Help A Bitch Out

HaBO: She’s a Secret Artist

Rachel writes:

This is another first romance novel question. I lost it in a romance novel
pact to a high school friend who just didn’t appreciate it as much as I
did. I read it in high school so I know it was published before 1996, but I
don’t remember the cover or have a clue about the author.

It was a historical, but I can’t remember what period. All the travel
involved horses and ships, and there seemed to be a lot of travel. The
heroine was the daughter of a master painter who moves from Italy to a
patron’s estate. The “hero” was the patron. Secretly, she is a master
painter as well, and she has been producing the art as her father is aging
and not capable of doing it anymore. The patron sees her work, but refuses
to believe that a woman can create great art. After the death of her father,
she gets sent away and supports herself by painting while living on an
island. The “hero” finds her because he recognizes the style, but assumes
it is done by the husband she creates in order to sell her work. After he
discovers there is no husband, they live happily ever after.

Truthfully, I can’t remember much about the hero except that he was a
jerk. He seduces her, kicks her out when her father dies, and doesn’t
believe she is an artist when she tells him her deep dark secret. She on the
other hand is pretty awesome, despite loving him. I would love to read this
book again.

First question: why is it women artists keep their light under six blankets, a cast iron pot, and a basket, but then reveal themselves at the end and it’s usually ok? Second, what’s a romance novel pact? And third: do you remember this book?

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  1. 1
    Cathy M says:

    Victoria Holt – Demon Lover?

  2. 2
    Kilian Metcalf says:

    Don’t remember this book, but it reminds me of the first Judith Merkle Riley I read – The Serpent Garden.  Woman is the daughter of a Dutch miniature painter married to a hack painter in the time of Henry VIII.  When he dies, she continues to paint and sells the work as his.  Wolsey finds her and sends her to the French court to paint miniatures and spy for the Tudor court.  Wonderful wry attitude on the part of the heroine, and amusing touches of paranormal.  I checked it out, and indeed, there was a woman miniature painter at the court of Henry VIII. I guess there were a lot of women painting, weaving, creating, etc., under the disguise of it being their husband’s work. They do it because they have to.  In some places it is illegal for someone who is not a member of a guild to produce the work, and women were not allowed to belong to the guild – the original Old Boys’ Network.

  3. 3
    Kilian Metcalf says:

    Don’t remember this book, but it reminds me of the first Judith Merkle Riley I read – The Serpent Garden.  Woman is the daughter of a Dutch miniature painter married to a hack painter in the time of Henry VIII.  When he dies, she continues to paint and sells the work as his.  Wolsey finds her and sends her to the French court to paint miniatures and spy for the Tudor court.  Wonderful wry attitude on the part of the heroine, and amusing touches of paranormal.  I checked it out, and indeed, there was a woman miniature painter at the court of Henry VIII. I guess there were a lot of women painting, weaving, creating, etc., under the disguise of it being their husband’s work. They do it because they have to.  In some places it is illegal for someone who is not a member of a guild to produce the work, and women were not allowed to belong to the guild – the original Old Boys’ Network.

  4. 4
    veronica says:

    i don’t remember it, but a great funny contemporary read that has a somewhat similar plot line is “faking it’ by jennifer crusie. i highly recommend it.

  5. 5
    beggar1015 says:

    I agree that it does sound a bit like Victoria Holt’s Demon Lover, which pissed me off to no end.  Rachel, do you remember if the heroine has a baby? Did the “hero” (blech) drug her in order to seduce her?

    If this wasn’t in your book, then DO NOT read Demon Lover. I cannot convey how much I hated this book, and I usually like Holt. I like to fantasize that someone else wrote this atrocity and somehow got it published under Holt’s name and it really had nothing to do with her. But enough of me ranting…

  6. 6
    Melissandre says:

    This definitely sounds like Demon Lover, but I don’t think there was an island.  Aside from the ick factor, the strongest detail I remember is hero’s ancestors being a Viking raider.  He’s named Rollo after him. (Or the candy. Either way.)  Does that ring a bell?

  7. 7
    Tina C. says:

    This book seems vaguely familiar to me.  I think I might have read it but I’m really horrible at remembering the names of something I don’t actually own.  I only added comment because I’m absolutely sure that I haven’t read Demon Lover, so that might not be right.

  8. 8
    P. N. Elrod says:

    Just a random comment from a former art history major—I ALSO wondered why there were apparently no women artists.

