Painter Kenyon Cox

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Cox, adamantly loyal to the preservation of the “older methods”, set himself in opposition to modern styles. In his 1917 book Concerning Painting: Considerations Theoretical and Historical, Cox restated his earlier feelings about the “Two Ways of Painting” saying:

For at least fourteen thousand years, then, from the time of the cavemen to our own day, painting has been an imitative art, and it seems likely that it will continue to be so. That it should, within a few years, entirely reverse its current, and should flow in the opposite direction for thousands of years to come seems highly improbable, not to say incredible. Yet we are gravely told that it is about to do this; that, at the hands of its representative element, reached its final and definite form, and that no further changes are possible. Henceforth, as long as men live in the world they are to be satisfied with a non-representative art — an art fundamentally different from that which they have known and practiced and enjoyed.[8]

Kenyon Cox, Portrait of Louise Howland King Cox, 1892. Kenyon Cox wrote his mother, "Long before I felt the thrill of love, I knew that she would make the best wife in the world for me if I should love her . . . When love came to add to the friendship and confidence, I felt safe and so we mean to marry as soon as we can." Wikipedia
Kenyon Cox, Portrait of Louise Howland King Cox, 1892. Kenyon Cox wrote his mother, “Long before I felt the thrill of love, I knew that she would make the best wife in the world for me if I should love her . . . When love came to add to the friendship and confidence, I felt safe and so we mean to marry as soon as we can.” Wikipedia

Pretty Is As Pretty Does; Kate Chase

Beauty can't buy love. Courtesy Library of Congress
Beauty can’t buy love.
Courtesy Library of Congress

Kate Chase’s mother died when she was five. Her father Salmon P. Chase had the unlucky habit of marrying women who up and died. Kate was named after Salmon’s first wife when Kate was born to his second wife. After the death of Kate’s mother (the second wife) he married yet again. A bunch of Salmon’s kids died young so he was happy when another girl was born. Kate was not. Jealousy and unresolved grief made Kate a difficult child and so off she was sent to a rigorous New York City boarding school. (Difficult girls must be sent away).

Eventually the hated stepmother died too and Kate came back to her father an intelligent and stylish young lady with shared political ambitions for her father. Is it surprising that Mary Todd Lincoln hated her? Kate threw fantastic parties. She was young and pretty.

She was about eighteen years old, tall and slender and exceedingly well formed. . . . Her little nose, somewhat audaciously tipped up, could perhaps not have passed muster with a severe critic, but it fitted pleasingly into her face with its large, languid, but at the same time vivacious hazel eyes, shaded by long dark lashes and arched over by proud eyebrows. The fine forehead was framed in waving, gold-brown hair. She had something imperial in the pose of the head, and all her movements possessed an exquisite natural charm. No wonder that she came to be admired as a great beauty and broke many hearts. After the usual commonplaces, the conversation at the breakfast table, in which Miss Kate took a lively and remarkably intelligent part, soon turned itself upon politics.” Carl Schurz Wikipedia

Yet her wit and beauty could not save her from herself. Was it the tragedy of not having a mother and being hated by the other women in her life–including that horrible Mary Todd Lincoln that led her to marrying a loser? Her father was busy. Did he not notice the hearts she broke including that of a married man? This was before William Sprague.

William Sprague, dissipated ne'er-do-well
William Sprague, dissipated ne’er-do-well

Young William Sprague a newly elected senator from Rhode Island caught Kate’s eye in his dashing uniform. He’d made a name for himself at Bull Run and his family had heaps of money. The press loved their tumultuous relationship and then their wedding (Mary Todd Lincoln refused to attend).

I imagine that Kate fancied herself a good judge of character. She thought she knew best–for who else was there to mind her? Perhaps she cried herself to sleep at boarding school lonely and afraid of the city noise outside her window. Pretty girls with intelligence usually have more enemies than friends amongst their peers and the matronly and bitter old women who resent reminders of their wrinkles and lost dreams.

I imagine Washington society women vying for invites to her galas while secretly loving every new whisper about William Sprague’s drinking and open affairs. Ha! See how the mighty have fallen and wasn’t that tiara Kate wore ridiculous? Behind Kate’s enormous appetite for expensive shoes and furniture lurked the worst sort of self-loathing. With all my wit and beauty I’ve gotten no where, she may have thought on sad and rainy days in her mansions.

Her husband arrived home early to find her lover in their living space. It was rumored that Kate’s last two daughters where not William’s. They divorced. The daughters stayed with Kate, but the son went with daddy. When Kate’s son was 25 he killed himself. Was that the final straw? Kate lived out her days as a recluse (except for when her poverty forced her to sell eggs door to door).

What if women didn’t see women as rivals? What if we looked at the co-worker through the lens of mother, of fellow lonesome traveler, of a sympathetic daughter? What if Kate had a mother?

Thanks to Kate Loveton for introducing me to Miss Chase.

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/civilwar/fl/Kate-Chase.htm

Husband asks, “How was your day?”

