Photo Credit: Asjah Moore

The photos from the late 1920s and the early 1930s on display have been selected from The Acton Photograph Archive which includes over 25.000 items, in process of being digitized. Dated between 1870 and 1994, there is a strong focus on the first thirty years of the 20th century. To affirm their taste and role within the Florentine cosmopolitan society and to document their lives and their work in the garden restoration and art collection, the Acton family relied on this increasingly popular medium during this period. The photographs feature extravagant outdoor events, wild parties, and famous personalities, often portrayed by William Acton (like Joan Haslip, the Mitford sisters and Diana Vreeland, a fashion columnist and editor-in-chief at “Vogue”). Other photographs illustrate the Actons’ passion for daily sports and adventurous travels. Hortense is also photographed often alone in a studio setting wearing her beautiful haute couture gowns.

William Acton's Work, Between Paiting Fashion and Photography

“A born painter” as his brother Harold defined him, William Acton was best known for his “suspiciously elegant” portraits from English high society. He painted the most beautiful, fashionable and titled ladies from the 1930s, many of them as busts with landscapes and seascapes as backgrounds. Throughout his creative process, William resorted to photography as a fundamental means of studying his models, which he would later draw on paper and then, eventually, paint. After his first, and only, exhibition (1937, Royal Society of Painters, Pall Mall, London) critics recognized his talent in molding his academic background into the Surrealist aesthetic.

Hortense Portrait of Diana Vreeland, photograph of a painting by William Acton, (oil on canvas?), ca. 1934. ©Diana Vreeland Collection; ©The Acton Photograph Archive, NYU Florence.

Diana Vreeland (1903 – 1989), was a noted columnist and editor in the field of fashion. She worked for the fashion magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and as a special consultant at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1964.