Features / Five in Bloom

FIVE IN BLOOM: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

by Juhi Singhal Karan and Rachel Leal

Art imitates life but sometimes art can evoke to life other pieces of art. Following are five bloomers whose inner litterateur came to life as they visited museums and looked upon paintings and sculptures.

Susan Vreeland

Glass alabastron, probably Phoenician,

Glass alabastron, probably Phoenician, the Cesnola Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The urge to write came upon Susan Vreeland at the age of 40. As a person to whom “even secular places such as museums and ruins were imbued with the sacred,” it’s not surprising that her first novel, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, used a lost Vermeer painting as the lens through which to focus on such topics as “the immortality of a great artwork and the ways in which art can be used for various ends,” in the words of Katy Emck from The New York Times. Explaining the moment she knew she “wanted to tell stories about things in museums,” Vreeland says, “In the L.A. County Museum of Art, I found a small glass medicine pitcher. . . . The sign next to it said, ‘Phoenicia, 2nd century.’ And I thought . . . Who was the craftsman who blew this? . . . What did his kids want from him that day? Did he feel the sun baking the back of his neck as he blew the glass?”

Harriett Scott Chessman

Mary Cassatt, Lydia Reading the Morning Paper, Joslyn Art Museum

Lydia Reading the Morning Paper, Mary Cassatt, Joslyn Art Museum

Author Harriett Scott Chessman taught modern literature and writing at Yale University for 11 years, as well as at other prestigious programs, before publishing her first novel at 48. “One of the best facts of my life is my tumble off the tenure ‘ladder’ at Yale.  I soon discovered how freeing this was; for the first time in my life, I could start to listen—really listen—to what I wished to write.” Her 2001 second novel, Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, “weaves a compelling story around five paintings Mary Cassatt created of her older sister Lydia, as Lydia became increasingly ill with Bright’s Disease.” Regarding where she gets the ideas for her novels, Chessman says, “In the case of my novel, Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, Mary Cassatt’s paintings came first; I loved her art, and sensed a story, especially in the oil paintings she’d created using her sister Lydia as the model.”
 This novel is in keeping with Chessman’s subjects, which, according to her publisher, include “the force of love and courage in the face of grief” and “the creation and healing power of art, especially of poetry and the visual arts.”

Lawrence Scott

The Santa Cruz Valley, Jean Michel Cazabon, ©Copyright Aquarela Galleries 1986

The Santa Cruz Valley, Jean Michel Cazabon, © Aquarela Galleries 1986

Author Lawrence Scott’s Light Falling on Bamboo traces the life of artist Jean Michel Cazabon, one of Trinidad’s most celebrated 19th-century painters. Scott, himself a Trinidadian, told Camden New Journal that “The idea for the book had been in my mind for a while. . . . The sense of history in this man and what he’s done was a big thing for me. . . . As a mixed race free-coloured person he is caught between white Creoles, white English, black people, Indians.” Very little is known about the artist himself. The dearth of material meant that Scott “had to imagine what life was for Cabazon.” The book garnered several positive reviews, with The Guardian calling Light Falling on Bamboo a novel “written in a magnificent prose style that matches the art it describes.”

Arabella Edge

The Raft of the Medusa, Jean Louis Théodore Géricault

The Raft of the Medusa, Jean Louis Théodore Géricault

London born, Australian based novelist Arabella Edge worked as a journalist for several newspapers before publishing her first novel at age 42. In The God of Spring, her second novel, Edge “returns to nautical disasters . . . but more than this, she gives careful insight into the process of creating a work of art.” The novel, a fictional account of the creative life of 19th-century painter and pioneer of the Romantic Movement Théodore Géricault, “is a telling of the imagined events leading to the painting of the famous ‘Raft of the Medusa,’ which hangs in the Louvre.” The troubled Géricault based the painting on the real life tragedy of the shipwrecked Medusa. With The God of Spring, “Edge makes the tale of his painting as compelling as the story which inspired it.”

Cathy Marie Buchanan

Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Philadelphia Museum of Art

As someone whose criteria for course selection was for it to not have a writing component, Cathy Marie Buchanan has come a long way. Her latest book, The Painted Girls, was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and was lauded as being a “work of fiction rich with naturalistic details of late-19th-century Paris” by The Washington Post. Talking about the inspiration for the novel, Buchanan says, “The book tells the story of the real-life model for Edgar Degas’s famous sculpture “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.” I got the idea when I happened upon a television documentary that focused on the artwork. I would learn about the seedy roots of the Paris Opéra Ballet and the often extreme poverty of the young dancers, including the model for the sculpture. Like most of modern-day society, I assumed ballet had always been a largely high-minded pursuit of privileged girls. I was fascinated to discover otherwise.”

Bloom Post End

Homepage photo credit: molossus, who says Life Imitates Doodles via photopin cc

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