I’ve written elsewhere at Cafe Pinfold about the ill-fated circumstances surrounding the composition of Painters in Winter (the introductory essay at BOOKS, which predates the discovery of this long-lost manuscript), but now that I’ve posted the entire 60,000 words, I thought it wise to add these supplementary remarks, and to include a woefully abbreviated bibliography.
To recap what I wrote many months ago: I was contacted, sometime in 1987, I believe, by an art-book editor who’d read my novel Funny Papers and who was in the early stage of shepherding to publication a coffee-table book to feature full-color reproductions of paintings by the “rebel artists” who’d exhibited together in an influential gallery show called “The Eight” that opened in New York City early in February 1908 and ran for just two weeks. The editor (whose name I can no longer recall, and whose correspondence with me, if any, has yet to turn up) wanted to try something different with the accompanying text; instead of asking an art historian to write it, he wanted a novelist–me–who could, he hoped, bring to life the artists in their time with a different narrative tone and focus.
I was nervous and unconfident about the job, but it was a challenge, always a good thing, and besides, I was already familiar with the artists I’d be writing about, since I’d researched them all and fictionalized most of them in Funny Papers. That novel, the first in my Derby Dugan Trilogy, was about newspaper cartoonists in the late 1890s, early 1900s, a time when their professional world (New York City, Philadelphia) and lives overlapped with the world and lives of magazine and newspaper illustrators, many of whom went on to become important American painters. (In Funny Papers, my hero George Wreckage lives in a house on Ninth Street near Fifth Avenue in Manhattan that William Glackens actually lived in for many years.)
So I wasn’t starting this project from scratch. But since Funny Paper‘s narrative concluded a few years before the real-life events of Painters in Winter, and since New York City seemed to change its aspect and energy every few months in that era (maybe in all of its eras), I had to educate myself about the New York of 1908, and to do that I did what I’d done a few years earlier for my novel: I read everything I could get my hands on–memoirs, biographies, histories, refereed journals, popular magazines, and books about architecture, turn-of-the-twentieth-century furnishings, food, transportation, slang, crime, sports, politics, etc.–at the Jersey City and New York City public libraries, and spent uncountable hours reading daily newspapers and Sunday rotogravures from that lively period at the New York City Public Library Newspaper Annex. Virtually all of the little interchapters in Painters that deal with everyday events involving the famous and the obscure during the months of January and February 1908 I got from those newspapers–and there were, I can vouch, one hell of a lot of daily papers published in New York City back in the day!
How I worked, I got a huge desk-blotter calendar from 1988, tore off the January page, crossed out the 1988 days-of-the-week (Friday was the first) and wrote in the 1908 days-of-the-week (Wednesday was the first), then, referring to my notes, I filled the day-squares with the daily activities of each of the artists comprising the Eight; also in those same squares, I jotted down (in very tiny writing) other events going on in New York City that particular day; some things made it into the manuscript—continuing testimony at the Harry K. Thaw trial, an arrest in an alienation-of-affections lawsuit, tumult at the National Arts Club, a debutantes’ ball, the day the Sullivan Law went into effect; and other things did not—Little Egypt found dead, Gustave Mahler’s “Tristan and Isolde” debuts at the Metropolitan Opera, etc.
When I had the entire month (and a few days of February) spread out in front of me, I began to write, interweaving the daily activities of the artists with other mundane and startling events in the city where (except for Maurice Prendergast) they lived and worked. (Yes, I know, it would’ve been a lot easier if there’d been computer “spreadsheets” available to me in those days, but there weren’t.)
When I rediscovered the manuscripts several months ago, I was surprised that I’d written it in the on-going present tense, third-person-omniscient present tense; till then, I’d thought the first book I’d written this way was It’s Superman! Obviously not. I was also surprised, and pleased, that the book’s structure and voice seemed so, well, contemporary. Much non-fiction narrative these days reads an awful lot like how Painters in Winter reads. In 1988, though, or ’89, whenever I turned in the manuscript, what I’d done, and how I’d done it, seemed–to my editor and to the art-historian culling the images–completely over-the-top and presumptuous.
