiny Screen, and the second paragraph the effect the creation has on her.

“When she transferred the silhouettes of her three male figures from paper to screen, the colours evolved in a trance-like state of certainty that left her in no doubt. The background was a burnt orange-red of mysterious shadings and shadows; the corpse was a muted grey; the other two figures were a rich blue.  She finished the front of the screen by highlighting the figures with the merest shiver of silver; on the reverse side she created an abstract composition of vigorous swirls.

Hers was a project slow in execution and long in creation but one which gave her the greatest of pleasures. Sometimes during the small hours of the night, alone in her workroom, lacking sleep, eyes blurring and focusing with difficulty, sustaining herself on squares of chocolate and cigarettes, it felt as if this screen was her life’s purpose, as though from birth this had been mapped out as her destiny.”

SRDS:  This is yet another excellent example of the artist’s mind and heart at work as she reflects back on one of her greatest and most famous work the lacquer screen “Le Destin”, “The Destiny Screen”.

This concludes this post “Part 1:  Review of panel-talk ‘Art and Artists in Historical Fiction: The special challenges of writing about art and artists'”. Next month I’ll post Part 2 of this recap, addressing the second question we discussed at the 2014 London Historical Novel Society Conference:  How much artistic ‘process’ to reveal in scenes – when is enough enough?

Stay tuned!













Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Anne Girard & Madame Picasso

9780778316350.inddWelcome to month two of the “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”. It’s my pleasure to introduce Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso (debuted August 26th). Love stories have inspired art and literature since time immemorial, and Girard’s novel marries both, in telling the untold life-altering love affair between Eva Gouel and artist Pablo Picasso at the end of the colorful Belle Époque era in Paris, France. Eva, an aspiring seamstress, who will become a designer, a creative in her own right, works behind-the-scenes in the famous Moulin Rouge under the adopted name of Marcelle Humbert. One evening, she spies the rising star Picasso in a group of show goers and is Instantly entranced by the painter’s persona. A chance meeting at an art exhibit brings them into each other’s aura, where a lifelong connection begins, but one with complicated obstacles to surmount and navigate in order for them to realize their love:  doubt, another woman, a protective group of artist friends, illness and death.

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

Let the heart pursue its desire, let the paint ooze from the tube, let the brush sweep across the canvas, read on and learn how love galvanized great works….involving a woman Picasso called his ‘Ma Jolie’

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  How did you discover Madame Picasso’s protagonist Eva Gouel and her relationship with painter Pablo Picasso? What drew you to her story over other muses of Picasso’s?

Eva Gouel

Eva Gouel

Anne Girard:  I discovered Eva’s story, initially, as I began my general research into Picasso’s personal life. I had gone in looking to make my novel about Picasso and his first significant love, Fernande Olivier, a woman who still figures very prominently in Madame Picasso, curiously enough. But the fact that Picasso was pulled away so powerfully from her by his feelings for Eva made my original idea not worth pursuing, in my mind. I needed to write about an epic love affair, that is always what inspires me, and Eva and Pablo most certainly had that. He gave up an established life for her, many of his friends, as well. He did go on to love again afterward, and to cement his own poor personal reputation through the years, but in my novel, I attempt to show a slice of young Picasso, yet only on the cusp of major stardom. He was still open, still vulnerable, at that point with his heart. I hope I succeeded in showing that.

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

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

AG:  Ah, well, one could not write about Pablo Picasso, at any stage of his life, without including it. It was the source, I would say, of at least half of his passion, and he worked in many mediums, not just painting. Directed by his father, an artist himself, Picasso began painting at a very early age, and quickly surpassed his father in talent and skill, and there is where I believe it became cemented into his DNA. To his father’s credit, he recognized that talent in his own son (not easy considering Spanish machismo in the early 1900’s) and he was a huge supporter of Pablo’s work, moving his entire family to Barcelona so that Pablo could attend a prestigious art academy. Granted, he was not the best father role model, a particularly notorious lady’s man himself, but he did influence his only son, most certainly.

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

Picasso's Rose Period which occurred while he was with lover Fernande Olivier (left). Cubist period “J’aime Eva” (right).

Picasso’s Rose Period which occurred while he was with lover Fernande Olivier (left). Cubist period while with love Eva “J’aime Eva” (right).

