Dated 1929, this Callot Soeurs cocktail sheath dress in silk with an extravagant pink rose reminds viewers of the glamourous lifestyle Hortense Mitchell Acton enjoyed at Villa La Pietra. From the family Guest Book (1923-1994), we find that many important writers, artists, politicians, actors and members from the cosmopolitan milieu were hosted at the villa, especially during the twenties and thirties. Parties and performances took place in the Neo-Renaissance Garden behind the villa and in this room, the “White Salone”, described by Martin Green as a “crystallization and intensification of (that) beauty, in the dim, old, various, brown-and-gold harmoniousness that the aesthetes favored- one touched the whole of Italy on that patinaed wall, one grasped it all like a lump of amber” (Green 1976, XVIII).
The flute and martini glasses and the silver cocktail shakers displayed on a chinoiserie table are a hint to the art of entertainment mastered by Hortense. She was an elegant woman who knew very well how to receive her guests. As the art historian Alvar González-Palacios wrote, she always had a polite phrase for everyone. She sat in her chair, covered with crimson velvet, and read history books and memoirs. She would never refuse a very dry martini before dinner and a cigarette or two with coffee, and always fulfilled social rituals with extreme delicacy. Hortense could have easily come out from one of Henry James’s romances.
One hundred and thirty seven vinyl gramophone records also indicate the Actons’ interest in classical and contemporary music, including jazz and fox-trot. A photograph of the Salone around 1910 shows a beautiful gramophone next to the bookcase.
Compared to the dress scene in the Rotonda, one can see the maturing and refining of Hortense’s own personal taste and can see how she continued to age with style and keep her youthful.
-Acton, Harold. Memoirs of an Aesthete. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1948, 37-38.
At present, 234 songs on 137 vinyl records from the Villa La Pietra gramophone collection have been catalogued. The recordings date from 1903 – 1926 and span a diverse range of genres, including jazz, tango, fox trot, comedic, orchestral, duets and dramatic readings. Beautiful instrumentals play alone, or are set to vocals in English, Italian, French or Spanish. We have limited knowledge of just how and when the Actons utilized their dynamic music collection, but we believe it would be a worthwhile project for someone interested in taking a listen and researching more about this window into the 1920s lifestyle.
For more information, go to Performance: Music and theatre