Painting (and eating) in a Paradise called Porto Ercole


The first days were chilly and gray at times, but when the sun did come out it was bliss of the first order!

I am just back from a terrific two and a half weeks in Europe. This first post is about week one and a wonderful time in Porto Ercole. Although I had checked out reports of what to expect weather-wise, I foolishly chose to ignore them, being sure all would be balmy and bright.  I packed as if going on a summer vacation in July and, surprise (duh), arrived to blustery wind and rain. But it really did not make a big difference because I was about to spend a week learning techniques in my newly discovered world of watercolor and thoroughly enjoy my long-established interest in eating great Italian food and drinking lovely Italian wines.


When the sun did come out it was Porto Ercole at its best…


Like most of the world, I find old ports like this transporting…I seemed to drop 30 years in spirit as we strolled along the water’s edge.

Mita Corsini Bland, our hostess, arranged for Tish Seligman, a very talented author of several books on watercolor painting, to teach, inspire and encourage ten of us in the art of watercolor. I was feeling a bit intimidated when several of the other ladies enrolled in the class were showing some of their paintings on iPads the first night that we all met for dinner. Yikes!!! They seemed very professional to me. I have been a working girl  all of my adult life but I had never painted portraits or anything like what I was looking at. I had sketched a lot of dresses and, in the last year, a few botanical watercolors —  but all of a sudden I felt in over my head!. Nevertheless,  our teachers’ encouragement ( saying nice things about something only a mother could love— and I am not even sure about that!) and the fact that everyone in the group was either so kind or so encouraging —(maybe the glasses of white wine and yummy pasta for lunch everyday helped a bit as well), I mustered courage  and started — tentatively —  to paint.


On the left our fabulous hostess, Mita Corsini Bland, and the talented and really helpful  teacher, Tish Seligman from England. Please check out their respective books online. I would offer a link if I knew how but my I.T. gal is on holiday…. I’m sure you can find it yourself!

My fledgling interest  in watercolor has been inspired by botanical studies, focusing on the work of Maria Sybilia Merian and Alexander Marshall. I like both of their styles — particularly as it bold and strong and not the least bit insipid or precious. I have even started collecting hand-painted engravings from a 1725 portfolio of the work of Merian. I also find her to be an extremely interesting woman: brave, pioneering, and bold in her art. In 166,  at the ripe old age ( for those times) of 52 and just divorced, she received a commission from the Dutch government to go off into the wilds along the coast of South America  for two years to study and record the insects of that world. Pretty strong and modern stuff at that, or any time, for a woman to do.

Mr. Marshall is famous for his flower paintings, but his talent for insects and animals is no less skillful. Both of these artist were born in the 17th century, yet their work is graphic and bold. More about them in another post.  Here are some examples of their work:


A study by Maria Sibylla Merian ( 1647-1717).



A water color from the  Florilegium of  Alexander Marshall ( 1620-1682).



Well, we know we are not in Kansas!  Doesn’t that wonderful warm color scream Italy?


But back to the present. The first evening Mita’s sister, Daisy, gave a cocktail party for our group and we were transported into another world when we trooped into this glorious square on the port.


My friends Adrianne and Gigi Vittadini arrive at the party, looking glamorous.

The first day, after some instruction  and a marvelous lunch, we all selected our spots of inspiration and started our first painting. My stylish and funny friend Frances Schultz is not only talented, but looks the part! She is the archetype of a romantic artist: note the poetic tilt of the hat, the smock,  the artist’s apron . . . the only give-away that this is May, 2013, are the leggings.


I think that  for a very modern gal, Frances is looking very 19th century artist!



Love the flora of the Mediterranean climates—don’t see that in Connecticut.


Everyplace one turned there was a picture to be painted. I attempted to paint the bust under the wisteria but will not show that attempt …. oh , no.

And the lunches….well, not enough can be said about this subject so I shall keep it simple and straightforward. I have found that purity of flavor comes from simplicity and good ingredients, and the sensitive palate of the cook in Italy. I know there are great restaurants and chefs through out the world, but that is not my point. What I love about this type of food is simplicity and authenticity.  Roberto, Mita’s cook, has the ability to achieve this without fuss, without fancy ingredients, simply capturing the season. My writer friend Frances talks about our wonderful lunches and dinners on her blog,  ( okay —  tried to get this to link to make it easy but just tried and it did not work, help!  Please just copy it into your browser!)


A simple but perfect pasta with tomato sauce served with sautéed zucchini and (of course) white wine flowing to inspire us. I shall aim to give you the recipe in a future post.

I hope Mita does not mind me posting this photo…we women never like photos taken of us (I hate  mine now) but that is another story.   I think it shows her Italian spirit: generous, fun, artistic, and totally unpretentious. It does not adequately illuminate her  organizational talents: keeping 10 women together and on time, at the right place with constantly changing weather(worthy of General Patton!),  done with grace and charm.  Love the expression ” like herding cats’  and, indeed, we  resembled that!  Brava to you, Mita!!


Mita Corsini Bland—our leader!



The final day we did Show-and-Tell of what we had accomplished that week,  finished or unfinished ( none of mine got finished but Frances was very prolific).


Frances’ wonderful paintings—she painted up a storm!

I was thrilled when I discovered that my friend and fellow designer Adrianne Vittadini was going to be part of our group.  We occasionally run into each other at Sette Mezzo in NYC, but both of our travels keep us busy.


