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The Scandal Behind the Portrait

Luisa Casati, Augustus John portrait in the Art Gallery of Ontario

Another crazy lady. Luisa Casati (d. 1957), featured in a lush picturebook The Marchesa Casati:Portraits of a Muse, is described as "possibly the most artistically represented woman in history after the Virgin Mary and Cleopatra, the portraits, sculptures and photographs of her would fill a gallery. In a quest for immortality, she had herself painted by Giovanni Baldini, Augustus John, Kees Van Dongen, Romaine Brooks and Ignacio Zuloaga; sketched by Drian, Alberto Martini and Alastair; sculpted by Giacomo Balla, Catherine Barjansky and Jacob Epstein; and photographed by Man Ray...."

I remember her differently. In the lush green Thames Valley where I lived as a child, there was quite a buzz when it was known that we had our first commie nobs in the neighbourhood, an heir to a peerage and his wife Cristina - the daughter it was breathed of the scandalous Marchesa di Casati. "Surely you remember," a neighbour said over a glass of sherry and over the childrens' heads" she's the woman who gave that ball and painted the gardener's boys gold. "All over?' "Yes" "Oh No, what happened?" "Of course they died. "