A Train, Manet, and…a Burger?

The title of this sounds like a joke in progress, but it’s not. Over Labor Day Weekend Barry and I took the South Shore Line into Chicago to (finally!) catch Manet and Modern Beauty at the Art Institute.

If you’re a listener of our podcast, Writing All the Things, you’ve heard about our trip in Episode 10. (Shameless plug.)

First of all, the train ride to the museum reminded us of when we rode from Rome to Florence backwards. It gives you more time to gaze at something if it catches your eye. We watched quaint towns go by and I (an urban decay aficionado) paid close attention to the rusting steel mills. It was a short enough ride from where we got on not to be tiresomely long.

Since I have recently fallen for vintage South Shore posters, much to my wallet’s chagrin, it was exciting to ride it for the first time.

We actually arrived early in Chicago, so we stopped for a quick breakfast before getting in line at the museum. “Getting in line” is code for talking with everyone around us about the exhibit, about previous exhibits, and about other museums we had all been to. Visitors were there from Japan and New Zealand, for starters.

Once we had our tickets we raced directly to the exhibit. Inside it, we decided to start at the end and come forwards. This was because, predictably, the area was packed with the early crowd.

Forgive me for this mild rant: it’s eerie to be in an exciting exhibit and hear near silence, to see audio guides glued to faces. That’s fine for those who like it, I suppose, but I “art” aloud. I like to discuss my discoveries, share with wide hand gestures the inevitably beautiful lines. (I’m a line person!) When I see a gorgeous color, I feel obligated to point it out. I don’t think this means I respect art any less. Hubby is much the same.

True, art has sometimes reduced me to silence. It has caused me to weep. This exhibit, however, felt like a visit with a friend. I’ve been studying Manet’s work for several years, and I could likely have been a guide myself.

Because the show was of his later works, Victorine (of my forthcoming novel of the same name; she was his favorite model and a painter herself), was only present in a photo from Manet’s album.

All of the works were worth seeing, though some stood out more than others. In the Conservatory was there. Barry and I last saw it with a dear friend in Berlin, where it lives. It was wonderful to see it again and discover the cigar anew.

Plum Brandy’s colors are hard to match, as is the sad sack expression on the model’s face. The model was actually an actor of the time, and her face would have been familiar. What does that say about acting of the time that he depicted her as so glum? Or was he merely painting what he observed?

Also to note: the banquette the woman is seated at (she’s supposed to be in a cafe or some such drinking establishment) is repeated in another of his paintings, clearly giving away that the painting was created in his studio. And, did you know they actually put a whole plum in the brandy? I haven’t researched this, but that’s what’s in her glass. Go figure. Ah, but those shades of rose and pink, the way the colors race around the canvas…

Manet was a master of still life. His brioche (complete with Zuzu, his wife’s cat, in the background, and a rose sticking out of the baked good) looks flaky and tasty. His white asparagus (besides looking phallic, naturally — the man has a juvenile’s sense of humor sometimes) are lifelike. There were two paintings of them there. One, alone, and a bunch of them as well.

His irregular, faintly bruised peaches also bear testament to his still life abilities. One likes them better for their imperfections.

Barry and I probably spent the most time in front of Boating. The colors in person are dazzling! Those gradations of blue! The shimmering water!

The figure placement is, predictably, pleasingly unusual. The passenger in the small boat, a woman in a dress that looks ungodly hot, complete with a belt, a hat, and veil, leans on her elbows. We see her profile. Her companion, the rower, is in basically a white undershirt, white pants, and a small straw hat. I’m angry that he gets to dress cooler than she does. He looks kinda irritated — because it’s hot and he’s rowing? How warm must she be!

In any case, the couple seems disconnected, for all that they’re in this tiny space. Her pose is relaxed but her body is not. They’re turned about as far away from one another as they can be.

He has the expression of someone who sees he’s about to have his picture taken and doesn’t like it. But since he’s posed for this painting, we have to attribute his features to conveying what Manet wants him to.

Is the rower too hot? Hearing bad news? Tired? The writer in me is still spinning scenarios.