    In the very early days, yes, there were guilds with a “no girls allowed” policy, but I’d hoped that there had been some women who at least “dabbled.” Back then women didn’t even have their name on a headstone when they were buried. It was their nearest male relative’s name.

    But the 1800’s gave some upper and middle-class women a chance to explore the arts. Maybe women artists emerged and flourished beyond needlework and watercolors of flowers and kids.

    Nothing.  It was the Old Boys Net holding fast and hard. If a woman did manage to get a painting into a juried show, the patronizing tone of the male critics would make your blood boil. “She didn’t screw it up too badly, for a female” was the best she could expect.

    Ditto for women writers, who had to take male names to sell anything. We are still doing this. Women like Andre Norton disguised their gender to make sales in male-dominated genres. I’m certainly an example of this. When I started out I stuck to initials partly to fit on a cover and partly so I would not scare off male readers from my noir-style mysteries. I know of one male S.F fan who tossed out all the books of his most favorite writer the moment he found out C.J. Cherryh’s first name is Caroline. 

    Ditto for women composers. I was shocked to discover the amazing choral compositions of Hildigard of Bingem who was the Leonardo of her time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildegard_of_Bingen

    She must have been one heck of a gal. She started out as a sickly child given as a tithe to the church by her parents. I listen to her music when I write. Don’t understand the words, but the notes and voices soar and inspire.

    I can’t help but wonder about all the thousands of other geniuses of the arts whose works are lost to us just because their sexual organs were on the inside.

    Appreciate what we have today, good ladies and gents. It’s been too long a time coming.

  9. 9

    I was amazed to discover that Elizabeth I had a female miniaturist. I have no idea about the book, but it sounds interesting.

  10. 10
    Stephanie says:

    I know of one male S.F fan who tossed out all the books of his most favorite writer the moment he found out C.J. Cherryh’s first name is Caroline.

    ARGH. I understand that this probably happened either about the time I was born (1982) or shortly thereafter, but still—PEOPLE DID THIS?!? This makes me want to throw things.

    The same thing happened with music as art, by the way—not guilds so much but the Old Boys Net. So the ones who were successful were either people’s sisters (Fanny Mendelssohn, Maria Anna Mozart) or wives (Clara Schumann) or, you know, we’ve hit the 20th century (Ruth Crawford Seeger, who was actually well-known and a professor at Juilliard before her son hit it big with folk music). And none of those is as well known as the menfolk until late in the 20th century, when we got Libby Larsen and Augusta Read Thomas and a few others. /music history major

    Again, yay for late 20th-early 21st century, but whew.

  11. 11
    Tina C. says:

    Just a random comment from a former art history major—I ALSO wondered why there were apparently no women artists.  In the very early days, yes, there were guilds with a “no girls allowed” policy, but I’d hoped that there had been some women who at least “dabbled.” Back then women didn’t even have their name on a headstone when they were buried. It was their nearest male relative’s name.

    Granted, there aren’t many acknowledged female artists in history—in part because of the difficulty in achieving any individual fame, aside from that of their father/husband/workshop/etc, if they did create works of art and in part because those deciding what constituted the canon of “Great Art” for centuries were white, Euro-centric men.  However, there were a handful of women artists that did manage achieve some individual fame—not easy to do, especially in the Middle Ages, when most of the fame would be directed to the workshop and not the individual artists within it.  (We do attribute specific pieces to such artists as Druer, but often it’s more accurate to say, “Done in _______’s workshop” because a number of hands probably touched that work.)

    At a casual glance, Herrad of Hohenbourg and Hildegard of Bingen are the two most mentioned female artists of the Middle Ages.  Both were abbesses.  Hildegard is the better known of the two for her prolific writings and there is some question about how much either of them actually had to do with the illuminations of the manuscripts that were produced in their convents, but as I already said, most of the works produced in the Middle Ages were the products of workshops, so the fact that we can’t conclusively say, “She did the illumination on the verso, page such and such” doesn’t bother me much.

    One of my absolute favorite female artists is from the Renaissance, Artemesia Gentileschi (1593-1652).  She received her initial training from her father, a successful painter in Rome, and was heavily-influenced by Caravagio (as seen in Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes).  She was incredibly successful, even in her own lifetime.

    Then there’s Judith Leyster (1609-1660), who was one of only two female members of the painters’ guild in Haarlem.  She had her own workshop and pupils.  She had fame in her own lifetime, but her works were often mistaken for Frans or Dirck Hals afterwards until the Louvre discovered her signature under a false Frans Hals one in 1893.  Per the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “this discovery led to renewed research and appreciation of Leyster’s oeuvre, which had previously been confused with that of Hals.”

