Wine, Women, and Watercolors (and Roberto!) – Painting in Italy – Part 2

Goodness we’ve been on a tear, now finally hurtled back to New York, to the same shambolic apartment I left three weeks ago. Never mind that. There is lots to show and tell.

Harbor Scene, Porto Ercole, by Frances Schultz
Harbor Scene, Porto Ercole, by moi

As you recall the accomplished watercolorist and Professional Fabulous Person Mita Corsini Bland hosted a weeklong painting workshop at her charming family farmhouse in Tuscany. I imagine it was the shortest six months of her life.

Sometimes her dining room looked like you put it in a blender without a top.*

Mita's dining room. Creativity can be messy and often is.
Mita's dining room. Creativity can be messy and often is.

This summer’s Corsini royal academy included Renaissance woman Carolyne Roehm (aka Principessa), designer Adrienne Vittadini, a darling English rose and her equally rosy mother, two frisky fillies from Louisville, a Millbrook maven, a creative spirit from Florida, a glamourous European, and our wonderful, tolerant teacher Tish Seligman.

Painting in Italy - a lesson in water and clouds
Tish give a lesson in water and clouds. Photo by Mita Corsini Bland

I loved the days we painted on the water.

I went recently spaghetti-os over the exhibit of Sargent watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum (here). His bold strokes and brave color gave me courage.

Porto Ercole seascape by Frances Schultz
Porto Ercole Harbor, by moi

Here is another seascape by the prolific Millbrook Maven. She painted 72 pictures a minute. Possessed, she was. Judy Unchained. Bursting at the paintbrushes. Brava.

Painting in Italy - Seascape by Judy Benardete
Seascape by Judy Benardete

As the weather was not always bright, we brought in vegetables from the market in Uliveto and painted those.

Carciofi for sale at Uliveto Market
Carciofi for sale at Uliveto Market

Principessa is especially good at botanicals. It sort of goes without saying the girl is good at details… Have you seen her website for heaven’s sake?

Artichoke by Carolyne Roehm
Artichoke by Carolyne Roehm

We are tough. We eat what we paint.

Artichokes al fresco, at Mita Corsini Bland's in Porto Ercole
Artichokes al fresco, at Mita Corsini Bland's in Porto Ercole

I also loved CR’s olive tree.

Olive Tree by Carolyne Roehm
Olive Tree by Carolyne Roehm

Shoot I loved them all. Some were beginners and some more experienced, but everyone’s work had passion and joy.

The most exciting thing happened when we were put to the challenge of painting a picture in 15 minutes. No pencil drawing beforehand. Just go for it.

10-minute finial by ?
15-minute finial, by Someone Please Tell Me, painted in the Corsini family gardens, Porto Ercole

It’s amazing what happens when you get out of your own way.

10-minute pots on a wall by Mita Corsini Bland, In the Corsini family gardens
15-minute pots on a wall by Mita Corsini Bland

Keeps you from thinking too much. The point is to capture the essence of the subject, and merely to suggest details which the mind will complete on its own.

15-minute garden vignettes by Adrienne Vittadini
15-minute garden vignettes by Adrienne Vittadini

Here are two of mine.

15-minute finials by Frances Schultz, Corsini Gardens, Porto Ercole
15-minute finials by moi, photo by Mita, I think

I did a third of a statue of the Virgin Mary that looked like Ernest Borgnine in a bathrobe.

Painters in Porto Ercole
Let us show you our etchings... from left, Louisa (Weasy), Margaret, Teacher Tish, Mita, Carolyne, Judy, moi, Janey, and seated is Adrienne. Missing is the Louisville Filly Linda, who took the picture, and the English Roses who had to get back to London to the Chelsea Flower Show. Moi hiding in the back as was traveling that day, dressed in black, at risk of being mistaken for Sicilian widow.

