During the Jazz age, the most celebrated artist in America, if not Europe, was not Grant Wood, Edward Hopper, or Georgia O’Keefe. It was also not Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, or Pablo Picasso. Norman Rockwell? No, it was not even the great Rockwell.

This artist was a once-blind illustrator-turned-portrait-painter who, until his dying day, was referred to by many as the “Barefoot Boy from the Blue Muskingum.” By 1938, Time magazine proclaimed him “the most commercially successful U.S. artist.” He typified the quintessential American dream, and his achievements captured, illuminated, and influenced the extraordinary times in which he lived—an era that spanned the Gilded Age, the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, the Golden Age of Hollywood, World War II, and the post-war boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

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An Affair with Beauty

September 1969—New York City, New York

If I remember correctly, it was Sigmund Freud, the great German psychoanalyst, who once said that all artists want in life are three things: fame, money, and beautiful lovers.

It was during the autumn of 1923 that I first heard this aphorism.

As the sun slowly descended behind the city’s jagged skyline of concrete and stone, I found myself milling about a crowded art gallery in midtown Manhattan. The main exhibition space swarmed with pearl necklaces and gold pocket-watch chains. For the exhibiting artist, this was absolute splendor; the throng of prospective wealthy patrons meant success—a newfound clientele, new acquaintances, and, of course, old friends. For me, the whole affair became a fantasy of elegance spun of shimmering silk, painted chiffon, and violet georgette.

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Chapter Seven

An Unexpected Visitor

Day turned into night; night turned into day. Each splendid week unfolded into the next. Before long, we were kneedeep in June.

Nancy, please hold still.

I’m trying, but it’s hotter than the hinges of Hades up here.

I assure you it’s not any warmer here than it is in New York City

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