AG:  I have always admired artists and particularly the complex nature of Picasso’s work, his many periods and styles.  Each, in its way, so ardently reflected the struggles and phases in his personal life as he moved through them. What I discovered was that Picasso often left behind clues in his work, regarding things, people, moments, that had affected him. I loved searching for those clues as I researched and wrote. I used them as well to try to get into Eva’s mind a bit, then to try to help convey her heart, and also his.

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

AG:  I was blessed, as I know any historical author would be, to have been granted access by Yale University to the original letters and post cards back and forth between Eva, Pablo, and Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. To look at Eva’s hand-writing once I had already fallen in love with her as an author,  the words of a woman who left so little else of herself to the world, (sometimes with Picasso tossing in a casual, loving comment atop their exchange, once even a little drawing over her text) told me more about what existed between Eva and Picasso than biography ever could. To this day, I have, and treasure, my copy of their letters, which cease with one from Picasso to Gertrude the day after the end of things with Eva. His penmanship had changed from a tight, ordered cursive to a wild, scrawling hand… Now that in my mind, adds to the notion of an epic romance. And I am very happy that I could read them in the original French!

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

“Ma Jolie”

“Ma Jolie”

AG:  The message I took away is that, to some artists, writers, and poets, their medium becomes the embodiment of their emotions, a needed place to put them when explanations are not enough, or even appropriate. The work becomes a snapshot into that world at the moment, and also a permanent piece of their history. It certainly was that for Pablo Picasso, I do believe. Even though many people don’t care for some of his styles, or understand them, it is my opinion that he lived his happiness, and his sorrows, through his canvases, and he left those as a legacy to the those who stop long enough to see what was behind even some of his Cubist works.

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

AG:  Art is a visual accessory to a story, so I think it helps give a novel more dimension for readers.

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

AG:  One thing that fascinates me still is that, prior to moving to Paris, Eva was engaged to marry but never did. It was a strange puzzle piece that I uncovered, one without any context, and I wondered if that was the reason she escaped her suburb for the city. But we shall probably never know.

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

largeAG:  I am drawn to all novels that tie art and fiction together and I’m so happy to see so many of them doing well in the market place. That means we are not alone in our passion for them!

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

AG:  While I am enormously proud of a novel I wrote as Diane Haeger, called The Ruby Ring, about the love affair between the Renaissance artist Raphael and his Margherita, my next novel up is about the early life of Jean Harlow, entitled Platinum Doll. Although I do intend to set a scene with her in an art gallery, keeping my love of art in fiction, any way I can!

Diane 043 (2)Diane Haeger, who currently writes under the pen name Anne Girard, holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is the award-winning author of 14 novels, both historical and contemporary. She has moved back and forth through time, from writing about the lost love of William Tecumseh Sherman, to crafting a series set in Tudor England, entitled “In The Court of Henry VIII”.


For more about the author’s novels visit: and

To Purchase Madame Picasso

Join us here next Saturday October 25th for an interview with Yves Fey, author of Floats the Dark Shadow.

Interview posting schedule:  

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

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


Recap of the 2014 London Historical Novel Society Conference & Panel-talk “Art and Artists in HF”

my conference picks

Conference book purchases!

For months I’d been awaiting this writers conference! And it was an interesting and energizing weekend exchanging with other authors and those interested in the historical fiction genre.

SCREENSHOT1-1024x516Congratulations to the conference Short Story Award winner Lorna Fergusson (middle) and her winning piece Salt. Also, a hearty congrats to the runner-ups.

1st place:  Salt by Lorna Fergusson (middle) 2nd place:  The Man with No Hands by Anne Aylor (right)  3rd place:  For Love of Megan by Mari Griffith (left)

Jessie Burton, Essie Fox, Kate FrothysHighlights of the conference for me were meeting in person, or hearing speak, Historical Novel Society Founder Richard Lee and authors  Helen Hollick, Anna Belfrage, Elizabeth Cooper and her husband, Nicky Moxey, Essie Fox, Kate Forsyth, Hazel Gaynor, Annamaria Alfieri, Jessie Burton, Conn Iggulden, Lindsey Davis, and Professor Diana Wallace. panel talk 2014 London HNS ConferenceIt was an honor to participate on the panel “Art and Artists in Historical Fiction: The Special Challenges of writing about Art & Artists” with writers Patricia O’Reilly (The Interview), Michael Dean (I, Hogarth), and Alicia Foster (Warpaint). All of us could have easily discussed this topic for hours. It was a lively exchange with excellent questions from the attending group (authors E.M Powell, Alan Fisk, and others).