That day we were in the lush tropical gardens of the family estate. The Corsinis are one of the most venerable noble families in Italy. Sadly their villa was destroyed in World War II. Older relatives recall at war’s end returning to these gardens to discover dead bodies of German soldiers. Mita remembers as a child playing “horsey” on what turned out to be an undetonated bomb. Lord.

On a happy note, as fellow painter Weasy Blodgett reminded me (see Comments), Puccini wrote part of the opera Turandot in these gardens during more tranquil times in the 1920s.

All this painting and storytelling works up an appetite. Have you ever seen such zucchini blossoms?

Zucchini blossoms await their battering
Zucchini blossoms await their battering

And now to have his way with these blossoms, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Roberto! A man for all seasonings and the most delicious lunches imaginable.

Roberto at the stove, frying up the zucchini blossoms
Roberto at the stove, frying up the zucchini blossoms and patiently conveying his methods to an eager audience.

Adrienne has promised to send us Robert’s recipes translated from the Italian. No pressure Adrienne, whenever it suits you, really, it’s fine, no really, if it’s no trouble, okay then.

Feast by Roberto, photo by Mita Corsini Bland
A typical feast by Roberto, fresh ingredients, simply prepared. Photo by Mita Corsini Bland.

One thing he did was chuck an anchovy into just about anything and let it dissolve into it. You have no idea how it gives a sauce a certain non conosco che cosa. You also have no idea it’s in there. Even if you hate anchovies, try it. Belissima, I promissima.

Sadly Roberto went home after lunch.

That’s when things got blurry in the kitchen. Mamma-mia…

This is what you call too many cooks in the kitchen
Too many kooks in the kitchen. Adrienne designs the salad dressing. (Her weird hair l is the camera and not her). Hostess Mita does her Chorus Line interpretation. Janey provides the laugh-track. Not pictured is Principessa at the back manning the stove.

Back at it the next day, until it was time to go…

Paintings by Mita Corsini Bland
Paintings by Mita Corsini Bland
Paintings by Janey Schecter
Paintings by Janey Schecter
Paintings by Linda Dabney
Paintings by Linda Dabney
Paintings by Louisa Blodgett
Paintings by Louisa Blodgett
Paintings by Frances Schultz
Paintings by moi

Ciao, Porto Ercole!

Charlotte Fraser, left, and instructor Tish Seligman, Porto Ercole
Charlotte Fraser, left, and instructor Tish Seligman, Porto Ercole. Photo Mita Corsini Bland
Porto Ercole, Italy. Photo Mita Corsini Bland
Porto Ercole, Italy. Photo Mita Corsini Bland

Ciao, bella! 

I had to say that sooner or later.

 * With thanks to Jerry Seinfield’s saying, “A 2-year-old is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have a top for it.”


  1. Dear Frances,
    I love watercolours, and I really love your watercolours. My youngest, Isabel, just graduated from high school, is going to NYU for college, but she is spending her freshman year in Florence. I cannot wait to visit.
    Much, much love,

    1. Thank you MA! I am sure you mean you cannot wait to visit ME in New York, but Florence will be lovely as well… My youngest (niece) is an Isabel, too! Much much love back, dear friend, Frances

  2. How enjoyable this is! Paintings lovely and much talent amongst the travelers. Lovely paintings. Have you ever painted on house wall with your designs..just put on canvas to hand down later. Idea comes from friend in Winston-Salem who painted Old Salem on dining room walls above chair rail and not on house is for sale…so sad!It has look of Zuber.

    Do have a recipe for an creamed oyster dish with anchovy paste that is a clockstopper..kicker is the A. paste, but not everyone wants to hear that until after dinner. Your new address unknown.. if you want I’ll send.

  3. Loved your week in Porto Ercole… Wish I could draw/paint etc or was brave enough to try! but you brought it to life for people who were not there!

  4. The paintings are quite lovely…but oh….THE FOOD! Roberto and I would get along famously in the kitchen…if he needs an assistant on your next sojourn, I am available!

