In the Palazzo Barbaro, Venice, 1882

July 22nd, 2008 Posted in Magic Lantern

“William went to lunch at the home of his wealthy friends Daniel Sargent Curtis and Ariana Randolph Wormeley Curtis at the Palazzo Barbaro–in one of two adjacent palaces that shared this name, one medieval and one baroque, fronting the wide, watery, S-shaped thoroughfare of the Grand Canal.  The Curtises’ staggering Venetian rental, which they would purchase outright in 1885, featured ‘colossal dimensions’ and a highly encrusted ‘grand style’ that impressed even the jaded William.  In cultivating such splendors, William had transformed his life into Harry’s.  Maybe William now wanted to be Harry even more than, historically, trailing his more confident big brother around London or the Newport art studio, Harry had wanted to be William.

“At the Curtises’, William had lunch with a hanger-on cousin of the family, the twenty-six-year-old painter John Singer Sargent.  Sargent and his cousin Ralph Wormeley Curtis, his studio protégé, were scouring the city for picturesque Venetian genre scenes–Sargent had been coloring up canvasses of Venetian women glassworkers and bead stringers.  But in 1882, the year of William’s visit, Sargent also daubed a portrait of William’s hostess, Ariana Curtis, that showed, against a sea of Spanish black, a formidable, strong-cheeked matron.  Wearing pearls, a lace collar, and a lace cap to contrast with all her black, the Sargentized Ariana Curtis observed the world with languid, half-lidded eyes–a taste of the expatriate splendor that William had to ‘fall back upon’ during those rainy evenings away from his wife.”

(c) Paul Fisher 2008 – All Rights Reserved


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