Because I’ve had a life-long, pauperizing habit of buying many of the books that I want and need for my work, rather than just borrowing them (like any sane person) from libraries, I’m able to create, below, a partial bibliography for the manuscript. (I’ve always kept these particular books shelved in my home bookcases.) But for certain there were at least three or four times as many books that I used as sources, and unless my notebooks from the Painters project eventually turn up, there’s no way at this late date–nearly 30 years after the fact–to remember which those were.*
Because of the many mark-ups and cross-outs done with pink (!) highlighter, I suspect that the manuscript I’ve posted here is not the final and corrected one I submitted to my editor, so, naturally, I’m a little nervous that some of the prose may be direct swipes from others’ books and newspaper articles, intended to be place-holders and then never changed; but, again, I have no way of knowing. However, I was in my late 30s when I wrote Painters in Winter, and had been a professional writer for quite some time by then, so I knew the rules and always tried to be scrupulous; if, by chance, though, bits of the narrative turn out to be unintended plagiarism, I apologize profoundly in advance–and beg the reader’s, and the original authors’, mercy and pardon.
Anyhow. The complete manuscript–to my mind, the complete book–is posted now and available to anyone who cares to read it, so it’s time to bid adieu to New York City in 1908 and to those fascinating painters, their families and friends; it was an uncanny pleasure to visit with them all again.
*Our inexhaustible “storage unit” earlier this week (April 14, 2014) revealed yet another carton of notebooks and Xeroxed articles, many pertaining to Painters in Winter. After I’ve had the chance to go through it, and if any of the contents reveal additional source materials, I’ll add those to the bibliography.
Allen, Frederick Lewis. The Big Changes: America Transforms Itself 1900-1950, Harper & Brothers New York 1952
Andrit, Ralph K. (editor). The American Heritage History of the Confident Years 1865-1916, Bonanza Books/Crown Publishing New York 1987
Brooks, Van Wyck. The Confident Years: 1885-1915, E.P. Dutton, New York 1952
________________. John Sloan: A Painter’s Life, E. P. Dutton, New York 1955
Churchill, Allen. Park Row, Rinehart & Company, Toronto 1958
DeShazo, Edith. Everett Shinn 1876-1953: A Figure in His Time, Clarkson N. Potter, New York 1974
Forma, Warren. They Were Ragtime, Grosset & Dunlap, New York 1976
Glackens, Ira. William Glackens and the Ashcan Group, Crown Publishers, New York 1957
Goodrich, Lloyd. John Sloan, Whitney Museum of Art/The Macmillan Company 1952
Greenfield, Howard. The Devil and Dr. Barnes, Viking, New York 1987
Henri, Robert. The Art Spirit, New York 1923
Homer, William Innes. Robert Henri and His Circle, Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY 1969
Klein, Carole. Gramercy Park: An American Bloomsbury, Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1987
Lisle, Laurie. Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, Seaview Books, New York 1980
Marzio, Peter C. Rube Goldberg: His Life and Works, Harper & Row, New York 1973
Moony, Michael M. Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White, William Morrow, New York 1976
Morris, Lloyd. Incredible New York: High Life and Low Life of the Last Hundred Years, Random House, New York 1951
Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines, Volume IV, 1885-1905, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1957
Myers, Jerome. Artist in Manhattan, American Artist’s Group, New York 1940
Perlman, Bennard B. The Immortal Eight, Exposition Press New York 1962
Sloan, John. Gist of Art, American Artist’s Group, New York, 1939
Smith, Jane S. Elsie de Wolfe: A Life in the High Style, Atheneum, New York 1982
Stern, Robert A.M. Gregory Gilmartin, and John Messengale, New York 1900: Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism 1890-1915, Rizzoli New York 1984