Linda Moore’s debut novel, Attribution, is so beautifully written and full of vivid details that you won’t want to put it down. The novel centers around art historian, Cate Adamson, who discovers a hidden painting while cataloging artwork for her impossible sexist advisor.
To find out the origins of the painting, Cate risks everything from her career to her already fractured relationship with her family, to travel to Spain. On the way to Seville, she meets Antonio, a financially strapped duke who joins her search.
When were you first inspired to write your debut novel, Attribution?
Over twenty years ago, I attended a presentation by a former curator at Yale University who worked on attributing a painting from Spain’s golden age. I was riveted by all the components of the process—the science, the connoisseurship (using the educated eye), the history– and the controversy it created. A little voice in my head said this would make a great novel, but I put it aside while I worked on something else. I began researching and writing on what became Attribution about 2015, so seven years ago.
When did your love of art begin and do you have a favorite art period?
My Swedish farmor (father’s mother) was a painter and when we visited her television-free home in Wisconsin, we were given blank paper (no coloring books allowed) and taught to see and think about color, angles, and perspective. I never blossomed into an artist, but from an early age, I appreciated how difficult creativity is and how an original idea is rare and precious.
My favorite art period is the last one I was looking at. Seriously, I enjoy a wide variety of art periods. My gallery focused on Hispanic art from the contemporary period, especially from the Southern cone of South America and that’s the area I know best. However, I have admired and researched art on everything from aboriginal art in Australia to the masterful works of the Italian Renaissance.
In plotting out the book, did you plan out the entire book in advance, or did you see where the characters took you?
I had a ‘back of the napkin’ type of outline of the story. Of course, the plot did not end up there. I knew there would be a female protagonist – Cate- who would face impossible challenges against which she would need to prevail without anyone, especially a male, rescuing her. Subplots, like her brother’s death, appeared and became more important to her story the deeper I explored who she was.
At what point did you decide on the title for the novel?
I knew the title from the beginning. The story was about discovering the attribution of a painting, and the truth about its origins. But the writing of the story resulted in an additional meaning of attribution. Now, the title also refers to Cate’s journey, learning who she is and discovering the truth about herself.
What was one of the most interesting finds you made during your research process?
I created a mistress for Velázquez for a plot twist. While reading an obscure source, not any major biography, I discovered to my shock, a mistress . . . and she had a name! Flaminia Triunfo. I searched more for more references, and learned not only that she existed and likely bore Velázquez’s son, but she was a painter. It sent chills through me, as though Flaminia herself was reaching out from history, ignored by all the important male biographers. Flaminia changed Attribution’s story. I was determined to give her a voice, a place in the history of the Baroque period.
Where did you write the majority of the novel?
I wrote wherever my laptop was! In 2015 we bought an apartment on a ship, picture a floating condominium building, and traveled the world. Attribution was written in nearly 100 different countries. Of course, the most exciting part of that was to visit locations where the book’s scenes take place like Seville, and see the paintings that are mentioned like the Rokeby Venus ( a detail is on the cover) which is in the National Gallery in London. A place I did not visit while writing the novel, was Madrid, but I used to live in Madrid and know it well.
What was your favorite (or hardest) scene to write?
The scenes with Cate and Antonio presented a challenge because I wanted a modern, equal relationship, a partnership where they help each other. I wanted to avoid writing that book where the male rushes in to save the damsel. When the Kirkus reviewer called Antonio ‘supportive’ and gave examples from the story, I was pleased. Yes, supportive is the right word and very different than riding in on a white horse to rescue Cate.
In what ways does art historian Cate Adamson remind you of yourself?
In some direct ways, Cate and I love the same things. We love to look at art (“It’s not work.”), to research and to learn the stories behind the artworks. I guess that’s not a surprise.
But something did surprise me. I wrote about her younger brother’s death, changed the circumstances many times, and in the end, he drowns. I know you will find this difficult to believe but, months after I wrote it, it hit me: my own sister drowned when she was twenty and I was twenty-five. And she drowned in Santander Spain. My subconscious was driving that plot line and the consequences for Cate, the sister left behind with a grieving family. I understand that person very well, too well.
If you could meet any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
Before I wrote the book, I might have said Caravaggio, such a wild man, or I would likely want to meet a woman from history like 16th c. Artemisia Gentileschi, who was raped by her painting tutor and tortured to test the truthfulness of her testimony.
Now I would travel the world to meet Flaminia Triunfo, to learn the true story of her relationship with Velázquez, and learn what paintings she made and where they are.
What are some of the books you’re reading right now?
I enjoy Laura Morelli’s novels with their art historical themes for which she does careful research. I just read her book The Stolen Lady about the Mona Lisa. I enjoy a broad range of fiction, for example, in the literary category I recently read Klara and the Sun and plan to read Daniel Silva’s new book Portrait of an Unknown Woman, a thriller that is more like my next book.
Now that your first book is out in the world, are you working on your next novel?
My next novel, Five Days in Bogotá will be published in 2023. Allison Blake, the California art gallery owner, recently widowed and broke, is desperate to sell art and travels to Colombia during the drug wars of the early 1990s, to an art fair to meet wealthy collectors.
Author Linda Moore