  5. This is so much fun to relive…you captured the group, the setting and Roberto, perfectly. I need to remember the anchovy tossed in. Yes, no pressure Adrienne to produce the recipes (in English). Weasy and I have already reserved our room 101 for next year, because it was the “cat-bird seat’.
    XO, Linda

  6. Beauty everywhere…people, place and exquisite food..lots of laughter mixed in with our hard thrilled that you have captured the week for us to share with our friends ..can’t wait yo see all of you soon..xoxo

  7. Dear funny writer Frances,
    Would you please write my blog for me?? Yours is so funny with your very natural gift of gab and words! I am finally home and started to prepare a post but maybe I will just “command c” —“command v” yours it will be so much better than my dry ramblings.
    xox cr a.ka. the Principessa
    —–oh so always wanted to be one. Did I tell you that my first purchase in life was a rhinestone tiara from the Sears and Roebuck catalog at age 6 ?

    1. Confidential to Principessa, your “ramblings” are far from dry and you are a princess, trust me. xo

  8. As for painting/drawing I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. However I can follow a recipie (hint, hint). Now about the Sargent Museum it sounds like a must for when I am going to be indulging myself for 35 days in the Apple come November.
    Want to recommend any classes for the love to eat and admire others skills?

    1. Well, dang, Meerah, the Sargent show has closed but you can order the catalog by clicking onthe link in the postor going to the Brooklyn Museum of Art site. But New York in November will be jam-packed with great stuff – not to worry! And we will work on those recipes… hint taken! Thanks so much for writing, Frances

  9. All of your wonderful images of the fabulous drawings done by various members of your group are mouth watering!! I would kill to be able to draw/ paint half as well as all of you. What a wonderful trip with dear friends; learning new skills and having a great time together. Very inspirational!!!

  10. Your watercolor paintings are simply beautiful Frances!! What an exciting and enriching experience!!! xo

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us. It is a vacation I can only dream about. I too am an artist and could picture all the fun and knowledge you gained from your teacher & friends. The paintings were all beautiful and you really captured the feeling of the moment in your paintings. Once again thank for taking the time to share.
    Maude Ciardi

  12. You captured it all; the food, watercolors, and the amazing group of women. I loved it all and can’t wait to do it again.
    We should do a cookbook and illustrate with watercolors done by all of us!

  13. Frances, I am drooling over your watercolors and Italy and the food. I had never done watercolor but took a trip to Castiglioncello to paint with friends years ago. My husband commented, “but you don’t do watercolor,” and I replied that I would go to Italy with friends to dig ditches. What a wonderful trip you all enjoyed.

  14. One little factoid about the beautiful Corsini garden…that is where Puccini (a friend of Mita’s grandfather’s) strolled while composing his opera Turandot!!!!! now that is truly fantastico and Bellisimo !!!!!……and Roberto did look like Pavarotti …!! Wonder if he sings too?? probably…..

  15. Oh my goodness – such talent – and all under one roof! Inspirational. Thank you for your email – as they say “I’m onto it!!” Ciao Bella-s

  16. I think, if I may say so, it is the camaraderie amongst you and your women friends, that is the most charming thing of all!

  17. I wish I could be with artist group, you all look so happy and enjoyed your art paintings, which I really miss being with other artist.
    Check out my work if you like, put my name in Google and Frances Schultz you sure look like me when I was your age.

    I changed my name to Fran, but was born with the Name Frances like you, Schultz is my married name and I am in Winnsboro SC I grew up in Mpls, Minn. and started drawing at the age of six.

    1. Well Miss Fran in Winnsboro, how nice to hear from you. I did look at your work on Art Exchange and my goodness you are prolific and talented, and beautiful! Keep it up. And why not start an artist group in your community. Surely there are like-minded souls around you. Go for it! And keep me posted. Thanks so much for writing, Frances

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *