John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)
An Interior in Venice (The Curtis Family), 1898 Oil on canvas
Lent by the Royal Academy of Arts, London
In March 1899, James saw this group portrait that had been painted in the grand drawing room of
the Palazzo Barbaro, where both James and Sargent had stayed many times. It shows Ralph Curtis— who had been a student of Frank Duveneck—and his wife to the left, Ralph’s father, Daniel, who was a wealthy Bostonian, to the right, and Ralph’s mother, Ariana, close to the center. James wrote to Ariana to tell her that he “absolutely and without reserve adored [it]. . . . I’ve seen few things that I craved more to possess! I hope you haven’t altogether let it go.” Ariana, however, disliked it— she thought she looked too old in it and believed her son Ralph’s pose was too casual—and refused to accept it as a gift from the artist.
This is the Sargent painting of the Curtis family in their palazzo in Venice, a palazzo that James used in his novel, the Wings of The Dove. The Curtises didn't like it. James particularly did. James had stayed a great deal in the palace. He used the library.
But it's also, I think for James and Sargent, the whole idea of Venice of its beauty, but also of its shadows of the way it was fading, I think, nourished their art in different ways. But both of them, James set novels and stories in Venice, and Singer Sargent made paintings and watercolors of Venice.