In my imagination it's summer in William Merritt Chase's Prospect Park
In my imagination it’s summer in William Merritt Chase’s Prospect Park

Before you get all jealous because you didn’t get to spend your day living in a dead painter’s New York, let me explain that this wonderful vacation will probably come to an end soon. After raising five kids in a blended family situation, my husband and I are considering adoption. Yeah, we miss the emotional chaos.

But for now as I come close to finishing the rough draft of the fifth novel in The Tenafly Road series, I get to linger in Prospect Park.

Chase explored everyday life in urban landscapes.
Chase explored everyday life in urban landscapes.

After my husband, who is an itinerant engineer for his company as he learns the tools, happily talked about one of the nice guys he works with in Albany, he asked, “And how was your day?”

I was really happy that he’d had a good day because I didn’t want him to be too jealous of my day inside the paintings. “I had a GREAT day!” I burst out.

“So what happened to Buck today?” he asked. (Buck is my lead character)

I leaned in. “Okay, so, you know how I was wondering how Buck would be in Brooklyn at the same time as his sister Thankful when something bad would happen?” My husband doesn’t want details since he’s gotten really into the series and doesn’t want any spoilers)

“Yeah.”

“Well, I was thinking about Fred coming back to town.”

“Oh, no,” my husband said with a smile. “You really do love chaos.”

“I love Fred! Well, I hate him, but I LOVE writing about him. And he comes to town to buy art and Buck knows a dealer in Brooklyn. So they have lunch at Delmonico’s. Fred is disgusting and rude. I had so much fun with them at the restaurant. Buck was disgusted.  And then they went to Prospect Park–in Brooklyn.”

“Okay.”

“You know how I was gonna make Buck buy Tiffany stained glass and the factory was in Brooklyn?” 

“No,” my husband replied. “I don’t think you told me that.”

“Yes, well, I spent the day in William Merritt Chase’s paintings and it changed everything. I mean having Fred return is such a blessing. The BEST is that on the trip he tells Buck that’s he’s bought the plot of land in Englewood across the street from Buck’s!”

My husband laughs. “They’re going to have a building war, aren’t they?”

“Maybe.”

So there you go. My husband builds things in the real world that I hardly understand and I build worlds in paintings.

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She’s a Little Young, Isn’t She? 19th Century Age of Consent

"Know All Men by These Presents"  Coles Phillips
“Know All Men by These Presents” Coles Phillips

What do you do when two characters have a tiny talk in the second book of your series at a disastrous Christmas dinner and you suddenly realize that at some future date they will be married and one of them is a bit young? How young? Well, here’s what happened: Once I realized the girl was infatuated with the boy I  started counting back time and figuring and re-figuring and I really couldn’t get around the fact that she would be 13 going on 14 when the boy (about twenty one) realized he loved her in return. Mind you, once the idea arrived there was no going back–they HAD to be together!

"Portrait of a Girl (Sophie Gray)"  Sir John Everett Millais
“Portrait of a Girl (Sophie Gray)” Sir John Everett Millais

But would this make the male character a weirdo or again a creature of his time? I went with choice two, hesitantly at first but as the books unfold their relationship makes perfect sense. As an aside I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it is to know so early in a series that two people are destined for each other–you can make so many little moments fill up with great meaning especially since the boy is so oblivious. Maybe that’s a cliche but so is love and I don’t care.

"Girl in a Green Dress" by William Etty
“Girl in a Green Dress” by William Etty

My mother met my father when she was 13 and would have married him then and there if my father wasn’t such a stickler about what others would say. My mother read a book to us as a child Thelma and in it two guys fall in love with the same woman. We all wanted the underdog guy to get her, but the perfect guy did. I guess the author felt bad and made Thelma’s daughter end up with the underdog (so he had to wait years before she grew up–now that’s a little weird). Did you know that Almanzo Wilder  already had his eyes on Laura when she was quite young?  Of course in fiction having a bunch of catty relatives whispering about an unseemly marriage is great!

Age of consent laws in Texas 1898

Interesting paper on long term marriage patterns in US

Legal Consent  Campaign

Books I’ve Known and Loved (2)

She looks happy, right?
She looks happy, right?

Just because you’re nice doesn’t mean you’re going to be popular. This is what General Ben Grierson must have said to console himself. A hero of the Civil War, Grierson commanded the Buffalo Soldiers out West against Victorio and his Apache warriors after the war, but do you think that would have gotten him some respect and a few honors? No.

His wife Alice was pretty pissed about it and said so in letters. She said a lot in letters that might make a Victorian pretend to blush. At one point she left poor Ben to spend time in Chicago admitting after he begged her to come back to him that she knew they would have sex again (which she greatly enjoyed), and didn’t want to have any more children (I think they had 7 at that point). She felt contraception was a sin against God, loved her husband, but was afraid with her depressive tendencies that she’d end like her mother did–a used up mental case.

General Ben was such a decent guy and openly affectionate, devoted and supportive when Alice spoke about women’s rights and the stuff she’d read in The Revolution (I must admit, though I’d hate to be judged by my private letters and emails, that I found Alice’s constant complaining a bit annoying–I don’t think Ben deserved that. He just wanted her by his side. Sigh).