* In October I will be posting a more in-depth post about the points discussed at this panel-talk. Stay tuned!

Dinner at Hardy'sDinner at historic Hardy’s was divine, along with the conversations. Cheers to a weekend well-spent!

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Susan Vreeland & Lisette’s List

LisettesList_cover_cezanne_3.251Welcome to the “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”, a continuation of the Historical Novel Society’s “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”. Art in fiction is an ever-growing literary niche as you will see with our ongoing review/interview series.This month’s featured author is Susan Vreeland and her recent release Lisette’s List (Random House August 26, 2014). Yet again, Vreeland has created a vital story, one written as finely as a Pissarro painting, but in the rich colors of Cezanne’s palette, of a woman awakening to the power, importance, and contributors to European art as she takes refuge and seeks consolation in Provence and Paris, France, before,in the midst of, and after World War II.

Lisette Roux departs Paris for Roussillon in southern Provence to help her art framer husband, André, care for his aging grandfather, Pascal, a former ocher miner whose pigments were used by famous painters of his day, Cézanne and Pissarro. Lisette longs to return to the vibrancy of Paris and its art scene, to pursue her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice. But surprisingly, through her caregiving and exchange with Pascal she begins to learn about art and artists. When André and his good friend Maxime, a Parisian art dealer, are enlisted in the war effort, Lisette must learn to fend for herself in her newly adopted home. As the war advances, she comes into direct contact with Marc and Bella Chagall, and a life affecting friendship develops along with a further understanding of art. The war plays out, as does everyone’s new situations and complications, with an ensuing threat to lovers of art, art and artists.

In the wake of the two recent discoveries of 1,406 potentially Nazi-looted and labeled “degenerate artworks”, uncovered in Munich in 2013, at the home of Mr. Cornelius Gurlitt and then at his second home in Salzburg, Austria, in 2014, Lisette’s List transports us to the world and time period when these works were more than likely seized and absconded with. Through exquisite prose, poignant period and place details, and profound observations on art and war, Vreeland reveals the beauty, the struggles, and the losses of the World War II era.

Come, let the provincial light and Parisian culture warm your heart, while the mistral of war and endangered art and fleeing artists drawn by Vreeland sweep you into the past, showing what was at stake then and now, and which perhaps hasn’t been completely lost forever.

Stephanie Renée dos Santos:  Where did the inspiration for your protagonist, Lisette, stem from for Lisette’s List

Susan Vreeland:  She came from my imagination of a woman with longings to participate in the art world, not unlike my own longings, a woman displaced, and a woman open to what the new environment had to offer, even to the degree of seeing her exile as her “holy ground.” It’s natural for me to write a character who has a developing spiritual sense. I wanted a character whom I could love for her goodness, her forgiveness, her willingness and sincerity, qualities I cherish.

SRDS:  What drew you to the time period of the novel?

nature morte au compotier

Nature Morte au Compotier, Paul Cézanne, Private Collection

SV:  World War II, of course, which provided trauma, upheaval, and tragedy, and the threat to Europe’s artistic heritage. We must not forget that under the Occupation by the Third Reich, the war brought about the vast and systematized plunder of “degenerate art,” motivated by thought control, revenge, and arrogance. Hear Hitler’s rant as early as 1937: “We will, from now on, lead an unrelenting war of purification, an unrelenting war of extermination, against the last elements which have displaced our Art,” horrifying words later reused relating to his “final solution.”

Can you imagine France without its art? The Louvre emptied and turned into an arsenal or a warehouse? A Holland bereft of its Rembrandts and Vermeers would be a land without its heritage. It’s a form of rape. What does that do to a people? My love for art made me outraged.

SRDS:  How and why did you choose the book’s settings, Paris and Roussillon in southern Provence?

SV:  I had to have both–Paris for the art world that Lisette would be sad about leaving, and Provence for the ochre mines, the source of pigments for paint that she would be learning about during her exile. What we have in the two locales is the primitive material culture in the geology of Roussillon which represents the origin of art, and the completion of art is suggested in the paintings of Parisian museums and galleries. The two locales serve as bookends to the process from ore to frame, from earth to majesty. Pascal embodied both.

