Like a character out of romantic fiction, Rose Marie was beautiful, wealthy, sweet, and selfless. She grew up in luxurious circumstance surrounded by the highest of European society of the belle epoque, moving between homes in Paris, Switzerland, and the Italian Riviera. Her father was the wanderlust stricken son of the family behind the Ormond cigar empire in Swizterland. But we know of her because her mother was the youngest sister of John Singer Sargent.
Sargent was a private man and eschewed public life for a life of travel with family and friends. In the summer of 1911, a small coterie took up residence at the Bellevue Hotel in Simplon, Switzerland, among them the Ormond children. These trips were not vacations as much as painting excursions and a donkey was laden with watercolors, easels and billowing dresses for the hike into the countryside.
There are photographs from one of these trips showing the women in stout shoes and shorter skirts, much more sensible for an alpine trek. Perhaps they put the beautiful white dresses over their hiking gear, or they posed elsewhere and the scenery was painted on the hike.
Rose Marie was featured in many of the watercolors Sargent produced on this trip-she was already a favorite sitter for him. Her grand nephew and Sargent biographer George Ormond, said that she “Lights up so many of the things to which Sargent was devoted”
These are two of his paintings with Rose Marie wearing this beautiful shawl. While his watercolors sparkle, his oils glow, and Sargent could paint fabric in way that makes you weak in the knees just to look at it.
In 1913 Rose Marie married a brilliant medieval art historian named Robert Andre Michel. She assisted him with his research as he worked on his magnum opus about the murals at the Palais d’Avignon in France and they had a very happy but very short marriage. He went off to war in 1914 and was killed at Soissons that October. Heartbroken, poor Rose Marie devoted herself to nursing blinded soldiers. Maybe to Rose Marie,the loss of sight seemed particularly devastating.
Four years later, Rose Marie herself was killed when a German missile landed on the church where she was attending Good Friday service. She wasn’t even Catholic, but she went to that service because she enjoyed the music.
Sargent was devastated by her death and said “She was the most charming girl who ever lived”
Rose Marie and Robert Andre are buried next to each other in the countryside near Soissons, in a grave that is still today lovingly attended to by the locals.