80. Editioned Grave – Elizabeth Boott Duveneck in the Words of Henry James

Edition of 41 copies
4 1/2” x 6 1/4” x 6/8”  book closed; 30” x 6” book accordion-fold extended

American artist Elizabeth (Lizzie) Boott Duveneck (b.1846, Boston – d.1888, Paris) moved to Florence, Italy as an infant with her father Francis Boott, a composer and Harvard music professor, after the death of her mother and older brother. Francis chose to raise his daughter in a milder climate in the company of his sister Frances Boott Greenough and the numerous Greenough siblings living in Italy. The American colony in Florence was essentially founded by sculptor Horatio Greenough in 1828, and many siblings and early American sculptors followed, for the climate and the art.

The novelist Henry James, whose family was close to the Greenoughs and Bootts in Boston, frequently visited Lizzie and her father in Florence and corresponded with them throughout their lives. Topics included Lizzie’s art career, fraught courtship and marriage with painter Frank Duveneck, motherhood, and her death of pneumonia at 41 years old, the same day her work was accepted for exhibition at the Salon de Paris of 1888, as it had been in 1886.

Lizzie Boott studied art from childhood in Florence, and later in Boston, Paris and Germany with teachers William Morris Hunt, Thomas Couture and her future husband Frank Duveneck. Instead of continuing to pursue and exhibit her art and raise her child, Lizzie was assigned the singular fate to be perpetually on view as a tomb effigy in major museums, and en plein air surrounded by the hills of Florence. As her cousin and fellow uprooted Bostonian artist in Italy, I am filled with gratitude on visits to her multiple tombs on two continents, blessed to pursue art and motherhood for an extra decade and counting. Her last days in Paris, preparing art for The Salon, standing for a full-length portrait for her husband’s entry, managing their household and studio, and coping with childcare issues regarding an Italian nanny likely created exhaustion leaving her open to illness. This serves as a beacon to me to care for my own health, and I thank my daughter and husband for providing me with opportunities to stop work and enjoy life.

The circumstances of Lizzie’s unconventional life raised by a single father abroad fascinated Henry James, who incorporated it into his fiction, most notably The Golden Bowl and Portrait of a Lady. Excerpts from the novelist’s letters provide a glimpse of his acute interest in Lizzie’s life, art, marriage and death. His sentiments, opinions and prejudices vary greatly depending on the recipient of each missive.

In the 20th century, numerous examples exist of married women artists who dedicated inordinate amounts of time to managing their artist husbands’ art, PR, bureaucracy and in some cases children and households, while their own careers were somewhat stifled. Elaine DeKooning and Lee Krasner are prime examples. Lizzie Boott is a 19th century example of artist wife as manager and economic backer of her husband, while pursuing a career and maintaining domestic affairs, for an all-too-brief period.

This edition mimics a vintage Italian leporello souvenir book with photographic views of individual Italian cities. The image on the cover, and the first photograph inside, depict Lizzie’s original tomb monument in the Allori cemetery outside Florence, Italy. The other images are the replicas of her tombs on view, or in storage, in US Museums, published with each institution’s permission on book canvas. Three pamphlets, sewn on the reverse side of the leporello with vintage Italian linen bookbinding thread, present excerpts of Henry James letters to or about Lizzie in chronological order. Digitally-printed on acid-free paper and bookcloth.



To Elizabeth Boott (from Rome)                                    December 10, 1873

…as we wandered about, your name and your papa’s were forever on our lips. You were the genius loci. We peregrinated most tenderly twice, out to Bellosguardo, which, I found more adorable than even I remembered it. The view (from your back windows) has a most extraordinarily poetic and solemn sort of loveliness. It seems strange that you should have been “raised” upon it, as it were: or rather, it seems not at all strange in the sense of being surprising; but most awfully enviable.

To William James (from Paris)                                                June 22, 1876

The Bootts have departed for Villiers-le-Bel, in very good spirits. The day before they went I bade them to a modest repast, and had my friend Joukowsky to meet them. As he found Boott “extremement sympatique” and thought he looked like one of Titian’s men and as Lizzie, among her unsuspected accomplishments, reveals a complete mastery of the French tongue, I suppose it was a success…So much for base gossip…Before I left Paris, I spent an afternoon with the Bootts, who are in Paradise – though with Ernest Longfellow and lady as fellow-seraphs. They have a delightful old villa, with immense garden and all sorts of picturesque qualities…Lizzie and Longfellow are working with acharnement, and both, I ween, much improving.

