Friday, May 31, 2013

The Duveneck Girls

Those of you who are familiar with Cincinnati artist, Frank Duveneck, will know that he taught a group of young male students in Europe who were called "The Duveneck Boys," but did you know there was also a group of Duveneck Girls?! Nor did I - until I read the following from Michael Quick's book, An American Painter Abroad: Frank Duveneck's European Years and also from an essay by Carol M. Osborne, Frank Duveneck & Elizabeth Boott Duveneck: An American Romance:

"In September [1879] Duveneck decided to move his class to Florence, rather than to resume in Munich. Although full of art treasures and distinguished expatriates, Florence was not, at that time, thought of as a center for art study or even a place visited by artists from other countries, as for instance, Venice was." So why did he go there?

Elizabeth Boott
Frank Duveneck

"His decision to move there almost certainly was prompted by the urgings of Miss Boott [who was later to become his wife].

“He is the frankest, kindest-hearted of mortals,” she wrote from Munich to painter friends in Boston, “and the least likely to make his way in the world.” 

She had the idea of having him teach a class of women artists - instruction of a sort that was just then coming into vogue - she encouraged him to move to Florence, where she and her father made their home. She also hoped to drum up portrait commissions for him among her rich friends. Inviting the ladies of William Morris Hunt's painting class [with whom she had studied] to come abroad, she wrote that with Duveneck’s instruction they would have 'endless freedom.' It was wonderful, she said, to watch him 'sling the paint.'”

This women's class, put together by Miss Boott, would assure him of the teaching income he might give up by leaving his established class in Munich. Of course, his class of young men did not leave him, but went with him and learned from him in Florence instead. They were taught in one set of studios while the ladies occupied another large one. They were located in the Palazzo Mugnone along the Arno.

"So on October 5, 1879, Duveneck, John W. Alexander, and two others of "the boys", went to Florence, where they were welcomed by Miss Boott and her father. Another fifteen or so followed them alter that month."

Villa Castellani at Bellosguardo, Italy
"Thus it was that a villa on a hilltop above Florence became a magnet for a lively group of male and female art students. The villa was the Villa Castellani, now the Villa Mercede, at Bellosguardo, designed in the 15th century by a follower of Michelangelo and owned in the 19th by a Boston family, who rented out to friends the spacious apartments that surrounded the villa’s arcaded center court. The Bootts had lived there off and on for most of Lizzie’s life. And that was where she partied with this sudden flood of young American friends. The ladies' class joined "the boys" for teas, museum visits, monotype parties, and other social occasions that brightened their long days of hard work." 

"This arrangement continued until April 1880, when most of the young men went to Venice for the summer. During the two years that they lasted, Duveneck's classes in Florence were a success on every count."

*with thanks to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art for the above photographs