Also, to flesh out the novel with colorful human beings, Paris and Provence provided a contrast in the stereotypes at work between northern and southern France. In general, northerners, and specifically Parisians, were stereotyped as rational, cultured, sophisticated, and reserved, whereas the ethnological type of the Provençaux have been labeled coarse, clownish, and prone to explosive passion and impetuousness. Southerners have the spirit of joy, of exuberance, and also of exaggeration. Parisian men spend their afternoons in cafés discoursing on philosophy, literature, film, art, and politics, while Provençal men spend theirs on the boules court tossing around steel balls and arguing about their landing spots. Such stereotypes provided humor and a rich well from which I could draw.

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

Bride Groom

Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower, Marc Chagall, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou, Paris.

SV:  Chagall’s historic “Letter to the Paris Artists”, 1944, was a thrilling discovery for me. His deep concern about the loss of France’s artistic heritage which he referred to as the soul of France moved me deeply. Before the end of the war, during the Occupation, he wrote from his exile in the United States, “Today the world hopes and believes that the years of struggle will make the content and spirit of French art even more profound, more than ever worthy of the great art epochs of the past. I bow to the memory of those who disappeared, and of those who fell in battle. I bow to your struggle, to your fight against the foe of art and life.”

The discovery of this important letter led me to see that the novel was not just a narrow story of a woman retrieving her family’s seven paintings. Her experience was a microcosm of the vast rape of Europe’s art by what Chagall called “satanic enemies who wanted to annihilate not just the body but also the soul–the soul, without which there is no life, no artistic creativity.” After reading the letter, Lisette saw this too. By focusing on one character’s experience of potential loss, I could represent the larger issue of art ownership and national patrimony which is at issue even today.

SRDS:  How is Lisette’s List different from your other seven art-related novels?

SV: The novel is not centered on one artist and his or her development. That approach has given me much joy for a decade, but recently I began to feel it was too constraining. Lisette’s List came from a need to outgrow that mode of turning art history into narrative, and instead, to completely invent a set of non-artist characters with their conflicts and circumstances, dipping into the lives of three painters only as they impacted pure fiction.

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


La Côte Jalet, Camille Pissarro

SV:  Bits and pieces. Pissarro and [wife] Julie had seven children. Remarkably, five of them became artists. A leading spirit of the Impressionists, he was the only one who exhibited in all eight Impressionist shows. To speak of his determination, he suffered an eye infection and could no longer paint outdoors, so he painted through hotel room windows the busy urban scenes below.

New characters could have been inserted. For example, I discovered a Paris art dealer, René Gimpel, a Résistance fighter who was arrested and died in a concentration camp. He could have had him be Maxime’s friend.

There are some great quotes by my three artist characters that I couldn’t use. For example, amusingly Pissarro said, “God takes care of imbeciles, little children, and artists.” And this lyrical sentence by Cézanne giving life to fruit: “When you translate the skin of a beautiful peach, or the melancholy of an old apple, you sense their mutual reflections, the same shadows of relinquishment, the same loving sun, the same recollections of dew.” And Chagall’s lament and consolation: “Neither Imperial Russia, nor the Russia of the Soviets needs me. They don’t understand me. I am a stranger to them. I am certain Rembrandt loves me.” What minds these men had! I revere them.

SRDS:  Which famous artists are celebrated in the novel? And why did you choose to focus on the art and artists you did?


The Card Players, Paul Cézanne, Musée d’Orsay

SV:  The choice of artists was easy. Since the novel is set in both Paris and Provence, I chose two painters, Camille Pissarro who painted the areas around Paris, and Paul Cézanne who was born and lived in the South of France in Aix en Provence. The fact that they were friends who valued each other’s work sealed the deal. I imagine them to have made quips about being Impressionists, Pissarro calling themselves “the dear unwanteds” and Cézanne calling themselves “the great criminals of Paris.” In truth, Cézanne called Pissarro “the humble and colossal Pissarro” and “my master, mon bon Dieu.” In turn, Pissarro foresaw that Cézanne would lead painters to a new aesthetic, which he did: Cubism.

Certain paintings by each of them also prompted me to choose them. I recall seeing a Pissarro painting of a girl with a goat on an ochre-colored path by her vegetable garden. Although I have lost this painting, the cover painting, Côte Jalet comes close. All the cover designer needed to do was to paint in a goat, Geneviève. Another Pissarro painting convinced me that I had chosen rightly. Le Petit Fabrique pictured a rural paint factory where the ochre pigments from Roussillon were made into oil paint. What could be more perfect?

