A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Duncan M. VinsonhalerJuly 28, [1923] from Ville d'AvrayUVa 

Has decided on Leon Bakst for the portrait. He believes he can do it, though he is busy designing sets for Paris Opera. Not sure he will do a good likeness, but it will be an interesting picture. Has agreed to $1,000, the amount Vinsonhaler suggested. Please keep confidential. This has been a difficult matter.   Willa Cather   [Stout #690]

To Duncan M. VinsonhalerAug. 1, [1923] from Ville d'AvrayUVa 

Bakst wants to begin the sittings on August 6. Expects it to take two to three weeks. Please keep price confidential, as he usually charges twice that much.   Willa Cather   [Stout #691]

To Irene Miner WeiszAug. 11, [1923], from Ville d'AvrayNewberry 

Has been very busy this summer. Had to choose a painter for the portrait commissioned by the people of Omaha. Expects to be at home for Christmas. Looks forward to telling her about Isabelle's house and friends. Bakst paints in a modern style that may not produce a perfect likeness. Fears people in Omaha won't be pleased.   Willie   [Stout #692]

To Duncan M. VinsonhalerAug. [17?, 1923], from Ville d'AvrayUVa 

Has received check for $1000 to pay Bakst. Work has been slow. Her health has not been good, and she is very tired; going to Aix-les-Bains to rest. Not sure her parents will want to go to Omaha to unveil the portrait. Would prefer this to be quiet. May Bakst exhibit the portrait in Philadelphia and Boston before sending it to Omaha? Will probably sail for the U.S. in late October and is not eager to get to Omaha, where the aggressive Mrs. Shotwell lurks. The questions she wrote to Bakst are entirely too personal and intrusive!   Willa Cather   [Stout #693]

To Duncan M. VinsonhalerSept. 6, [1923], from Aix-les-BainsUVa 

Is resting here for a month. Sixteen sittings for the portrait, rather than the ten anticipated. Has the check in a safe deposit box until the painting is finished. Are they willing for Bakst to exhibit it? Not sure she can bring it with her. Are they willing for a photograph of it to be in the New York Times? Mrs. Shotwell's rude letter enclosed.   Willa Cather   [Stout #700]

To Zoë AkinsSept. 14, [1923], from Aix-les-BainsUVa 

Is spending a month here getting treatment for neuritis on right arm. Will sail as soon as Bakst finishes portrait, paid for by the city of Omaha.   Willa   [Stout #701]

To Duncan M. VinsonhalerDec. 19, 1923UVa 

Glad the portrait has arrived and they like it fairly well. Doesn't know if Bakst can carry on conversation in English. They spoke in French last summer. Has enjoyed their correspondence.   W. S. C.   [Stout #711]

To Duncan M. Vinsonhaler,  Sunday [Jan. 13, 1924] UVa 

Enclosing a telegram from newspaper and copy of her answer. Is not pleased with the portrait, but other painters advised it could not be refused. Bakst worked hard on it, and she worked hard sitting. Is sorry if the committee is displeased. Entire matter has been stressful.   Willa Cather   [Stout #714]

To Ferris GreensletOct. 30, 1945 [attached note by Leon Edel indicates that F. Greenslet gave this letter to E. K. Brown, leaving it to him to decide whether to destroy it, and at the time he died Brown had apparently made no decision] ; Beinecke 

Brother Roscoe died in his sleep on September 25. He was less than two years older than she [actually four years younger] and is part of her earliest memories. Was the closest to her of all her brothers. Feels that something inside is broken. Very difficult to reply to all the letters of condolence. Thanks for sending his Practical Cogitator, but can't read small type due to eye trouble. Please destroy this letter. Had just finished a story she had been thinking about for a long time and was doing research for a larger project when the news came.   Willa Cather   [Stout #1719]

To Sister [probably Elsie Cather]August 11, [1923]UNL-Southwick 

Had first session with Léon Bakst yesterday. He pronounces his name like "boxed," but if one insists on making it sound mid-western, it can be pronounced to rhyme with "waxed." Please tell the family to learn how to pronounce it, as his name will be associated with hers often. Bakst's studio is made up of large rooms filled with gorgeous, meticulously arranged objects from Asia and Europe. In those rooms, it seems as if one is in a church dedicated to all the world's religions. Bakst is the kind of person she has always loved—like Annie Sadilek and Joe Pavelik Sr. and other childhood friends. Though he doesn't speak English well, he is trying to read One of Ours using a dictionary. He uses French to speak to her, and has told her fairy tales from Russia. Thankfully, he did not ask her to dress formally and is painting just her head and shoulders. He picked a green shirt she had, reminiscent of a Russian blouse. Sittings remind her of the days listening to Mr. Ducker as he spat tobacco juice, she is such a student to the master. Time will go quickly in those wonderful, scrupulously neat rooms. [Pasted at the top of the second page is a newspaper clipping in French listing results in horse races, including a horse named Red Cloud, with a note written by Cather pointing out that Red Cloud is winning in Paris.]   Willa