Ah, but I promised you a burger. So because we didn’t have much time after we finished at the museum to have dinner, we shared an Impossible “burger” at Burger King. You know, the veggie burger that’s supposed to be indistinguishable from a real burger? Spoiler alert: it’s not. But nice try, BK.

If you missed the show, I’m sorry to hear it. It was special in so many ways. We talked about it from the museum back to the dunes and pretty much all the way home the next day. I still feel excitement fluttering in me just thinking of it.

What’s your favorite exhibit you’ve ever seen? Or is there one you wanted to make it to but didn’t? Let me know.

Manet’s Mania for Chokers

In Victorine, my historical novel coming out in the next few months, I write about the black choker Edouard Manet paints Victorine wearing. I imagine it as his bootlace, called into service on the spot.

Later, I give Victorine adoring fans who purchase and sport chokers with her as Olympia in lockets. It hardly offsets the cruelty she experiences in the streets after the “scandalous” nude painting was exhibited.

But Victorine is not the only one of Manet’s models to wear chokers. While I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand someone psychoanalyzing the painter and his predilection for encircling his model’s necks, I prefer to chalk it up to his respect and regard for fashion. Few paint fabric and fashion of the day the way he did.

When I stumbled upon this collage on Instagram, I knew I had to share it with you. Thanks, guzelonlu, for this lineup.

Four of the images pictured are Victorine. Can you tell which?

Bonus points if you can tell me the titles of those paintings. First one to comment gets a shoutout from me on Twitter.

#Manet #ArtHistory #Art #Impressionism

Manet and Modern Beauty

See the source image

Manet and Modern Beauty: The Artist’s Last Years, edited by Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom, is the catalogue for the eponymous exhibit of Édouard Manet’s later works. Filled with lush color representations of the paintings and ephemera on display, the expansive book also delights with authoritative, informative essays for those who might not be as familiar with Manet’s life and painting, or for those eager to learn current theories about the painter.

Later in life Manet gravitated toward unabashedly painting fashion, flowers, and fruit. Unlike his political and hierarchical-upsetting earlier works, he seemed pleased to focus on painting what simply appealed to his eyes during his later years when he was unwell and had limited mobility.

Two notable works in the collection are Jeanne (Spring) and Autumn (Méry Laurent), the only two of a planned set of four to represent the seasons that Manet completed.

The Conservatory, Plum Brandy, Waitress Serving Beer, and the CaféConcert are some of the other paintings depicting modern life and fashion that preoccupied Manet in the second half of his career. No one paints a good mug of beer like Manet. It’s as if he’s anticipating drinking it as he creates it. Equally, no one uses color quite in the same way, either. If you don’t know his paintings by the hands, you’ll know them by the way he places colors adjacent to one another. He evidences his joy in flowers by the care he takes in drawing them. His palette makes flowers look even more beautiful than they do in real life. It’s the work of someone who knows he’s dying and wants to gather to himself all of the beauty and color he will have to leave behind.

The editors of the book thank Juliet Wilson-Bureau, and with good reason: her extensive Manet scholarship is deeply felt in the exhibit. Essay authors and contributors to the collection include Carol Armstrong, Helen Burnham, Leah Lehmbeck, Devi Ormond, Douglas MacLennan, Nathan Daly, Catherine Schmidt Patterson, Bridget Alsdorf, Jamie Kwan, and Samuel Rodary. They write on topics as varied as Manet and the Salon to the materials he used, a fascinatingly deep dive. His “little nothings” are the subject of Armstrong’s essay, lending weight to something Manet himself pretended to dismiss.

The essays are engaging and necessary reading for the exhibit goer (preferably devoured before attending the show and again after), and perhaps even more necessary for those who cannot attend. For Manet aficionados, this book will both whet your appetite to see the paintings and to study him more in-depth than ever before. What the authors spark is a hunger for examining the paintings for oneself.

