Wednesday, October 30, 2013

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

The Duvenecks had exciting plans to spend the winter of 1888 in Paris. They were able to rent the very same apartment in which they had been married. Frank planned to meet up with some of his "Boys," Louis Ritter, Theodore Wendel and Julius Rolshoven (who was also FBD’s godfather) and paint the model in an academy, and both Frank and Lizzie would create and enter works for that year's Paris Salon.

Francis also joined up with them there after a summer in Boston. Lizzie hired a British girl to act as Frank Jr.’s nanny and they got to work.

Portrait of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck by Frank Duveneck
Cincinnati Art Museum
Lizzie completed a large watercolor of Villa Castellani for her Salon entry and posed for Frank's full-length portrait of herself in her brown wedding dress. When it was finished in mid-March, she wrote: “Frank has painted a picture of me full length with which Papa is delighted and also all those who have seen it.” Then, only a few days after the letter was penned, tragedy overwhelmed the little family completely altering the course of their lives.

March days that year were full of snow; winter had rarely seemed so severe. On the Sunday the Salon jury voted in both her watercolor and Frank’s painting of her, Lizzie came down with a chill. Soon it was pneumonia and four days later, she died - on the anniversary of her wedding day, in the very room where she had been married two years before.

In a time-honored practice at the moment of death, Louis Ritter sat by Lizzie’s bedside and and carefully and sensitively drew her portrait. This precious drawing is now in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum. When we saw it in person recently, it was like being taken back to that room at that time.

Post-Mortem Portrait of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck by Louis Ritter
Cincinnati Art Museum
Her sickness and death all happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that the shock to her father and  husband was devastating. Duveneck disappeared from the house and was gone all day and half the night. Theodore Wendel, his pupil and friend, went out about midnight to search for him and found him in a little cafe which the artists often frequented, sitting at a table in the corner completely dazed and speechless.

The next day Lizzie’s body was taken to a temporary resting place and, as she had requested, would be taken back to Florence in May to rest in that "beautiful country of flowers she so dearly loved" at the Allori Cemetery.

Allori Cemetery, Florence, Italy
Her father’s worst fears had been realized. Just as his wife had died only two or three years after her marriage to him, so Lizzie had died two years after her marriage to Frank. Just as Lizzie was 18 months old when he had been widowed, so her child, Frank Jr., was just fifteen months old, and his son-in-law was left to raise his child alone. One link to his daughter now was his son-in-law, but even moreso his grandson. It was unthinkable that he should be separated from him. And yet how could an old man and an inexperienced father properly care for this little boy?

At that point a cable arrived from Lizzie’s uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Lyman in Boston, inviting them to bring Frankie to become a member of their family. So they sadly packed up Villa Castellani and returned to America.

Frank and His Son in Happier Times

The Lymans liked Duveneck and thought it unselfish of him to part with the baby. Though his decision caused him great sadness, he believed it was the right thing to do for his child.” He visited him every Christmas and spring vacation, and journeyed to Boston to see the boy in the summers, which he spent in and around the area, with visits extending over several weeks or even months. Later they travelled together in Europe. But Frankie never saw his father’s home in Covington nor his grandmother nor other Kentucky relatives until he was a young man and his grandfather had died. He only really knew his mother’s side of the family...especially since every time Frank would visit he would speak fondly of Lizzie. He shared the stories of their life together and recounted them over and over again with pride, satisfaction and humor.

The Duveneck House in Covington, Kentucky
After Frank had left his son in the Lymans care, he returned to his family home on Greenup Street in Covington, Kentucky. He now painted in a studio transformed from his mother’s washhouse in the rear of their home - and searched for a fitting way to pay his tribute to his dear Lizzie. Little did he realize that through this tribute, she would remain his constant companion until his own death in 1919.





Frank’s idea took the form of a bronze effigy of Lizzie to place on her tomb in Florence. This was a remarkable choice since he was not a sculptor - but then Frank Duveneck was a remarkable artist. He sought out advice from prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and also had the help of his Cincinnati sculptor friend Clement Barnhorn. The clay model was completed around 1889 and from that a plaster model was made - the very one that is displayed to this day at the Cincinnati Art Museum. From that the bronze was cast and set up early in 1891 on her grave.

Bronze Effigy at the Allori Cemetery, Florence
Francis Boott was so pleased with the memorial that in 1893 he commissioned a marble version, which was carved in Italy with Duveneck responsible for the finishing. Nine-year-old Frankie went with his grandfather to the museum in Boston to see the enormous heavy crate unpacked and set up on its pedestal.

Lizzie's Marble Effigy at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
After it was installed, Mr. Boott and Frankie made a pilgrimage every Sunday thereafter to look on the serene and quiet face. The old man would tell the child stories of his mother. She became a living presence to him. Throughout the next decade a number of plaster copies were made for other museums. In 1917 at sculptor Daniel Chester French’s request, the Cincinnati Museum Association approved the casting of a bronze to be made for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.

Lizzie's Bronze and Gilt Effigy at the Met
By the time it was done and gilded as well it was 1927, eight years after Frank’s death. And it, the marble at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the original plaster at the Cincinnati Art Museum are still on display.

Was it not the perfect tribute to Lizzie?

She who loved art
was made into a work of art,
her loving face recalled in clay, plaster, bronze and marble by a man who had loved her deeply
a face upon which her beloved little boy gazed fondly as the years passed -
a face that her beloved father would remember her by -

Their own dear Lizzie...


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

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