|Sargent spent the summer of 1899 as a guest of the American expatriates Daniel and Ariana Curtis in the Palazzo Barbaro, Venice. The Curtises were leading society figures and enjoyed entertaining artists and writers, such as Henry James who used the Palazzo as a setting for his novel The Wings of the Dove (1902). |
In his Diploma work Sargent depicts the couple, their son Ralph and his wife Lisa in the grand salon of the Palazzo. The dark interior and use of dashingly bold highlights relates to the work of Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), which Sargent greatly admired. Comparing An Interior in Venice with seventeenth-century Dutch interiors, Whistler dismissed Sargent's 'little picture' as 'smudge everywhere'.
Sargent originally intended this painting as a gift for Mrs Curtis (who he nicknamed 'the Dogaressa') but she declined it as she thought it made her look too old and because she believed that her son was not depicted with appropriate decorum.