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Staircase in Capri 


Beach at Capri 


A Capriote 
View of Capri 
Head of a Capri Girl
Head of Ana-Capri Girl 
(aka Rosina Ferrara)
Rosina Ferrara The Capri
Trip to Capri

When Sargent arrives in Capri, its for the purpose of duplicating his success from the previous summer at the Brittany Coast where he had painted sketches for his two “Oyster Gatherers of Cancale”.  

His plan was quite simple. In the winter he would work on a portrait, and in the summer he would travel to some exotic local for a landscape or a more daring work and present both to the Salon in May. It had worked the previous year and he was looking to do it again. 

The Island of Capri was a logical place to look. Capri was a place of imagination, beautiful women and interesting architecture. Artist had been drawn to there for years. 

As his parents traveled on to a more mild climate from Naples, Sargent waited days for a ship to take him to Capri. He eventually talked himself onto a small merchant sailboat headed for the island loaded with fresh fruit for the market. Once he got there he found Capri, at least in terms of its climate, anything but romantic. He settled into the Marina Hotel which he discovered to be almost an empty tomb -- deserted of any tourists who had nearly all fled the repressive heat. In his first few days it didn't seem promising. Though he got right to work sketching and painting, he found himself questioning his sanity, a bit lonely, and longing for the fun days back in Paris. Exhausted from the heat and lack of decent sleep he writes to his friend Ben Castillo who was in Paris: 

Aug. 10th, 1878 [date added by Ben} 

Dear Ben, 

By this time I fancy the Latin Quarter is deserted of all our mutual friends and that you are rarely to be seen within its bounds. This week contains no more Friday afternoon. 

I got a letter from Beckwith the other day which informed me of the moments of the different fellows. Why I didn’t join them in their walking tour? By the way I never saw the joke at all myself, but the question comes natural to me just now as I am inclined to think that companionship a great object. If it were not for one German staying at the Marina, I should be absolutely without society and he is in love and cannot talk about anything but his sweetheart’s moral irreproachability. We are going over to Sarrento in a day or two to visit her, and I have agreed to keep her husband’s interest rivetted to Vesuvius, Baiae, Pozzuoli and other places along the distant opposite shore.[1] 

Naples is simply superb and I spent a delightful week there. Of course it was very hot, and one generally feels used up. It is in fact that in Naples they eke out their wine with spirits and drugs, so that a glass of wine and water at a meal will make a man feel drunk. I had to take bad beer in order not to feel good-for-nothing. I could not sleep at night. In the afternoon I would smoke a cigarette in an armchair or on my bed and at five o’clock wake up suddenly from a deep sleep of several hours. Then lie awake all night and quarrel with the mosquitoes, fleas and all the imaginable beasts. I am frightfully bitten from head to foot. Otherwise Italy is all that one can dream for beauty and charm. 

It is however true that the “Vandalia” is at Naples. Cap. Robson was very polite and asked me to lunch on board on Tuesday, but at lunch time I was sailing past the Vandalia’s bows in the Capri market boat, packed in with a lot of vegetables and fruit. There is a steamer from Naples and Capri, but it has no particular day for going, so that if one comes to the quai of Sta. Lucia every morning as I did with one’s luggage, one is sure of getting off in less than a week. 

I am painting away very hard and shall be here a long time. So if you write soon, as I should like, address Capri otherwise P.R. Naples. With love to Mrs. Castillo and Wm. Durel. 

Your affect. old friend, 

John S. Sargent 
(Letter to Ben Castillo, Charteris, P. 47-48)

It was sometime after this letter that an English artist, who had been living on the island, heard that an American had arrived. He went to visit Sargent and introduced himself as Frank Hyde. Learning that Sargent didn't have any real place to work, Hyde invited him to come join him at an abandoned monastery of Santa Teresa which Hyde had been using as a studio. Sargent gratefully agreed, and moved his paint and canvas supplies there. It was at Hyde’s studio that he meets the stunningly beautiful sixteen year old Rosina Ferrara (1862-1938) who had been Hyde’s model. 

Sargent eventually settled down into a routine. As he was so adapt at doing, having lived out of suitcases nearly every day of his life, he finally finds the other artists in the area and develops a small community. With the Marina hotel nearly empty, he adopted it for his own.  Bonnet, Sain, Doucet, Chatrau, and Frank Hyde would become the small circle of artists.  

As the days were so repressively hot, he found the twilight and evenings to be the best time to paint as well as entertain. On one such occasion, Sargent catered a party on the rooftop of his hotel and hired musicians. The view was wonderful, the cool evening air pleasant with the sunset burning its glow against the stucco walls of the surrounding buildings provided the most perfect setting. Sargent and his friends enjoyed themselves with the lively festivities and the  "tarantella was danced on the rooftop of his hotel, to an orchestra of tambourines and guitars." (Charteris, P. 48) 

In that evening Sargent had found his romance with Capri and what better images than the beautiful Rosina Ferraro dancing to Sargent's beloved passionate folk dance against the twilight sky. 


The idea of Capri's beautiful women had been in the French imagination at least since 1849 when Alphonse de Lamartine’s well known romance Graziella told of a sophisticated Frenchman falling in love with a Neapolitan fisher girl who he eventually abandoned (Ormond and Kilmurray p. 68). 

This bitter-sweet romance was more than just fiction to more than one girl of Capri and would prove to be the fate of Rosina. 

Of all the Capri women, Rosina Ferrara (1862-1938), was the most beautiful. In 1886, Adrian Stokes (an English artist) recalled "It used to be easy for artist to find models, but now the grown-up girls are rather shy of strangers, and the priest think it is dangerous for them to pose. For all of that, there are some regular models to be had. Rosina is considered the first on the island, and certainly is a remarkably handsome young woman. She sits perfectly as a model of London or Paris" (Art Journal, 1886 p.169 quoted in Ormond and Kilmurray p.66).  

In fact, like the German in Sargent's hotel, some of the artists who went there were looking for more than just  beautiful compositions. Around 1883 Rosina had a daughter, Maria, from a father of mysterious origins and even ridiculously rumored to be the offspring of royalty (Olson, p. 69). 

Numerous artists painted her. In 1881-82 Charles Sprague Perarce (American painter 1851-1914) sketched her for the Salon of '82 (Ormond and Kilmurray p. 67).  

The American artist George Randolph Barse Jr. (1861-1938) eventually fell in love with her and they were married in Rome in 1891 (she was 29 and he was 30). The following year he took her back to the United Sates to live in Westchester, New York.  She died at the age of 76 in Flushing, Queens, New York.  

By Natasha Wallace 
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updated 3/31/2003