Saturday, October 26, 2013

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

Elizabeth Boott, 1880 by Frank Duveneck
from Frank to Lizzie, a Christmas present, 1880
It was not long before Lizzie and Frank’s relationship as student and teacher changed, and they became romantically involved. He painted a very lovely portrait of her, and that Christmas gave her a gift of his art, and finally asked her to marry him. She agreed. Frank's "Boys" were very happy for him, but that was not the case with Lizzie's family and friends.

Portrait of Francis Boott, 1881
Oil on canvas, 47 9/16 x 31 3/4"
Cincinnati Art Museum
Their decision to get engaged met formidable - almost insurmountable - opposition from Lizzie’s father, the well-to-do relatives in Boston and from friends. Although they all admired Duveneck’s talent, one can easily imagine the reasons for their opposition.
  • They believed Duveneck to be “illiterate” and unworthy of the well-bred, well-educated, cultured and monied Lizzie.
  • He was a penniless German-American Catholic
  • two years younger than Lizzie
  • whose mother and father ran a beer garden
  • in fact making the beer themselves in the basement of their own home
  • in the uncivilized state of Kentucky.

And it wasn’t simply the difference in their social circles. Duveneck’s lack of money made Boott fear that what the painter really wanted was his daughter’s money, plus he did not want to see anybody come between himself and Lizzie.

The Boott’s closest friends predicted disaster for the marriage. One of them wrote “For him it is all gain, for her it is very brave.”

Oh, the internal conflict that Lizzie must have had! It was a devastating choice between the man who loved her or her own father who had devoted his life to her...and to whom she had also devoted her life thus far.

A letter had been passed down to Lizzie over the years originally an injunction from her mother to her little son before his death. Lizzie inherited these instructions after his loss: “Watch over him, your father, in old age, cherish, love him, desert him not...Devote yourself to him, please him in little as well as important things.” She took this charge very seriously. She could not bring herself to desert her father who had loved her so well. The engagement was broken off...and her heart was also broken.

Lizzie Boott had to leave Florence. She took off for Spain with three women friends from the Hunt class. They copied Velázquez and toured the country both painting and enjoying the art of Spanish masters.

Girl in a Gray Shawl, 1883, by Elizabeth Boott

Upon her return Francis and she sailed to Boston where Lizzie buried herself in her work. She and Annie Dixwell who had gone to Spain with her prepared and held an exhibition. Lizzie had thirty-one oils and thirteen watercolors of Spain and Italy in the show.

Interestingly Frank also found himself in Boston painting portraits commissioned by friends of the Bootts, and Frank had not given up on Lizzie. He was not going to let her go easily. They managed to meet up and continued to see each other secretly.

It was a very stressful situation. And Lizzie continued to keep herself very busy with her art.

Jerry, 1883, by Elizabeth Boott
She traveled south to Georgia painting a trio of portraits of people who had been slaves before the Civil War: Mum Hannah, a mother with a corncob pipe; Neptune, the dignified father and their son, Jerry.

In 1883 alone she was included in exhibitions at the American Water Color Society, Boston Art Club, National Academy of Design, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Philadelphia Society of Artists. In 1884 she had a one-person show at Boston’s Doll and Richards Gallery. A portrait of a child, Little Lady Blanche, received high praise.

Seeing these successes the Bootts resolved to live in Paris, the art center where soon she and Annie Dixwell were enrolled in the new women’s classes at the Academy Julian - and, of course, she and Frank continued to meet up.

Academie Julian, Women's Class
Finally Frank broke through her ambivalence. When he went to see her off on an ocean liner sailing from Boston, he asked her to take him down to her cabin. When they arrived, he closed the door. In her hand she held a pair of gloves. Gently he removed them and slipped them in his pocket. Then taking her small hands into his big ones, said, “Now we have to decide this once for all. I’m not going to ask you again. This ends it. In spite of your father, will you and will you not be my wife?”

This time she dared not refuse but made one provision; that the marriage would not mean permanent separation from her father - now 73 years old - whom she could not abandon in his old age, and that it should be understood that their home was also his home and their family his family.

“This has been a long affair,” she wrote to an old friend in Boston, “lasting for years. The thing was given up entirely at one time, but on meeting again we find the old feeling is not dead, and we are going to make up life together as we did not like it very well apart...Send me your blessing, dear friend, and say you think I am right. I crave human interests in life. The abstract ones of art are not enough for me.”

Frank and Lizzie's Wedding Photo
On Thursday morning the 25th of March, 1886, a month before her 40th birthday, Lizzie and Frank were married by a Justice of the Peace in the Boott’s apartment in Paris. The day before, Francis Boott presented Duveneck with a legal paper to sign, relinquishing any claim to Lizzie’s estate should she predecease him. He also had his lawyers transfer her estate to him as trustee, a not uncommon practice for a Victorian father determined to protect the assets of a rich daughter. In the fashion of the day, the bride wore dark brown. And the groom borrowed a hundred dollars from one of his friends, a former Duveneck Boy, to cover the expense of the ceremony, and since Duveneck did not know French, Lizzie had to prod him to say “oui.”

Lizzie, Francis, Frank and Ann Shenstone
 After a month-long wedding trip, the newlyweds rejoined Francis Boott at the Villa Castellani, and the two painters set to work in space converted to a studio. They were very happy.  She wrote about a lovely walk they had taken...”We took our lunch to the top of one of the high mountains and spent two or three hours eating, sleeping and enjoying the magnificent view and reading...It seems such a natural thing for people who love each other to belong together, and it makes life so much more interesting to share all one’s thoughts and feelings with someone else.” Autumn continued golden in the Florentine hills, and Lizzie, who was expecting a baby in December, felt extraordinarily well.

Frank Jr. (F.B.D.)
As winter approached little Francis Boott Duveneck was born. Lizzie contently wrote:“I have just been in to see F.B.D. sound asleep...Dear baby, he lies with his long lashes drooping on pink cheeks. It is difficult to hold him now. He dances so in one’s arms and is full of life and spirits. I laugh to think I should have a child like him. I was always so mousey...” When little Frank was five months old, Francis Boott rescinded the prenuptial financial arrangement and having come to see his son-in-law for the good fellow that he was, restored Lizzie’s estate for her “sole and separate use and enjoyment.” And the little family prospered...although things were about to change drastically...

Next Installment: Tragedy Strikes

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

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