Infidels Abroad

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In 1879 Mark Twain meets the young painter John Singer Sargent aboard a steamer from the Sandwich Islands to San Francisco. But it is not our San Francisco, our California, or our 1879.

In this universe, everything south of the Russian River is an independent Spanish-speaking country called Alta California. Everything north of the river is Rossland, ruled by Imperial Russia. These powerful states are flush with Sierra gold, while the United States is just a weak neighbor on the other side of the Mississippi River.

Mark Twain is supplementing the meager royalties from Tom Sawyer by lecturing on “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands.” John Singer Sargent tours with him, sketching and painting the sights and trying to get a portrait commission from Twain.

Told in the first person voices of Twain and Sargent, illustrated with their sketches, paintings, and photos, this is a tale about friendship, ideology, culture clash, and what it means to be an artist.

Here are the full color versions of the three watercolors and three oil paintings that I used, in black & white, to illustrate Infidels Abroad: A Novel of Mark Twain & John Singer Sargent in an Alternate California.

Click on the paintings to enlarge them.

Petalumo Grand Canal. The left side is closely modeled on a John Singer Sargent watercolor of Venice. The right side features the grain elevators, clock tower, and old city hall of 1890s Petaluma.

Bahia de Tomales Clam Gatherers. Based on John Singer Sargent’s famous oil painting Oyster Gatherers, this version includes Mark Twain dancing by the campfire in the middle ground.

Rossland Couple. This is a copy of John Singer Sargent watercolor of a Bedoin pair he painted in North Africa.

Siska Django. This is a pretty close copy of John Singer Sargent’s famous oil painting of a North African woman perfuming her veil with incense, here reinterpreted as a Tartar Princess playing at magic.

Sakrametska Cityscape. To one of John Singer Sargent’s Venice watercolors I have added a staircase down to the old town of Tsar Nicholai’s Sakrametska.

Mark Twain. In this oil painting I’ve stolen the red color, standing pose, and the hand positions from John Singer Sargent’s full length portrait of Dr. Pozzi.