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Friends and Family: The Bliss Photograph Collection

Posted On July 29, 2016 | 10:24 am | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (August 2016)

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Lucrezia Bori. Inscribed: "To Mildred and Robert whose friendship has always brought me great happiness. Affectionately, Lucrezia, April 20, 1959." Dumbarton Oaks Archives (AR.PH.BL.Misc.245).

During their lifetimes, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss assembled a large collection of photographs of their friends, associates, and family. As is evidenced by images of their residential interiors, the Blisses framed and displayed these photographs on tables throughout their homes. Moreover, preserved correspondence shows that the Blisses actively solicited these photographic portraits and gave their own images in exchange. Many of the portraits are signed by noted photographers, including Edward Weston (1886–1958), Pirie MacDonald (1867–1942), and Alice Boughton (1866–1943). The Dumbarton Oaks Archives recently completed a project to scan this collection of 293 photographs and is presently publishing them on the institution’s website.

Bliss Apartment. Archives, AR.PH.Misc.002, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

American Legation Residence, Stockholm, ca. 1927. Archives, AR.PH.Misc.044, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Occasionally, the photographs are associated with correspondence which augments the Blisses’ acquisition of the image. A youthful portrait of Laurence Curtis 2nd (1893–1989) is inscribed “Mrs. Bliss, pleasant memories of Paris 1916–1917, Laurence Curtis 2nd.” and is associated with an undated and somewhat cryptic letter that reads:

Dear Mrs. Bliss, Here’s wishing you and Mr. Bliss a very merry Christmas. This picture was taken just before I went to Paris to the Embassy, and is the last I had taken before the war. I am delighted to have you have it, but I hope you will not put it where it can be seen. You see I am a little ashamed of having shown it to you! Most sincerely yours, Laurie Curtis 2nd.

Interestingly, neither the photograph nor the letter alludes to the poignant events of Curtis’s time in Paris as a twenty-four-year-old. In 1916–17, at the height of the First World War, he served with Robert Woods Bliss in the U.S. Embassy in Paris before joining the United States Navy. During his training, he was involved in a plane crash that resulted in the loss of a leg. He would later graduate from the Harvard University School of Law and become a congressman from Massachusetts.

Laurence Curtis 2nd and Correspondence. Archives, AR.PH.BL.Misc.145, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.