Our small library is a refuge in an apartment that is in transition: what is left of the dining room and living room furniture is encased in plastic in the middle of the paper-clad floors; the electrician needs to return to make adjustments; I want the carpenter back to add an architrave and paneling to a hall door we'd jibbed when we arrived (the grisaille I envisaged on that wall has never been applied); curtains are in the workroom; the painters, excellent though they be, are as slow as watching the proverbial dry; the bedroom, yet to be worked on by a list of tradespeople, contains a bed, two lamps, one on an upturned laundry basket, and an ironing board; furniture ordered for it and the living room are in the delivery warehouse and at the restorers. As I say, the library small as it is is a refuge in an otherwise bleak landscape.
A fine thing about using this room as we intended, a sitting room, albeit without half the living and dining room furniture stuffed in it, is that I am able to read what I fancy with ease - the books we've bought over the years and the ones I was able to acquire recently surround us. This weekend I've dipped into John Singer Sargent, Julia Morgan: Architect of Beauty, Villa Gardens of the Mediterranean, Modern Luxury: Richard Mishaan, and whilst the Celt was out at the Pet Shop Boys concert (three rows from the stage) I was captivated by Elsie de Wolfe, a fine companion to Hell Boy II, finally going to bed and reading The Egyptian Revival.
Out of my browsing this weekend, came the Villa Sylvia - built in 1902 by Harold Peto at Cap Ferrat for Ralph Wormeley Curtis, a member of a rich Boston family that had settled in Venice at the Villa Barbaro. Curtis and his wife Lisa were at the center of a cosmopolitan circle of American ex-patriates that included Vernon Lee, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry James, Edith Wharton and John Singer Sargent. Sargent painted the Curtis family at the Villa Barbaro.
"This rare conversation piece, depicts the Curtis family in the grand salon of their apartment in the seventeenth-century Palazzo Barbero in Venice. They were prominent members of the Anglo-American community residing in the city. The seventy-three-year-old Daniel Curtis, shown on the right, was a wealthy Bostonian and a distant cousin of the Sargent family. Sitting beside him is his wife Ariana Wormeley, the daughter of an English admiral, who was known affectionately by the artist as the "Dogeressa." Their son Ralph, lounging on the left with his American wife, Lisa de Wolfe Colt, of the firearms family, had studied with Sargent at Carolus-Duran's studio, and was a painter of some ability."
Apparently, Mrs Daniel Curtis declined the picture as she felt it had made her look too old. Henry James in reaction wrote to her to say how much he adored the picture saying "I've seen few things that I ever craved more to possess!"
Lisa de Wolfe Colt
Ralph Wormeley Curtis on the beach at Scheveningen.
In some ways this post illustrates my skepticism about the internet being able to supply what I, and many others, need for research and pleasure. I was able to make connections because of the range of books about art, architecture and interior design on our shelves but I would not yet be able to read many if any of the books listed above in complete illustrated form over the net. I'm beginning to wonder if that even matters.
Sources: John Singer Sargent by Elaine Kilmurray and Richard Ormond and photos from the web and Villa Gardens of the Mediterranean by Kathryn Bradley-Hole.