To Alice James (from Rome)                                           November 2, 1877

I have seen of course a great deal of the Bootts, whom I found in Florence…They seem very well, though poor Boott himself appears much older…Lizzie looks thin and older too, but is apparently well and has become an accomplished paintress. I detest the method she has imbibed from Couture, whom she exactly reproduces, with its charmless absence of delineation and detail, but she practises it, such as it is, with much vigor and even brilliancy, and constantly does better. She is as industrious and prolific as ever and, I believe, intends to send home a collection of things, by which you will see her improvement.

To Elizabeth Boott (from London)                                          June 28, 1879

I am delighted you have fallen on your feet so speedily in Munich. I congratulate you on everything, and I congratulate Duveneck on you! I am rather sorry you are not going to a more famous instructor – an acknowledged master – or to a man who goes in rather more for “high finish” (a term in which of course you will see a proof of my degraded British philistinism); but I have no doubt that Duveneck will be able to show you a good many things and that under his genial influence your powers will increase and multiply. Perhaps I may venture now to say that I am very glad at any rate that you have put a corner between you and the late Couture. Round this corner may your fortune lurk! Ma basta. – Your big panels went some time ago (or at least he some time ago promised me to take them) to the little man in Fitzroy Square. It cost me a pang to consign them to such an obscure corner…

To Henry James Sr. (from London)                                    January 11, 1880

I wish Lizzie would wed Duveneck!!

To Henry James Sr. (from Florence)                                    March 30, 1880

Of course the first thing I did was to go see the Bootts, who are still in the apartment in town, that they have occupied all winter (they ascend to their villa tomorrow). They gave me a warm welcome and I spent part of the day with them; we went together to San Donato, to the sale of Prince Demidoff’s treasures, which is making such interminable talk here…The Bootts are the same old Bootts as ever – gentle and affectionate and appreciative, but exhaling a kind of impression of sadness. They show the marks of time a little; Frank is less irrepressible (which is an improvement) and Lizzie is if possible even more mouselike. She has lately been rather seriously ill, but seems now quite restored, and has thrown herself completely into the ministrations of Duveneck. She seems to spend her life in learning, or rather studying without learning, and in commencing afresh, to paint in someone’s manner. I have not seen any of her new things yet, but, I believe, am to go to the studio today, and make the acquaintance of Duveneck. When I have done so, I shall be able to tell you more.

To Mrs. Henry James Sr. (from Genoa)                                March 16, 1881

I shall spend a week at Milan if it isn’t too cold, which has the merit that I know none of its inhabitants. I have been solicited by the Bootts to join them in a trip to Sorrento, but have judiciously declined: whereby I shall probably not see them for a month or two. I suppose you know that they go home for a long visit in July. Perhaps you also know that (as I am told) Lizzie is much “talked of,” in Florence, in the matter of Duveneck. I have no “inside view” of the case. Her marrying him would be, given the man, strange (I mean given his roughness, want of education, of a language, etc). But the closeness of her intimacy is hardly less so. I take it, however, that the said intimacy is simply the result of the total unconventionalism of the three persons concerned, – the third being Frank Boott. The latter thinks everything Lizzie does is all right, and is himself as simple as a milkmaid. Lizzie likes Duveneck, who is a very good fellow, and Duveneck likes her (no wonder, after all she has done for him); and none of them have any consciousness whatever of appearances.  – But I didn’t mean to write a disquisition on the subject.

To Elizabeth Boott (from London)                                     October 14, 1883 

Don’t repeat this – please; I have such a horror in the U.S.A. of everything getting into the papers…Tell me about your work, your prospects. Remember that I can make a place for you whenever you will come over here.

To Elizabeth Boott  (from London)                                December 11, 1883 

…if you come, I am prepared to show you round among the British studios, despise them though you will, and Philistine though they be…I hear with interest of your own exhibits and of your life and manners this winter. Give this to your father and tell him to read between the lines how I cherish and remember him.

To Elizabeth Boott (from London)                                            June 2, 1884

…with it came the beautiful photo of your mother and child which I ought long since to have thanked you for in a manner commensurate with my admiration. I expressed this sentiment (to myself and the public) by having it immediately mounted and framed, in the highest style of art, and it now forms one of the principal ornaments of my sitting-room. It is very good and complete and of a beautiful tone, and would be, I think, the best thing you have done, if it were not for the charming little girl in white you send me today, which strikes me as even more brilliantly successful. She is most delicate and exquisite, and marks a great jump in your development. Is it a portrait (to be paid for) – or an order – or an idea of your own? In any case, tous mes compliments.