See the source image

Plum Brandy

This volume will satisfy the curiosity of the most avid fan. It delves into the provenance of every painting. It depicts his “scribbles” on envelopes and his attempts at painting tambourine skins. It reprints correspondence to and from Manet about his paintings. As a souvenir, an exhibit guidebook, and a textbook, Manet and Modern Beauty is one for the art lover’s library.

An important note for would-be viewers: a few of the paintings are not going to be shown at both the Art Institute in Chicago and the J. Paul Getty Museum in L.A., (the two museums which will host the show), so consult the book to know if your favorite will be at the museum where you will attend the show.

My novel, Victorine, featuring Edouard Manet’s favorite model, is on its way!

Victorine. I spent months researching about her, writing about her. Dreaming of her.

Meurent montage

She was Edouard Manet’s favorite model. She was her own favorite model, too, when she went to art school and became a painter! Needless to say, this novel is historical fiction, in case that’s your jam. (I adore it!)

The collage above shows paintings of her not only by Manet, but also by Alfred Stevens.

It seems I’ve shared the news everywhere but over here. Guess what? She’s on her way!Late this year or early next, I will my book about her in my  hands. I can’t wait!

She will be published by Fleur-de-Lis Press, and I couldn’t be happier!

Did I mention this is my first novel? Surely you can imagine how much happy dancing has been happening in our household! I even wrote an essay about it. More on that later!

In the weeks and months to come I’ll be sharing more of the Victorine story: what drew me to her, my discoveries along the way, and more about the paintings she sat for. More of her history.

If you want to know more, please follow me on the social medias: Twitter (@dremadrudge), Facebook (Drema Sizemore Drudge), and Instagram (Drema Drudge).

Hubby and I are launching a podcast, Writing All the Things, in June 2019, and I daresay Victorine news will spill over to it as well. You can learn more about it at: writingallthethings.com. Or join our Facebook Writing All the Things Podcast Group.

What would you like me to share with you about Victorine? I’m open.

Click to subscribe to our mailing list.

Shh…I am reading! Lisette’s List

After waiting ALL DAY, while I was on my walk my husband texted to let me know that UPS had been. So I am happy to report that I am now blissfully reading Susan Vreeland’s newest book, Lisette’s List.

LisettesList1_22cover

Shhh…you may not hear anything from me for quite some time.

Ah, writing about art. Is there anything like it? Reading about art.

Telling the Truth About Art By Lying About Paintings

I’m writing about paintings that don’t exist. Let me back up. I’m writing about an artist whose work has largely been lost. When a trusted mentor read my work, she suggested I write about the artist’s paintings. “Make them up,” she said. I was fascinated and daunted.

I’ve since gotten over my fear and have discovered that it’s freeing and fun to imagine what an artist’s work looks like. We only have one of her paintings to go by (as of yet, though I am hopeful that more will come to light), and some titles of her paintings that I fervently believe will one day be returned to the art world, so I do have something to guide me. And there’s my imagination, of course.

It starts with an image. I imagine her painting en plein air, and I look around and ask myself what would interest her. Or I think of where she is and what is happening. Is she in the city? Then she would be fascinated by the building going on. In the country she would adore the sheep, or so I tell myself. Then I allow the image to focus. I ask myself what the weather’s like. I try to “become” her: what is she seeing? Feeling? Smelling? What direction is the wind coming from?

I take it a step further by framing it. It’s not enough that there’s a girl with a lamb. I need to zoom in on one aspect, one angle.

The advantage to this, of course, is that I don’t need to ask the child to stay still. I can force this through my imagination. If the wind needs to blow in another direction, I can do that, too.

It’s powerful and great for imagination-building skills. I dare say it is probably helping my painting skills, though I haven’t painted for some time.

I have seen people become totally paralyzed when asked to use the imagination. It’s only by exercising it that it gets stronger, so if you need to apply this technique, just give it a try with confidence.

Let’s try an exercise, shall we?
Close your eyes. See a simple shape — a high-rise building, a four-leaf clover, or even the moon. Now build a painting. What color is the building? What do you see through the windows? Any signs on it?

That clover, where is it? What is of interest around it? Is a chicken about to eat it?

