Elizabeth Boott Duveneck

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(American, 1846 - 1888)

Elizabeth Boott Duveneck's life reads like a Jamesian novel. She was, in fact, along with her widowed father, a model for characters in "Portrait of a Lady" (1881), "The Golden Bowl" (1904) and several other novels and stories by Henry James.

Elizabeth, known always as Lizzie, was raised in a privileged and cosmopolitan environment. Her mother, Elizabeth Lyman Boott, was the eldest daughter of Boston Brahmin George Lyman and his first wife, the daughter of Harrison Gray Otis. Her father, Francis Boott, was a composer and music critic. Mrs. Boott, 

like so many others of her generation, suffered from lung trouble. At the advise of the family's physician, her husband took her south, hoping the warmer climate of Charleston might prove beneficial. Unfortunately, the disease was too far advanced, and in 1847 she passed away, leaving behind a deeply bereaved husband and an eighteen month old daughter.

The social climate in mid-nineteenth century Boston was not felicitous for the arts, and Boott found himself at odds with the society to which he belonged. Shortly after his wife's death, he took Lizzie to Europe. There they divided their seasons between various locations, eventually settling in the Villa Castellani at 

Bellosguardo, overlooking Florence. As part of that city's Anglo-American community, the Bootts enjoyed a companionable life dominated by music, painting, good food and lively conversation.

Francis Boott undertook for himself the serious study of musical composition and saw to it that his young daughter had lessons in everything: piano, voice, violin, French, Italian, Latin, drawing, painting, riding and swimming.

Lizzie's interest in drawing was encouraged by her father, who carefully preserved all of her early sketches and watercolors. In 1865 the Bootts returned to Boston, where nineteen-year-old Lizzie became friends with Alice, William and especially Henry James, who found her infinitely "civilized and produced...educated, cultivated, accomplished, toned above all, as from steeping in a rich old medium."

The James and Boott families spent part of the summer of 1869 together at a farmhouse in Pomfret, New York. Through this association, Lizzie came to know William Morris Hunt and entered the class for women artists he was just forming in Boston. Hunt was an influential artist and critic, whose modern French 

aesthetic principles were the antithesis of traditional academic methods. His richly painted landscapes and his proselytizing for French paintings by the Barbizon School inspired and movement among Boston artists, setting them against the realist style of the Hudson River School, which still prevailed in New York.

Taught by Hunt to admire the Barbizon tradition of painting directly from nature, Lizzie viewed Corot and Millet as the greatest of modern masters. While in Boston Lizzie attended an exhibition of the radical new Midwestern painter Frank Duveneck and was sufficiently impressed to buy a portrait. In 1880, while 

studying with Thomas Couture at Villiers-le-Bel, France, she took a side trip to Venice to seek out Duveneck, and decided to work with him as a private student in Munich the following summer. During this tutelage, the two fell in love, to the horror of Lizzie's father, who considered Duveneck a fine artist, but a boorish individual, totally unsuitable for his well-bread daughter. Henry James was also displeased. He later wrote "For him it is all gain, for her it is very brave."

Though Lizzie and Duveneck continued to see each other, they did not marry until 1886. In the interim, she applied herself to her work with ever greater concentration, keeping up a full schedule of painting and exhibiting. Her first show was a joint one with fellow artist Annie Dixwell in Boston at J. Eastman Chase's Gallery. This was followed by submission throughout 1883 to the American Watercolor Society, the Boston Art Club, the Society of American Artists, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Society of Artists.

A trip that year to the American South produced five portraits of black farm works and two genre scenes, both with the same title. All these endeavors culminated in a large, well received one-person show at Doll and Richards Gallery in Boston in 1884.

On March 25, 1886, despite her father's concerns, Lizzie Boott and Frank Duveneck were married before a justice of the peace in Paris. After their wedding, they painted and lived with her father at the Villa Castellani. Remembering the death of his own wife forty years earlier, Francis Boott was anxious when his 

daughter became pregnant at the age of forty. After the birth of her son in December 1886, Lizzie wrote, "It seems strange after so many years of spinsterhood to get so much domestic life in so short a time." And 

Later, "I am beginning to work again, though not very steadily for the baby is very absorbing. I find that I am constantly thinking about him and wondering in my ignorance if everything is done that ought to be."

In October 1887, in search of more artistic opportunities for Duveneck, the couple moved to Paris. Lizzie, was busy with the baby, household tasks and long hours posing for Frank's full-length portrait of her (which was intended for the Paris Salon), caught a chill in the cold Parisian winter. Her ailment rapidly developed into pneumonia, and four days later she died, leaving Duveneck alone with their twenty-month old son. At the insistence of Francis Boott, the child was sent to relatives in Boston who could ensure his proper upbringing.

Frank Duveneck returned to Cincinnati. He sculpted a memorial to his wife, a bronze version of which was placed at her tomb in Florence's Allori Cemetery in 1891. Francis Boott so admired this personification of his daughter that he asked Duveneck to create a marble version to be displayed in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, where Lizzie's son and her many friends might see it.

Source:  AskArt/Elizabeth Boott Duveneck