To Elizabeth Boott (from London)                                       January 7, 1886

My many thanks for your kind wish for the bonne annee, which I give you back heartily, and to your dear father also, a hundred-fold. I hope the year announces well for you – as it so apparently does; it certainly will not be difficult for it to be a better one than 1885.

To Elizabeth Boott (from London)                                   February 22, 1886

I am heartily delighted and congratulate you with all the warmth and confidence of old friendship. Yes – today I am surprised, but I shouldn’t have been three or four years ago. Better late than never – for me as well as for yourself, for I value greatly the prospect of renewing my relations with the gifted Frank, whom I always liked and esteemed and whom I congratulate still more than I congratulate you. Give him, please, my friendliest regards, and tell him my interest in him, always great, will be redoubled. My interest in you, dear Lizzie, will be so much greater as may be possible in a sentiment in which there was so little margin for increase. I wish for you every happy and favouring consequence – and that it may all take the form of you and Duveneck becoming the Brownings (more or less – in a sort of way) of pictorial art. Make him work – make him do himself justice, as he has never done. If your father doesn’t like it, he must come over and live with me – I have a room for him. But we shall all live together, surely: Europe must be your scene.

To Francis Boott (from London)                                      February 22, 1886

I was already on the point of writing to you that the Macmillans had been directed last week to send you the Bostonians and that I hoped it had by this time turned up…when Lizzie’s prodigious note dropped in! I hasten to express my sympathy in all you must feel on the subject of her engagement – the apprehensions (as to becoming No. 3) as well as the satisfaction that she is to take a step that has in it so little of precipitation and so much of experience, congeniality, maturity, community and other goods. Take care lest between two easels you fall to the ground, you can so easily trip over their legs. This is a caution very seasonable – after your long lameness. I trust you are better now and that the shock has cured you – brought you to your feet. Is it for that Lizzie has done it? You will be a delightful beau pere

To Henrietta Reubell (from London)                                   March 11, 1886

I am much interested, and very sympathetic, in your interest in Lizzie Boott’s new departure. She is judging for herself, with a vengeance; but she is forty years old, and she has the right. Duveneck won’t beat her, nor la rudoyer, nor perhaps even neglect her, and will be completely under her influence and control; but he is illiterate, ignorant, and not a gentleman (though an excellent fellow, kindly, simple etc.) and she gives away to him her independence and freedom. His talent is great, though without delicacy, but I fear his indolence is greater still. Lizzie, however, will urge him forward and be an immense help to him. For him it is all gain – for her it is very brave. You see I am far from enthusiastic, but I await results with a certain confidence, thinking they may be considerably better than some of the elements would promise.

To Elizabeth Boott (from London)                                    October 18, 1886

It is a great pleasure to me to hear from you when your letters breathe such an air of matrimonial success and general well-being and well-doing.  Delightful too is the glimpse you give of the golden autumn in your Florentine hills…In you, dear Lizzie, I take more and more interest with the succeeding years and am ever very affectionately yours…

To Mr. and Mrs. William James (from Florence)           December 23, 1886

The Bootts are in Florence proper, and I suppose you will already have heard that Lizzie gave birth, six days ago, very quickly and quietly, to a robust male. She has been doing remarkably well ever since, and so has the child, and the whole affair has gone on much better than was feared. Her marriage, on a nearer view, doesn’t seem any less “queer” – save that it always seems to have existed. Duveneck is a good frank fellow, without any small or nasty qualities – but it is impossible to converse with him for more than two minutes and he will be a weight for her to carry the rest of her life – I mean socially, and in the world. He is only half-civilized – though he is very “civil”. Boott’s acceptance of him, personally, a toute heure de la journee, is pathetic and heroic, and might have been made the subject of a little tale by Turgenieff. Duveneck’s painting appears to have picked up since his marriage (it had languished much before) but he has very few specimens in Florence.

To Grace Norton (from Florence)                                      January 25, 1887

The Bootts are here, and Lizzie Duveneck (whose marriage is most interest-quenching) has an infant five weeks old.

To Elizabeth Boott (from London)                                November 13, 1887

I suppose I must congratulate you on having arranged yourself comfortably again in Paris…I hear once in a while from Bellosguardo…I pity you if you lose your villa, after so many years. Still, for summer it would be bad for the child, and I don’t suppose your idea would ever be to winter there again. I think of the whole place (Florence) with mingled feelings…It was a great pleasure to see tuo babbo a month ago, although he contrived as usual to make his visit as little of a visit as possible…I hope Duveneck is enjoying the art-life that surrounds you – give him my love and bid him bring you over here when the winter loan exhibition (old masters etc) opens January 1st at the Royal Academy.

To Henrietta Reubell (from England)                                      April 1, 1888

I wonder if you can give me any news of our poor desolate friend Boott – and of the helpless Duveneck as well? Have you seen them? – Have you heard from them or anything about them? I have heard from him of course but briefly and he is so simple and inexpressive that it is in [his] power to tell one very little about himself. I wonder much about him – in his hideously sad bereavement, and if there were not material obstacles and above all if one’s talk with him would not be quite over at the end of the first three minutes – I would go over and see him. I wrote to him instantly that I would come if it would be a satisfaction or service to him, to see me, but he didn’t take it up.

      Lizzie’s sudden death was an unspeakable shock to me – and I scarcely see it, scarcely believe it yet. It was the last thing I ever thought of as possible – I mean before Boott’s own surrender of his earthly burden. And the unnatural and most unhappy situation she has left behind her – those two poor uncongenial men tied together by that helpless baby – is something of which I don’t see the solution. (I am writing in a room full of people talking – and they make me write erratically.) I have only wanted to ask you to send me three words when you do see Boott (whenever that is) and tell me what impression he makes on you – what he intends to do – what relation appears to exist between Duveneck and himself? Had you seen poor Lizzie long – or shortly? – before her death? What a strange fate – to have lived long enough simply to tie those two men with nothing in common, together by that miserable infant and then vanish into space leaving them face to face! I shall miss her greatly. I had known her for  twenty three or four years – seen her for longish periods together – very familiarly and I had great affection for her. She was a dear little quiet, gentle, intelligent laborious lady. And the future looks dark for poor F.B. – one can only hope that it won’t be long. The child is the complication – without it he and Duveneck could go their ways respectively – Duveneck to marry again in the fulness of time, and he to return to his Bostonian relationships and kindnesses, where he would be tenderly looked after to the end of his days. Have you seen any of D’s work this winter – and especially the portrait of Lizzie? Is it good or interesting?

To Francis Boott  (from London)                                             April 3, 1888 

Your letter which I find on my return from a country visit of two days gives me great comfort – because it puts the case of Lizzie’s predicament (that really is the true name for it) exactly as I inwardly felt it – and if you feel it in that way too, the solution (the moral situation) in which I see you enshrouded [is] by so much simplified and even illuminated. It is essentially true that she had undertaken an effort beyond her strength, that she staggered under it and was broken down by it. I was conscious of this as long ago as during those months in Florence when superficially she seemed so happy and hopeful. The infirmity was visible beneath the optimism – and the whole thing seemed to me without an issue. This particular issue is the most violent – but perhaps after all it is not the most cruel – the most painful to witness – for perpetual struggle and disappointment would have been her portion. I mean on the specific gravity of the mass she proposed to herself to float and carry. – It is no fault of his – but simply the stuff he is made of. There is something unspeakably pathetic to me in all the little heroisms of her plans, her faiths, her view of the future – quenched forever – but quenched in a void – that is in a soundless rest – far sweeter than anything the hard ache of life has to give. I pity you, my dear Francis, almost more than anything else, for some of the canting consolations that must be offered you. I am more glad that I can say that your vision of her situation happens to be the one which makes sorrow the least absolute. Don’t answer this – I shall write again soon. Please say to Duveneck that he is  very frequently in my thoughts. Ever faithfully yours…

To Francis Boott (from London)                                             May 15, 1888 Your kind letter only adds to my regret at not having been able to make an act of presence in the last earthly offices paid to dear Lizzie…It must have been very touching – to me it would have been overwhelmingly sad – to stand with so many old friends and in the midst of so many years of close local recollections beside Lizzie’s grave. Some day I shall stand there myself – and feel even then bewildered at the violence of the change. How glad I am that the dear old Florentine earth contains her…I am very glad too that you that you and Duveneck are able – or you at any rate – to remain for the present at Bellosguardo – in the midst of all that beauty and peace, out of the roughness of things elsewhere and with Lizzie’s presence in every room and her voice in every air. Just a year ago now I saw her there – and wandered in the deep grass of the beautiful terrace with her and looked over the old parapet. I hope to go back to Bellosguardo often but I shall see her there, always, more than anything else.

To Francis Boott (from London)                                       January 11, 1890

I spent several hours yesterday with Alice, and we talked inevitably about you and smacked our lips together over your last fine letter to her, and she showed me the various photographs she had lately received from you: notably the group of four on the old terrace at Bellosguardo, in which dear Lizzie stands there beside you with such a vivid actuality that for the moment, it startles one into wondering why one hadn’t heard from her for so long. At any rate it made me ask myself again how in the world you can make anything of life today. You will tell me, of course, that you don’t, save in so far as the dear little boy helps you – one of the two portraits of whom (with his father holding him up from behind) I extorted from Alice and brought away with me. Of the other picture, the group of four on the terrace, with you in a chair…you doubtless have too few exemplaires to be able to spare me one – and you have given me too many photographs in the past. But if you did have one at your disposal, I should value it exceedingly…

To Francis Boott (from England)                                            July 14, 1893

A few days ago, spending a few hours in town, I found there, by the kind care of Duveneck…two admirable photographs of the magnificent monument. They gave me more pleasure than I can say – a pleasure almost as great, I think, as the honour the work does to its author. Please thank Duveneck very heartily for the photographs and tell him how noble and beautiful, and simply serene and unique I think his inspiration has been. Forever (practically) will that exquisite image lie there to enshrine it. One sees, in its place, and its ambiente, what a meaning and eloquence the whole thing has – and one is touched to tears by this particular example which comes home to one so – of the jolly great truth that it is art alone that triumphs over fate. Poor long-silent Lizzie speaks and lives there again and will be present to generations and generations and have a beauty and continuity superior to ours. It is a great thing to have done – please ask him to accept from me directly, my small proportionate share of the general gratitude. And for him – what a happiness to have achieved it – to have made such a present! I want intensely to stand there before it in fact – though there is something terrible in such an evocation, at first. I am sorry there should have to be a question of waiting another whole year, to send the marble comrade to the Salon. But it ought to be most eminently and universally seen. The Boy, I suppose, is of an age now to enter into it. What a happiness for him – at least when you take him to Florence. When will that be, however? I fear I shan’t see him till you do. We must make an appointment there. All the more that there has been no Italy for me, alas, this year…Please give my kindest remembrance, apart from the monument, to Duveneck and believe me affectionately yours…

To Francis Boott (from London)                                       October 21, 1893 

I rejoice in the good you tell me of Lizzie’s boy, and long for the day I may take him by the hand. Shan’t you bring him over soon for indispensable initiations and pilgrimages? Give him, please, the love of one who loved his mother. I hope Duveneck’s admirable work is now adequately known…I hope he is in some stable equilibrium; and send him cordial greetings.

To Francis Boott (from London)                                    December 15, 1894

I went to Chioggia to see Duveneck and spent several hot and smelly hours with him – unrewarded, I grieve to say, with the sight of a single stroke of his brush. He would “show” us nothing – save the beauties of Chioggia and his robust and pleasant self. He seemed wondrous well, and made me most welcome, and I felt sorry for his lonely and uncompanioned life. In Florence, where I spent a few days on my way to Rome, I made an intensely pious pilgrimage to the spot where Lizzie lies in majestic and perennial bronze. Strange, strange it seemed, still, to see her only so – but so she will be seen for ages to come. 

Provenance of the letters:

Correspondence and Journals of Henry James Jr. and Other Family Papers, 1855-1916 (MS Am 1094). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The artist discovered these letters in several books regarding Henry James’ correspondence published by Jamesian biographer Leon Edel. The existence of Lizzie Boott and her relationship to Henry James and his novels was revealed to the artist by her cousin David Richardson. She met him by chance in Virginia in 1987, a year after having studied at the University of Bologna. The artist’s Italy connection inspired him to share the remarkable history of their Bostonian relatives that lived in Italy, Switzerland, France and England in the 19th century, beginning with Horatio Greenough (1805-1852). Richardson made a point in his lifetime of visiting as many descendants of the Greenoughs and Duvenecks as possible in Europe and California, and collecting their anecdotes, correspondence, art and published books. Without this fortuitous encounter, it is possible the artist would never have discovered the family history of fellow Bostonian artists and art lovers, Greenoughs, Bootts, Duvenecks, Huntingtons and Curtises, treading the same footsteps in Italy.

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