I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise given how many people in my family draw well. Nevertheless, I was astonished to discover recently that Rebecca de Mendes Kruttschnitt (1889-1974), my great grand aunt, was a professional illustrator.
Rebecca Kruttschnitt adeptly illustrated a drawing-room novel — that’s right, a roman de salon — published in 1910. The book, “In Town, and Other Conversations,” written by Janet Ayer Fairbank, includes more than a dozen of Rebecca’s delicate pencil drawings. You can read it by clicking here, though no one should be blamed for just looking at the pictures.
Rebecca de Mendes Kruttschnitt was the daughter of Julius Kruttschnitt, the former board chairman of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Rebecca married Henry de Clifford Woodhouse when she was 22, one year after the book was published. A Canadian, Woodhouse was a veteran of the Boer Wars in South Africa.
As we have previously blogged, Woodhouse was no good to Rebecca. He notoriously carried on during wedlock with the poet Elinor Wylie, who wrote love sonnets about him in her last book. Elinor and Rebecca were friends. Elinor frequently visited the Woodhouses after they had moved to England at their household at Henley-on-Thames. She visited too frequently, if I may say so.
It goes without saying that Rebecca’s illustrations are the most interesting part of the book, which began as a play that was serialized in the Sunday editions of Chicago Record-Herald under the name, “The Tea Table.” The same characters appear in each scene to talk about issues of the moment, according to one reviewer, who adds that the talk is handled “in an amusing and highly natural manner.”
I can’t vouch for this because I have no interest in reading the book. Someone else can read it and tell me if it’s any good. But I can tell you that I completely agree with the reviewer when he characterizes the drawings as being of “uncommon delicacy.” This is a book that you can definitely judge by its pictures, starting with the covers.
Sadly, the covers are the only illustrations in color. The front cover features a lone passenger in an early automobile, about to set off on a weekend adventure, no doubt. I guess I’m not sure why the driver is all covered up when leaves are still on the trees. Maybe that’s because I haven’t read the book.
Inside, there are lots of lovely pictures of beautifully dressed, thoughtful women doing exciting things — pouring tea, wearing furs, getting dressed by maids to go to the opera, stirring tea, that kind of thing. They are all really, really good.
Interestingly, men really aren’t a factor in the illustrations, except to hide behind newspapers, sit dully in an armchair, or wear old military outfits. That may be one reason why I have no interest in reading the book.