Cézanne’s landscapes around Aix en Provence displayed the countryside that I described and that so enchanted Lisette. When I discovered his three paintings of ochre quarries, he definitely fit in to my narrative.

As for Marc Chagall, imagine my surprise and happiness when I discovered that during the War and Occupation, he and his wife hid from Nazis in the closest village to Roussillon, Gordes, only nine kilometers away. Now I could give Lisette her longed for experience of being in the midst of art as it was being made. And his “Letter to the Paris Painters” expanded my story to reflect the larger threat to art at the hands of the Reich’s Chamber of Culture.

And finally, one Picasso study entered the story to fill the art historical gap between Cézanne and Chagall. Maxime, the art dealer in the novel, traces the connection thus: “The visible reality expressed through the handling of light and color of Impressionism–Pissarro–moved into the solid geometric shapes of Post-impressionism–Cézanne–to the modernism of distortion and Cubism–Picasso–and finally to the post-modernism of the expression of the invisible personal reality of dreams–Chagall.” And, despite the fact that their work was considered “degenerate,” they all fit into place in the most satisfying way.

SamRyu_SV 06 peach books EDITAbout the author: Susan Vreeland is an internationally known author of art-related historical fiction. Four of her eight books have been New York Times Best Sellers: Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Forest Lover, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Luncheon of the Boating Party, and  acclaimed novels,The Passion of Artemisia, Life Studies, What Love Sees, and Lisette’s List. She has received four times the Theodor Geisel Award, the highest honor given by the San Diego Book Awards. Her novels have been translated into twenty-six languages, and have frequently been selected as Book Sense Picks. She was a high school English teacher in San Diego for thirty years.

For more about Susan’s novels: Facebook:

700 WARWICKS-JULIETo Purchase Lisette’s List:

The Washington Post: “Love more. Love again, Love broadly. Love without reservation.” Review: ‘Lisette’s List,’ by Susan Vreeland – The Washington Post

Join us here next Saturday September 27th for an interview with Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso.

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)


A Year of Art in Historical Fiction! Announcement of author roster for the “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”

heartbookI’m thrilled to announce next Saturday begins the “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”, with an incredible roster of writers and their art-based books being featured throughout 2014 and into 2015. It is an august group of authors and a fascinating lineup of reads.

Again,the series (a continuation of the Historical Novel Society “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”) kicks off here next Saturday August 30!

Posting schedule for “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”


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


January 31 Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release)
February 14 Lynn Cullen, Dear Mr. Washington (art/historical children’s book new release)
February 28 Alyson Richmond, The Mask Carver’s Son
March 28 Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release)
April 25 Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent
May 30 Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors
June 27 Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve
July 25 Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour

If I may, I’d like to suggest that folks read the featured author’s book prior to or during the month the writer’s interview is posted, as it will deeply enrich the meaning of it, along with the selected artworks and images. Reading the novel before or during the author’s post month will also put one in a position to pose questions to the writer while their interview is highlighted: Take advantage of this contact!

(To receive the monthly post in your email inbox, sign-up for my blog, the subscribe box is near the top of the right hand side column here on my home page)

For the Love of Art in Historical Fiction!

For information about the series for readers and writers visit:

History of Portuguese Tile: the “Figura de Convite”

fdec stairway

Firstly, what is a “figura de convite“?

figura de convite is an invitation figure made of  *azulejos, tiles. They’re life-sized tile cut-out images of a finely dressed nobleman or lady, halberdiers or a footman that were affixed to walls at the entrances of palaces, on stair-landings, and patios to welcome visitors during the eighteenth century in Portugal and Brazil.

* “Azulejo” is the Portuguese term for a glazed tile. The word comes from Arabic الزليج  “al zulaycha” meaning little polished stone, and is not to be confused with “azul”, blue, which it is often mistaken. It is true that there are many blue azulejos, and that can explain the confusion, but, historically, the first glazed tiles that appeared on the Iberian peninsula, brought by the Muslim Moors in the thirteenth century, were glazed in mainly hunters green, burnt sienna, and mustard yellow.

coupleThe figura de convite appeared in Portugal around the year of 1720. The innovation was the first time in the history of tile fabrication that the medium deviated from the square composition and embraced the outline of the cut-out, thus opening up a new world of tile designs. Its creation is attributed to the master tile maker who went by the monogram PMP, and whose life story has been lost to history.There’s speculation that possibly the artist’s initials were those of Padre Manuel Pereira, a clergyman and patron to a large tile making workshop (shop name unknown) in Lisbon. His disciples are thought to have produced tiles for palaces and churches all over Portugal and Brazil. But there is no exacting evidence and secure proof that he really is or was the famous monogram PMP…it’s a mystery of art history.


“Diamond Extraction” by Brazilian artist Carlos Julião 18th century watercolor

During the first part of the eighteenth century and up until “The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755″, Portugal was at the pinnacle of its wealth and extravagance, arguably the richest European country during this time period, and all due to the gold and precious gem extraction from its colony, Brazil, and the slave trade from Africa.


Around the year of 1730, yellow detail work began appearing in the figures, mimicking the use of gold thread being used in cloth embroidery work, demonstrating the vast amounts of gold coming into Portugal from Brazil. It was also around this time that the powdered wig hairstyles of the figures began to visibly shift to a less showy display, recording the period’s shifting tastes.


Innovations of the figura de convite was ongoing with figures like this Roman centurion (left) and rare musical duo with a wiry dog (right).

"Enter My Lordship"

“Come in your Lordship”

Words of greeting were sometimes incorporated into the compositions, like this fellow whose beckoning:  “Come in your Lordship”. The art form of tile making flourished in Portugal during the eighteenth century with the country’s peerless affluence, and produced one of the greatest world-wide advancements in tile making: the figura de convite. 

two mock book jackets

Two “mock” book jacket ideas for CUT FROM THE EARTH (despite the fact I hope to be traditionally published and have the publisher’s art department work out a fantastic book jacket!)

The figura de convite is one of the artwork highlights in my forthcoming art-based historical novel Cut From the Earth, a story of Portuguese tile and its surprising makers — The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 — and the wisdom of nature to guide heal.

Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Alicia Foster

warpaintThis is week nine of the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”, and the last post at the Historical Novel Society. From here on out the series will continue here on my blog.This week’s featured author is Alicia Foster of Warpaint, a story of secrets, subterfuge, betrayal, lies, manipulation, and the female artists that are called upon to outmaneuver the opposition in its many concealed forms during WWII in Britain. Enter the world of clandestine propaganda projects, and women painters working on the Home Front to rally the “bulldog spirit”…you’ll be surprised to learn what is really going on behind-the-scenes…  

Click here to read!

Call for Submissions: “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”

heartbookAll the author interviews have posted for the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” at the Historical Novel Society website.The series has been hugely well-received by readers. Because of its popularity, and at the request from readers for its continuation, plus the fact there are so many excellent art-based books and authors who weren’t part of the two-month series and new releases yet to debut, I’ve decided to carry on the interviews here via my blog.

The last Sunday of each month I will feature an author with a succinct book review and interview, along with supporting artwork images.

If you have an already published or soon-to-be-released historical novel with an art tie-in that you’d like featured, please email me at stephaniereneedossantos@ to learn how to become part of the continuing series.

Submissions are ongoing and open to all Indie, small press, and traditionally published novels and authors.

Again, this is a continuation of the June & July, 2014 “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” at the Historical Novel Society, running under the new name:

“Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”

For the love of art in historical fiction!

Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Cathy Marie Buchanan

the painted girls USIt’s week eight of the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”, with one more author interview to debut on the Historical Novel Society website. This week’s feature author is Cathy Marie Buchanan of the bestseller The Painted Girls. It is a story of struggle, sisterhood, art of Degas, and the Paris Opéra. Buchanan has brought to life the unexposed shadows of the glittering grand Belle Époque era in Paris, exposing a tarnished world hidden behind glamorous stages and exquisite works of art.

Click here to read!

Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Stephanie Cowell

paperback coverIt’s week seven of the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”, with two more fascinating interviews waiting in the wings for the upcoming Saturdays. This week’s feature author is Stephanie Cowell of Claude & Camille, the deeply touching story of French painter Claude Monet, his lifelong love of Camille Doncieux, and the Impressionists. This novel is art, passion, obsession, struggle — life. Cowell’s writing is fluid and beautiful like Monet’s water lily paintings, this is an endearing read, a story that left me in tears.

Click here to read!