The designers re-unite. She has the same wonderful style as always, so I copied her look for the day!

And the group…Well, being a loner, I am always a bit circumspect about group activities but I have late in life discovered  that when you share a specific interest or, better yet, a passion, with a small group of people it is wonderful and makes for a great group dynamic. Everyone was good-natured, helpful, encouraging, and generous. All liked to laugh, eat,  drink, and shop as well!!  We had such fun and I feel so lucky to have met every one of these ladies.


Mita, Louisa,Judy, Lady Sara, Tish (professora), moi, Linda ,Charlotte, Adrianne, Frances.



Beauty everywhere.


The charming pigeon house that most of tried to render.


My less than stellar attempt.  Remember, I am into tight botanicals!  This was my effort trying to “loosen” the death grip on my paint brushes.







The old farm is surrounded by old old olive trees: a favorite spot to sit and watercolor.


My attempt at one of the old guys.


Although I took a zillion photos, I leave you with this one: a wonderful place and a wonderful time. cr


A view of the port of Porto Ercole




23 thoughts on “Painting (and eating) in a Paradise called Porto Ercole

  1. I would love to do a specific learning holiday like that! Looks fabulous, I think the bark of your tree is really well done but I might have to find a course that teaches you to stop drawing stick men however…

  2. What a beautiful location!! Your link may have failed, but I found Francis’ blog. It’s as lovely as yours. She posted a wonderful painting you did of an artichoke! Really lovely. Such a fabulous experience for all of you. I couldn’t help but notice the wonderful hats you ladies all wore!

  3. I feel like I’ve just gotten back from a painting holiday in Italy!
    Beautiful post and wonderful photos.
    Please don’t sell yourself short on your painting abilities. You have something innately that can’t be easily taught — and that is an “eye” for composition. Your paintings are wonderful.
    In a posting of your Charleston project, you have a fabulous image of a vase of flowers and a hat on a table strewn with plans, pencils, etc., amidst the chaos of gutting and reconstructing. In my view as a fellow watercolorist, it would make a marvelous painting. It’s one of my favorite photos in your blog.
    Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  4. What a wonderful and interesting trip that must have been.
    Porto Ercole is on my list of places to visit,especially after seeing your lovely photos.

  5. Carolyne: I love all your posts and the lovely pictures. Checking your website is one of my weekly rituals that I look forward to! Thanks for sharing the beauty! I always leave feeling peacefully refreshed!

  6. wonderful capsule of our wonderful time I will take off the sweater and down jacket from under my smock so I dont look like the Michelin man !!!loveyly photos of La Dolce Vita…and your lovely work !.xo

  7. This post was so very Beautiful and romantic! I loved the photos’ and the romance that each one brought!! You all looked so happy and content…Thank you 🙂

  8. What a delicious treat! Thank you for sharing. I always look forward to your posts – such a treat.

  9. Nice, nice, nice. So good to get away with like minded people, isn’t it? I know what you mean by trying to loosen the death grip. I do that all the time. One thing that helps me is to tape two large sheets of paper on the wall higher than I can reach, take some chalks into each hand, stand up on a chair and not come down till both the papers are completely covered. That helps get out of the smaller and tighter art works. Anyway, I think your two pieces are brilliant. Keep going 🙂

  10. Carolyne,
    I enjoyed being transported to Porto Ercole…thank you so much for the beautiful adventure.


  11. This was absolutely enchanting. You have inspired me to pick up the brush again. Many thanks!

  12. Thank you for a great blog.

    Do not sell yourself short–you have talent. Your pigeon house painting is great!


  13. Carolyne – Once again you amaze me! How many more excellent talents do you have? Your photos and sketches — C’est magnifique! I hope that you will do some painting when you come to our fair port city of Charleston, SC. You will find more subjects than you have time to paint. And it is the enjoyment of the subject that is important, not the final outcome, although your paintings are actually excellent!

  14. I’ve just returned from a working trip abroad, and spent 10 days in the South of France shooting a new book. So many times I thought: Wouldn’t it be lovely to put down the camara and try and capture the landscapes in watercolours? Italy looks absolutely beautiful – and the perfect subject matter – but places like Cap Ferrat and Nice with the striped umbrellas, quiet coves and sleepy villas would be wonderful to paint too. You’ve inspired me to go on such a holiday now. Thank you for sharing such lovely photos.

  15. I am not sure if you will remember me, I wrote an article on you for Social Affairs magazine about two years ago and you were kind enough to grant me a wonderful interview.

    In any case, my partner and I were in Charleston last week and Mr. Jenrette was kind enough to allow us to tour Roper House. Aftterward, we could not resist going over a few streets to see your new magnificent home. The day was very overcast and it was beginning to rain. There was no one around and I got out to take some pictures when I noticed that one of your front gates was open. I want you to know that I resisted my usual impluse to take advantage of an open gate to take an extra quick look. I walked over and simply closed your gate. So you may rest assured that even when you are away your fans have your back. Sincerely, Kevin Bradford King

    • Kevin you are the best….thank you. When I finally get the bloody thing done I hope you will return to Charleston…the gate will be open and you will be welcome for a visit best, carolyne

  16. Dear Carolyne, my favourite place to visit, the small, picturesque, untouched villages of Italy, my birthplace…it appears you had a magical time that week…thank you for this lovely post, N.

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