Monday, October 21, 2013

Dear Lizzie: The Life of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck, Part II

William Morris Hunt
from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Happily at that time Boston was one of the cultural centers of America. One of the movers and shakers in that respect was charismatic artist William Morris Hunt. After returning from his own training in Europe he had been asked by a group of ladies, who had pursued the study of art in Europe themselves, to start a class for them. But he exclaimed, “If I teach at all I shall teach forty!” And Lizzie was one of those fortunate forty students.

Not only did she have the rare chance to study under a man who had learned at the art school in Dusseldorf, under Thomas Couture and Jean Francois Millet, but there was something else that was delightfully different for her. She got to study art in a group setting. Up till now her education had been private. She made many friends in Mr. Hunt’s class, ones that she would keep up with for the rest of her life. Indeed there is much correspondence from Lizzie to this group that gives us a great deal of insight into her life and that of the art world then.

In 1875 there was an event that was the beginning of a big change in Lizzie’s life, a particular art exhibit in Boston. Lizzie’s teacher William Morris Hunt was also a champion of artists of promise. He promoted them and bought their work and exerted himself in every way to help them. After seeing some of 27-year-old Frank Duveneck’s work, Mr. Hunt had sought him out and invited him to exhibit in June 1875 at the Boston Art Club. Frank had sent five paintings for the show:

Portrait of William Adams
the “Portrait of Professor Loefftz, ” the famous “Whistling Boy,” “The Old Schoolmaster,”  “ The Woman with a Fan” and the “Portrait of William Adams.” The pictures were acclaimed by Hunt and by the press, and a good friend urged Lizzie and her father to go and see the work of this “man of unsuspected genius.” They were so impressed that they purchased one of his paintings, the portrait of William Adams. From that time on, Lizzie could not forget Frank’s style of painting. His bold, fluid work was so different from her careful, painstaking approach thus far. And she made up her mind that she had to study with him.

Frank Duveneck painting The Turkish Page, 1877

In 1878 when she and fellow Hunt student had spent the summer studying near Paris with Hunt’s teacher Thomas Couture, they made a pilgrimage to Frank’s studio in Venice. In a letter she wrote to her American friends, “We found him and were pleased...He is a remarkable looking young man, and a gentleman, which I did not expect. He has a fine head and a keen eye and the perceptions strongly developed.”

Almost a year later she and her father went to Munich with the hope of lessons for Lizzie with Frank Duveneck. They rented an apartment there along with a studio for her. Then with trepidation, Lizzie showed Frank Duveneck her work. She did not know whether he would accept her as a student, but was able to write soon thereafter,“Try we did and he accepted at once and is to come tomorrow to my studio. Joy! Do you not all envy me?”
Frank Duveneck, Head of a Girl
He began his lessons with her by sketching a head in paint as she watched - completely fascinated. After the initial work was done in black he used very oily paint modelling it like clay. It was a very different approach than she had learned thus far.

In fact she enjoyed both Frank and his teaching so much that Lizzie came up with an idea to bring her teacher to her own home turf in Florence. When she first suggested that he move there, he answered, “That would be very delightful, but what should I do with my boys?” There were about thirty Americans who studied under him, the Duveneck Boys. “Why not bring them along too?” she suggested. “Well, that might be done. That might be done,” he replied. His boys excitedly agreed and Frank told Lizzie that he would also like a class of ladies as well - a revoluntionary idea for that time. She excitedly contacted her friends from Hunt’s class to come out, and they did.

Lizzie and several others also also made up a special club, the Charcoal Club for evening get-togethers. Duveneck, John White Alexander, Louis Ritter and others sketched and sang and had a good time. With Lizzie at the piano, Ritter played the violin. Duveneck was everybody’s favorite, as much at ease with women as with men. His escapades and humor were legendary with the group. It was not long before Lizzie and Frank’s relationship as student and teacher changed, and they became romantically involved.
Lizzie Boott and Frank Duveneck
Next Installment: Troubled Waters 

(This series of blogs are the script for my talk, "Dear Lizzie" at the Greenacres Foundation, Oct. 19, 2013.)

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