Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Don't Fail to See It"

Before the novels and the Pulitzer, Edith Wharton made her mark by writing about garden design, interior decoration and what constituted good taste. Her first published book was The Decoration of Houses (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897) in which she tastefully railed against Victorian decorating sensibilities and advocated for the use of more open spaces that emphasized the room, not the furnishings.

Wharton's next non-fiction work was a lavishly illustrated book about the architecture and surrounding gardens of Italian villas aptly named Italian Villas and Their Gardens (New York: Century, 1905). The book included numerous drawings and photographs, primarily by Cornish Colony artist Maxfield Parrish. In Rauner's collection of Parrish's papers are correspondence with Wharton about the book as well as some of the original plate negatives used as inspiration for his illustrations.

One particularly interesting letter "sums up" Wharton's impressions of the various villas in Florence. The Villa Medici gets a nod of approval - "Open certain days. Don't fail to see it." The Villa Albani is dismissed as "Hard to see and not worth while." The Villa d'Este in Tivoli is "Wonderful of course. Always open." Entries on other sites contain additional information about permits, whom to obtain them from and when to visit to avoid complications due to school calendars or other potential hazards.

Ask for ML-62, box 3, folder 43 to read the correspondence and Illus P249wha for the first edition of Italian Villas. The negatives are extremely fragile and are housed in Box 13 of the Parrish collection. A guide to the Parrish collection is available.

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