In this fierce and poignant book, the author, drawing on sources that include her grandmother's richly erotic diaries, unveils intimate details of the Acton dynasty in Florence, the illicit love affair of Arthur and Elsie, and the controversial legal aftermath that continues to this day. A true family saga played out against the backdrop of Florence's celebrated Villa La Pietra. The struggle over the billion dollar estate of one of the 20th century's most notable aesthetes, Harold Acton, pitted New York University, against first Liana Beacci, Acton's illegitimate half-sister, and since her death in 2000 her daughter, Princess Dialta Alliata di Montereale, who lives in Honolulu. It began its progress through the Italian legal system soon after Acton's death in 1994 with more downs than ups for the family. But a recent reworking of Italian inheritance laws, to make them internally coherent and to bring them into accord with European protocols ,promises a dramatic conclusion – and sooner rather than later. It was always a story in which reality was more colourful than fiction. You will find it in My Mother, My Father and His Wife Hortense: The True Story of the Villa La Pietra (Amazon), a vivid book by Dialta, published under her family name, Dialta Lensi Orlandi, who is now Princess Dialta di Montereale. In fifty chapters, against the historical and social backdrop of art, glamour, war, and international intrigue, the lives of the Beaccis and the Actons are woven together through the eyes of a third-generation family member, Dialta Lensi Orlandi, granddaughter of Arthur Acton and daughter of Liana Beacci.The tale encompasses the fate of Acton's estate, an appalling betrayal, and the continuing fight to restore justice and dignity to Acton's legacy and the Beacci family name. Arthur Acton, Dialta's grandfather, was an art dealer, married to Hortense Mitchell, a Chicago heiress, but who came to dislike both art and her husband's home in Florence. Dialta's mother was born to Arthur Acton's lifelong mistress, Ersilia. Her half-brother, Harold Acton, the model for Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, and who had been host at La Pietra to Princess Diana and Pablo Picasso, was acquainted with his relations and tried to thwart their inheritance.In 2003 the court of Florence allowed the bodies of Liana and Arthur to be dug up for DNA tests. These established with “the highest degree of probability” that Liana was Arthur Acton's daughter and a surprise ending.
Today we view Czanne as a monumental figure, but during his lifetime (1839-1906), many did not understand him or his work. With brilliant insight, drawing on a vast range of primary sources, Alex Danchev tells the story of an artist who was never accepted into the official Salon: he was considered a revolutionary at best and a barbarian at worst, whose paintings were unfinished, distorted and strange. His work sold to no one outside his immediate circle until his late thirties, and he maintained that 'to paint from nature is not to copy an object; it is to represent its sensations' - a belief way ahead of his time, with stunning implications that became the obsession of many other artists and writers, from Matisse and Braque to Rilke and Gertrude Stein. Beginning with the restless teenager from Aix who was best friends with Emile Zola at school, Danchev carries us through the trials of a painter tormented by self-doubt, who always remained an outsider, both of society and the bustle of the art world. Czanne: A life delivers not only the fascinating days and years of the visionary who would 'astonish Paris with an apple', with interludes analysing his self-portraits, but also a complete assessment of Czanne's ongoing influence through artistic imaginations in our own time. He is, as this life shows, a cultural icon comparable to Monet or Toulouse.