The moon…is it a full moon or a half? How bright is it?

To properly “build” a painting in your mind, you need to tell a story about it, so let’s keep going.

Go back to the building. What do you want to say about the building, or what story do you want to tell? Are you making a statement about how it looks just like the ten around it, or that it is different? Is it a monument to civilization, or is it competing with the tiny tree below?

The clover…are you highlighting its shape and the luck it supposedly gives, or that the chicken (if your picture has one) is about to eat luck, making itself lucky, or that the chicken doesn’t know that she is eating something “lucky”?

That moon…is it a persistent light despite a smoggy atmosphere, or is it clear and beautiful with the magic that only night can bring, the kind that makes you fall in love with yourself and everything that breathes just by seeing it?

Once you know what your CHARACTER would say about it, that makes things easier. For it’s not your painting. It’s your character’s.

My character equally loves progress and the country, so very likely her paintings would reflect the conflict between these worlds. How could I show this? I could have her painting a pastoral scene with the train running in the background. Or the smoke of a factory could waft above a lake on which a couple is rowing a boat.

Even if you’re not writing about art, this will serve you well when writing description and deciding what’s important to write about. Pretend you have a camera, and use it. That’s all.

Happy Lying!

Telling vs. Showing: A Privilege of the First Person POV

Even though one is not supposed to wear the editor’s hat while writing a first draft, I found myself doing so yesterday, forcing myself to stop and go back and show versus tell. I did this in a couple of places before questioning myself.  Was the result of my pruning what I had really envisioned?

I also found myself freehanding long passages of exposition, telling’s nearly verboten cousin. Some of it will, of course, need to be weeded. I’m fine with that. But one of the reasons I enjoy writing from the first person point of view is interiority and all aspects of anything even approaching that.

What’s that? You don’t think telling and exposition are quite the same thing as interiority? Again, not exactly, but they certainly share traits. They involve explanation, sometimes at length. They hold up a mirror rather than a camera.

A few years ago my husband and I visited Rome. I had been so looking forward to seeing the famed Sistine Chapel. In my head it was going to be this small, remote chapel with a starry-skied, hazy ceiling filled with pews and walled with stucco. We would quietly file in, spend some time in the silent near darkness, contemplating the art.

Had I but looked once at it online I would have known this was not at all what we would encounter. The chapel is, of course, part of the Vatican. It is a loud, crowded room where you are shushed every two minutes and given the stink eye if you raise your camera. You are not at all encouraged to linger or meditate upon the painted ceiling.

My point is that somehow I got the impression of what I thought the chapel would be like from something I read, and that impression stayed with me until I was disappointed by reality. Telling has a charm that showing sometimes does not.

Telling is also where the “eye of the beholder” comes in. The picture the beholder can give us often trumps the actual place or experience, and sometimes it is more valuable to us. When I was a child, I used to pester my father to tell me what my grandfather, who was deceased, had been like. I was only three when he passed. My father’s description of him has left a longing and a vision of the man that I doubt would have been there had I known him, not because he wasn’t a lovely man, because by all accounts he was, but because no mere mortal can live up to the “true” stories that are doubtless embellished and inflated. I write because he wrote; I have always tried to play guitar because he did. This was all based on the stories my father told me about him, and on the photos of him playing guitar and the picture of me sitting on his lap. He looked utterly blissful to be holding me. (I should insert that photo here, but it may be at my parents’ home. TK, let us say, in editor speak.)

I’m a thought junkie. One of my favorite books is Of Human Bondage. I remember saying when I read it that I wished the man would stop with the story, already, and just talk to me! Because when he used (albeit not in first person, true) telling, he lit circuits in my brain. Give me beautiful things to think about and I’m yours! While showing lends us beautiful images, telling gives us ideas to consider.

So if you want my storytelling skills, you’re just going to have to be patient at times when I tell you, rather than show you. If I do it right, maybe you’ll even want to hear more and see less.  Or not.  But if I’m writing in the first person POV, rest assured that I’m going to take that privilege. Let’s hope it pays off.