Ben was no  slouch in the warrior department, but . . . and this is my opinion–one shared by General Sherman at the time–he was a bit too lenient with the Indians who used his kindness to screw him over (we don’t like to admit that being a doormat you get walked on but it’s true). He had kind words for his black soldiers though most people thought black recruits were less capable of the mental tasks of military life at the time, but again he may have in his easy-going way not pushed them quite hard enough–so says one of my characters in The House on Tenafly Road.

Anyway there’s much to think about–sex, war, mental health, relationships, Indians, military politics in these two companion volumes. You get the historian’s version and then the wife’s version and that’s fun.

Real life people--flaws and all.
Real life people–flaws and all.

Is It Possible To Write About Happily Married Couples?

Happy?
Happy?

The problem is happy people are alienating. They’re annoyingly complimentary to their spouses. They remember birthdays and endlessly talk about fond memories from high school where they met and instantly fell in love. They find charm in their spouses maddeningly gross habits. Their children settle nearby and come over for dinner on Sundays.

The perfect past for the masses. 1876
The perfect past for the masses. 1876

But happy is a stupid word. Get happy. Okay . . . but here’s what I’ve found. They may be a struggle to write about at first because we assume happiness is some sort of lucky, kinda boring gift that some people get–damn them! But it’s a lie. Here’s the truth–there’s a lot of interesting things going on under the surface with happy couples. Things are more subtle. The crappy mood that kills a night and maybe a relationship in a novel is apologized for in a real marriage. How do we write about that complex mix of pride and humiliation that comes with knowing you’re wrong, admitting it and then making up for it? It seems boring on the surface when a good brawl or morphine spree will do the trick. And I LOVE a good morphine spree as much as the rest of you.

Have you noticed that people hate the word work? Strange. Work suggests to me that you actually care how something will turn out. Some people wait to be inspired–what a crazy way to waste life. If you’re a good husband or wife when you feel like it, have fun at the divorce court! John and Katherine Weldon probably still wouldn’t have gotten a divorce in The House on Tenafly Road even if it was acceptable because they’re workers. Screwed up workers, but still. Thank God, happiness comes and goes. It’s a shame that most movies and books stop at the kiss or the wedding. Crushes are like cheap candy, but marriage is an acquired taste–worth the effort in the end. For more on marriage visit :http://ladyinthehouse.net/2014/02/11/somehow-in-love/

This week is John and Katherine’s week–a week about screwed up love. If doing it right was easy we’d have short novels and no war. In honor of imperfect relationships I’m having a $.99 Kindle eBook sale on The House on Tenafly Road this upcoming weekend Feb 15-16 (the day after Valentine’s Day makes you begin to wish you had a morphine-addicted spouse–or maybe  realize, damn, you have it good).

So gather up your pennies (c’mon it won’t break the bank) and buy the book. Tell your friends, too–you know, the ones who like really falling in love with screwed up characters who redeem themselves. Or the ones who like page-turners with military heroes. Or the ones who like big books with maps. Love, death, maps and redemption–who could ask for anything more?

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Almost Happy

And here we have it, friends, the beginning of the end of dour photographic portraiture. It’s only one more sly remark from the son on the lower left that will get her sister to finally break. Mother and father are doing their best to take things seriously, but it’s just not in their natures to […]

Manhood In A Certain Time And Place

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First off, I’m giving everyone permission to objectify this man–he’s most likely dead so I don’t think he’d mind. Let’s assume that he’s looking so proud because the baby is his own. A book came out a few years ago describing a study of the present day working class white male which found that the traditional role of man as provider had suddenly disappeared and that any young man still sort of into the idea of raising a family, getting up early for work and being proud of his manhood for doing it was now considered a chump. Better to stay unmarried, father a few kids that the government could take care of and party with the boys. The working class girls had no intention of marrying these guys and fair play to them–why marry a child in a man’s body?

I don’t have a lot of wisdom on this subject, just a few ideas floating around my head about boys and men. My son used to watch me sew on an interesting looking machine. He mentioned he’d want a machine like that so as a joke my father bought him a pink Barbie one for Christmas. He opened the gift, but as soon as he saw how feminine it was he shoved it aside and never talked about sewing again. I sort of bought gender neutral toys for him only because blocks and Lincoln Logs were just that way though I was fine with him being boyish. My daughter was born loving pink and purple.

Boys are just different. Not bad. Different. The good men that I know have this drive inside of them that sometimes they have to hide. It’s a drive to be admired as a hero. Since forever people have enjoyed this about them, but it’s gone out of fashion for a while–as if by forcing men to remain irresponsible children will somehow give women more space to grow into whatever it is we’re aiming for.

I, for one want a place in the world for admiring heroic men–not super men in movies who are still kind of pathetic these days, barely able to hold their own against kick-boxing women. There is way too much ambivalence about manhood! Does this automatically mean I want Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire? No. I just believe that men who claim their roles as strong fathers and brothers, workers and friends are to be celebrated. I laughed at Everybody Loves Raymond, but do all men have to be portrayed as stupid fools?  What a miserable existence for women if when we marry we have to put up with an idiot and turn into a carping old hag.

Take a look at the picture again. This guy is proud of his manhood–as he should be.