Rose Marie

rosemarie“The most charming girl who ever lived”

detail from Simplon Pass: The Tease. 1911
detail from Simplon Pass: The Tease. 1911

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.

The Villa Ormond on the Italian Riviera.
The Villa Ormond on the Italian Riviera.

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.

Simplon Pass: At The Top 1909-11
Simplon Pass: At The Top 1909-11

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.

Samplon Pass: Reading  1911
Samplon Pass: Reading 1911

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”

detail from Simplon Pass: The Lesson  1911
detail from Simplon Pass: The Lesson 1911


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.

Nonchaloir 1911
Nonchaloir 1911

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.

Eglise Saint-Gervais 1918
Eglise Saint-Gervais 1918

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.

The Black Brook  1908
The Black Brook 1908

5 thoughts on “Rose Marie

  1. Great post and I too know only a little of Sargent’s background. Over at Dani is having her monthly bookclub selection EW’s Custom of the Country Feb 1st featuring a character based on Sargent who EW knew. Please join us and I’ll mention your blog during comments as some of her readership would also be very interested in this type of fare.


    1. Thank you gsl-I feel a slight blush warming my cheeks.
      I am very interested in joining in on Danis bookclub but I was unsure about blog etiquette in these matters. Thank you for the invite, Ill be there. I had no idea EW based a character on JSS!
      Thank you for your support, and perhaps you and I can play tennis some time (although my French is quite weak!)


  2. On the book club, just show up Feb 1 and have at it. The Little Women discussion was a battle royale which you can reference on Dani’s post.
    Glad to hear you’re up for a little serve & volley. Curator definitely needs help.


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