Americans in Florence

I don’t have the gift of entering into paintings as I do when reading a book. It isn’t that they leave me without a thought or two and some kind of vague appreciation of their colors and style.

But beyond that, I am at a loss for words and words are the only way I think and imagine, at least insofar as I am aware of. I feel very much like Edgar Logan in Jennie Erdal’s The Missing Shade of Blue.

At that point the language to interpret a painting was simply not available to me. …My eyes were innocent like those of a child, though to me they were simply crude and ignorant.

In spite of this, last week I went to see the exhibition, Americans in Florence, at the Palazzo Strozzi and hoped I could learn a little something about the many American painters who enjoyed their days here, as much as I do, and were suitably inspired to express their pleasure in the way they know best.

The exhibition featured the work of John Singer Sargent. Like many Americans who travel to Florence, they made a first stop in a local hotel. Here is how Sargent depicted one such room.

William Merrit Chase, less well known among the American Impressionists, usually preferred to stay in one of the many villas just outside the centro. Chase painted this picture of the Villa Silli before he bought it a few years later.

Many of Sargent’s paintings were portraits of the writers and artists who visited Florence. The British writer Vernon Lee (pseudonym of Violet Paget) known for her novels, essays, and travelogues, was among them.

Willard Metcalf, also not as widely known as Sargent, was among the several artists who painted the Tuscan countryside. Here is one he painted of Fiesole, located up in the hills above Florence. It is one of my favorite places to visit while I’m here.

Sargent’s painting of Henry James is often reproduced; perhaps you’ve seen it before. One reviewer wrote of this painting, His eyes, watery green, yet secret and profound will look at you, will touch and catch you intimately.

These are only a sampling of the exhibition’s paintings. It runs until July 15th, so there’s plenty of time to head over for a first-hand viewing. If you can’t make it, there’s an app of the exhibition available at the iBooks store.