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The Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 9th Floor New York City, NY 10022 United States 212.535.8810
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$ 225,000

A Street in Venice

Period 19th Century
Materials Oil on canvas
Dimensions
W. 46.5 in; H. 31.375 in;
W. 118.11 cm; H. 79.69 cm;
Condition Excellent.
Creation Date 1880
Description Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower left): R. Curtis / Venise 80

The American expatriate painter Ralph Curtis was born in Boston, the son of Daniel Sargent Curtis and Ariana Wormeley Randolf Curtis. After graduating from Harvard, Curtis left the United States for Venice, Italy, where Curtis’s parents owned the Palazzo Barbaro on the Grand Canal. The Curtis family maintained a busy social life, with the Palazzo Barbaro serving as a kind of meeting place for visiting Anglophone artists and writers, including Henry James, Edith Wharton, Robert Browning, and Isabella Stewart Gardner. Surrounded by cultural luminaries, Curtis decided upon a career as an artist. He left for Paris, studying at the Academie Julian under Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre. Curtis then sought further instruction in the atelier of Carolus-Duran, where he met his distant cousin, John Singer Sargent, for the first time. From that point the two maintained an ongoing friendship and regular correspondence. During and after their student days, the two painters frequently travelled together, and when Sargent was in Venice, he usually stayed with the Curtis family at the Palazzo Barbaro.

Virtually all of Curtis’s relatively short career was spent outside of the United States. Curtis exhibited annually at the Paris Salon from 1881 to 1887, and again in 1893; he also won an honorable mention at the Paris Expo of 1889. He rarely sent paintings back to the United States for exhibition, showing but two paintings at the 1882 annual exhibition of the Boston Art Club, and a single canvas the following year at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Curtis lived mainly at the Palazzo Barbaro, shuttling back and forth to Paris, until 1898, when he married Eliza De Wolfe Colt, heiress to the Colt firearms fortune, and moved to the Maritime Alps. (Edith Wharton’s story, “The Verdict,” is said to be modeled on Ralph and Eliza Curtis.) Sargent immortalized the newlyweds along with Curtis’s parents in one of his greatest conversation pieces, An Interior in Venice (1898, Royal Academy of Arts, London; see Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: The Portraits of the 1890s [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002], p. 155 no. 367 illus. in color), a stunning composition set within the sitting room of Palazzo Barbaro.

As evidenced by the above, Curtis’s career seems to have waned in the early 1890s, and his total output appears to have been somewhat small. Curtis’s paintings, like those of Sargent, embody the spirit and beauty of the Belle Époque, depicting sophisticated and finely attired women, in gondolas on the Grand Canal, outdoors in Impressionist landscapes, and, perhaps most typically, scenes from Venice’s streets and canals. Indeed, Curtis’s first picture to be accepted to the Paris Salon (in 1881) was a scene of a Venetian fishmonger, and one of Curtis’s best-known canvases is Return from the Lido (1884, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), a stunning gondola scene that he sold to Ms. Gardner in 1885.

A Street in Venice, painted in 1880, is one of the largest of Curtis’s Venetian scenes. The canvas’s vertical format accentuates the narrowness of the Venetian street, which is populated by a variety of figures of all ages. Curtis delights in the weathered surfaces of the buildings’ worn, stucco facades and the textures of the figures’ clothing. Curtis’s choice of a back-street genre scene reflects the influence of Sargent, who similarly produced a handful of major Venetian street scenes from 1880 to 1882. It is entirely possible that Sargent and Curtis sketched together during this period.
Styles / Movements Impressionism
Book References Elizabeth Anne McCauley, Gondola Days: Isabella Stewart Gardner and the Palazzo Barbaro (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2006), p. 225
Dealer Reference Number APG 20590D
Incollect Reference Number 211416
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