Lizzie Boott’s nearly two years in Rome, from 1871 to 1873, mark a highlight of her career. Then in her mid-twenties, Boott had been painting and drawing for two decades, as evidenced by the profusion of drawings, watercolors, and illustrations she had made from childhood on. Boott, whose...
Lizzie Boott’s nearly two years in Rome, from 1871 to 1873, mark a highlight of her career. Then in her mid-twenties, Boott had been painting and drawing for two decades, as evidenced by the profusion of drawings, watercolors, and illustrations she had made from childhood on. Boott, whose mother died when she was eighteen months old, spent most of her youth in Italy with her father Francis Boott, whose family’s wealth came from manufacturing. Part of a large American expatriate community, the Bootts lived near Florence in the Villa Castellani at Bellosguardo. In 1865, father and daughter returned to Boston, Massachusetts, where Lizzie began to study painting with William Morris Hunt [2000.1215] in a class he offered for aspiring women artists, one of the first opportunities American women had been given to study the craft. Lizzie and her father returned to Italy in 1871, now basing themselves mainly in Rome, where Lizzie maintained a studio at the Piazza Barberini. In March 1873, writer and family friend Henry James, together with artists Edward Darley Boit[http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Edward%20Darley%20Boit] and Frederic Crowninshield[http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Frederic%20Crowninshield], made a visit to Boott’s studio where she showed them her work, including a group of sepia and watercolor sketches. James reported that they “were much surprised at her fertility, inventiveness and general skill.” He added, “She ought now to paint . . . to sell her things and make herself, if she wishes a career.” Narcissus on the Campagna, with its quickly brushed technique and its palette of somber browns, grays, and greens contrasting with the white blossoms, suggests the strong influence of William Morris Hunt, who encouraged his students to capture broad effects rather than meticulous details. Its vertical composition and the subject itself relate to John La Farge’s work (seeHollyhocks and Corn [21.1442]), which Boott also knew. Her composition emphasizes the growing narcissus, but it also contains an unmistakable reference to Rome in the tiny, shadowed dome of St. Peter’s on the horizon. The Campagna, which had meant so much to artists of earlier generations, still had resonance for American painters and writers. Boott frequently described horseback riding on the Campagna alone or in company with such friends as James and Alice Bartlett; they would “make expeditions on the Campagna, sketch by the hours, ride till after the sun had set in red and gold behind the great dome and the mysterious twilight hour had begun.” James, describing spring coming to Rome, wrote: “Far out on the Campagna, early in February, you felt the first vague, earthy emanations . . . It comes with the early flowers, the white narcissus and the cyclamen, the half-buried violets and the pale anemones, and makes the whole atmosphere ring.” He also often referred in his letters to his rides on the Campagna with Boott during her sojourn in Rome, when Narcissus on the Campagna was executed.  Perhaps finished in the studio, this may be the kind of study Boott referred to when she wrote, “the Campagna gives one ever new and varied effects for memory sketches, and I have often blessed Mr. Hunt who first made me exert my memory in this way.” The painting was exhibited in New York at the National Academy in March 1876. Boott’s career was cut short by an early death. She is buried in Florence, in a tomb effigy designed by her husband, painter Frank Duveneck, a marble version [12.62] of which is in the Museum’s collection. Notes 1.(Henry James to his mother, Mrs. Henry James, Sr., March 24, 1873, quoted in Henry James Selected Letters, ed. Leon Edel (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), 108. 2. Alice Bartlett (d. 1912), who later married her cousin Henry Edward Warren, wrote magazine articles about her travels in Europe, provided Henry James with the germ of the story that inspired Daisy Miller, and was also a friend of Louisa and May Alcott. See Daniel Shealy, ed. Little Women Abroad: The Alcott Sisters’Letters from Europe, 1870–1871(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008), lxii. 3. Elizabeth Boott to members of William Morris Hunt’s art class, Rome, December 6, 1877, Cincinnati Historical Society, Ohio. 4. Henry James, “Roman Rides,” Transatlantic Sketches (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1875), 150. 5. Henry James to his father, Henry James, Sr., March 4, 1873, Rome, quoted in Edel, Henry James Selected Letters, 99. 6. Elizabeth Boott to members of William Morris Hunt’s art class, Rome, January 6, 1878, Cincinnati Historical Society, Ohio. This text has been adapted from Susan Ricci’s entry in The Lure of Italy: American Artists and the Italian Experience, 1760–1914, by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., et al., exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts in association with Harry N. Abrams, 1992).
About 1872-73, the artist (1846-1888); descended in the Duveneck family to Helen Erica Duveneck (1942-2005); 1993, sold by Helen Erica Duveneck to the MFA. (Accession Date: October 27, 1993)
Robert Jordan Fund