    There’s also Marie Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842), from the Neo-Classic period in France.  I love her Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat.  And, of course, Mary Cassatt (1824-1926), one of the best known Impressionists.

    Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There are a ton of others I didn’t mention and that’s only the painters.  On the other hand, there are probably any number of unsung female artists whose name we’ll never know.  The ones that did make it faced incredible obstacles that barred them from training and schools and being a member of the Academy, etc.  They faced censure from the public and prejudice against their work, too, simply because of their sex.  As P. N. Elrod mentioned, that hasn’t changed in some quarters.  I just wanted to show that there were a few that did manage to obtain some renown in their own right.

  12. 12
    AgTigress says:

    Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There are a ton of others I didn’t mention and that’s only the painters.

    Absolutely:  Artemisia Gentileschi and Judith Leyster were two that came straight to my mind, along with Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) and the neo-Classical painter Angelika Kauffmann (1741-1807).  From the early 19thC on, there are masses.

  13. 13
    Throwmearope says:

    On the other hand, I was quite surprised to learn that one of my favorite authors, Madeline Brent, was at that time, an 82 year-old British guy.  Still love the books, but it did make my eye twitch for a minute.

    This does sound like one of Victoria Holt’s rape-em and leave-em novels, but none of them made my keeper shelf.  Sorry.

  14. 14

    Let’s not forget, though, that up until the Industrial Revolution about 90% of the human population – male and female – lived at subsistence level, without the time or education or financial resources to devote to art. Of the lucky remainder, some were aristocrats, which meant that no matter how skilled your artistry, you subscribed to the Amateur Ethic and did not Go Public. That left a relatively small sliver of the population available to create art, and in the days before birth control, what woman had 10,000 spare hours to devote to learning her craft, and then the time and energy and single-mindedness to find a financial patron who wouldn’t expect sex in return?

    Both were abbesses.

    Oh, yeah.
    So I would submit that the realities of life created just as many roadblocks for female artists as Evil Sexist Males, which makes the accomplishments of those who did persevere even more remarkable.

    There’s also Marie Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842), from the Neo-Classic period in France.

    Love her! And what an extraordinary life she led.

  15. 15
    Elanath says:

    Not Holt’s Demon Lover…I remember that book in vivid detail, and the only similarity is the painting bit…Heroine is drugged and ‘seduced’ by the hero…later she leaves him to set herself up in Paris, has his kid, and lives with his ex-mistress. He finds her as the French Revolution explodes and gets her, ex-mistress and young son to safety. HEA ensues.

  16. 16
    JamiSings says:

    Not that I can help with the book, but out of curiosity over the whole sci-fi and women artists discussions – how do you honestly think you’d react in the reverse? If one of your favorite romance novelists turned out to be a man writing under a woman’s name because “men don’t get/write romance”?

  17. 17
    SusiB says:

    I do agree that the plot sounds like something I remember from a Victoria Holt novel, although I don’t remember her heroes being so asshole-ish.

  18. 18
    Liz says:

    The same thing happened with music as art, by the way—not guilds so much but the Old Boys Net. So the ones who were successful were either people’s sisters (Fanny Mendelssohn, Maria Anna Mozart) or wives (Clara Schumann)

    I remember reading about Clara Schumann in a music class a couple of years ago.  Wasn’t she the one who decided that she needed to support her husband’s music and not to really even play hers in public unless she was forced?  i thought that was idiotic, but it makes sense for the time period.  After her husband died, she ended up hanging around with (and possibly romantically linked) with Brahms.  This made me wonder if maybe women that were talented musically, knowing that they could not be published on their own, tried to marry “music” the way other women married money or a title—of course they also could have been marrying money (since it was hard to compose when one had to work for a living) and the “music” was just a bonus.

  19. 19
    Rebecca says:

    Sorry I can’t help out on this one.  The closest I could come was Violet Hamilton’s “A Scandalous Portrait” published in 1989 by Zebra.  It’s out of print, and I couldn’t find a detailed book description, but the general outline looks right.  You might try this website for a list of titles to jog your memory: http://www.thenonesuch.com/arts.html

    Regarding women as artists in previous centuries, I wanted to take the opportunity to plug one of my favorite YA authors; the late Geoffrey Trease.  In “Victory at Valmy” (published in the UK as “Thunder over Valmy”) Trease features a wonderful older woman who makes a living as a painter on the eve of the French Revolution…and has serious political convictions to boot.  She mentions Elizabeth Vigee Lebrun and Adelaide Labille Guyard as rivals.  In “Popinjay Stairs” (set in Restoration London), the extremely charming heroine turns out to have unexpected artistic talents (can’t say more without spoilers) and deals with the sexism of the time.  Anyway, Trease is great.  Here ends off-topic section. ;)

  20. 20
    AgTigress says:

    So I would submit that the realities of life created just as many roadblocks for female artists as Evil Sexist Males, which makes the accomplishments of those who did persevere even more remarkable.

  21. 21
    AgTigress says:

    Huh.  My quotation from Beatriz Williams’s post got away from me before I had noted down my agreement with it.
    :-(

  22. 22
    Las says:

    how do you honestly think you’d react in the reverse? If one of your favorite romance novelists turned out to be a man writing under a woman’s name because “men don’t get/write romance”?

    I think that would be really cool, actually. I (unfairly, I know) assume it’s highly unlikely that men could write good romance, so to be proven wrong—especially when it’s an author I love—would be a very pleasant surprise.

    That said, I wouldn’t pick up a (hetero) romance by a known male author unless someone who’s opinion on romances I trust recommended it. I’m not even going to try to justify it…I know it’s messed up. Have to work on that attitude.

  23. 23
    Rachel T. says:

    I cannot help identify this romance at all—I just wanted to say how much it warms my heart to see smart bitches talking about Artemisia Gentileschi, Labille-Guyard and Vigée-Lebrun, among others.  I knew we were smart bitches, of course, but… wow!  Hurrah art history!  I love y’all.

  24. 24
    Kate says:

    If one of your favorite romance novelists turned out to be a man writing under a woman’s name because “men don’t get/write romance”?

    This DID happen to me! I was reading some of Leigh Greenwood’s SEVEN BRIDES books. The first two I read had no author picture on the back and the blurb was gender neutral. The third one I read had the author picture and bio, and I was really shocked to discover it was a man. I have never before or since seen a romance written by a man.

    I felt ashamed that I had felt such shock, because of course men can write romance, the same as women- but I really had been surprised by how well he depicted the heroines.

    Anyway, VIOLET from that septology remains my all-time favourite American West romance.

  25. 25
    Cat says:

    I remember once reading a book I found at a book exchange in Mexico by a male writer; it was an English father 3 sons, ships, exotic lands, harems, pirates, helping the princess escape, etc.  The descriptions on the covers were typical male – “historical novel, etc etc.)  Yet ss I was reading it I was thinking, “OMG, this is one of the best romance novels I’ve ever read”!!  I wish I would have kept the book or written the guys name down – I have wanted to read it again ever since I left it behind (that was the deal in Mexico, pick up one book, leave another behind). 

    I wish more men would write great romance.  Swashbuckling or otherwise!

  26. 26
    DS says:

    I did find out about Madeleine Brent also, but I was fan of his Modesty Blaise books under his own name so my reaction was mainly to wonder why more women didn’t write the intelligent, adventurous heroines he was able to come up with.

  27. 27
    Corrina says:

    The most famous SF example of a woman taking a male alias was James Tiptree Jr., aka Alice Sheldon:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Tiptree,_Jr.

    I remember when her identity was finally revealed and people were absolutely shocked.

    C.L. Moore, early fantasy writer, is another example.

    And sorry that I can’t help with the book!

  28. 28
    Estelle Chauvelin says:

    Not that I can help with the book, but out of curiosity over the whole sci-fi and women artists discussions – how do you honestly think you’d react in the reverse? If one of your favorite romance novelists turned out to be a man writing under a woman’s name because “men don’t get/write romance”?

    It would remind me of Jubal in Stranger in a Strange Land writing under an apparently infinite number of psuedonyms depending on what he was writing and for what purpose.  Then I’d go back to reading the book (or waiting for the next one).

  29. 29
    misschristmas says:

    Sounds like The Serpent Garden, by Judith Merkle Riley, to me.

  30. 30
    Kilian Metcalf says:

    One of the reasons I love Anthony Trollope so much is his depiction of his heroines in his romances.  He had an ability to reveal a woman’s thinking.  How he could be such a product of his time (Victorian) and yet have such sympathy for a strong, intelligent woman is beyond me.

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