Wife Hortense Lenore Mitchell, Partner Guy Hamilton Mitchell, Diego Suarez

Queer Places:
Borgo Ognissanti, 16, 50123 Firenze FI
Villa La Pietra, Via Bolognese, 120, 50139 Firenze
Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori Florence, Città Metropolitana di Firenze, Toscana, Italy

Arthur Mario Acton (March 15, 1873 – March 22, 1953) was an art dealer.

He was the illegitimate son of Eugenio Arturo Ruggiero Acton, Patrizio Napoletano (1836-1895) and Mary Emily/Amelia Eden Spong. His paternal grandparents were: Brig. Gen. Charles Joseph Acton, Patrizio Napoletano (1783-1863) and Zoe Emelia Teodora Guigues d'Albon. He married Hortense Lenore Mitchell and had 2 sons, Sir Harold Acton and William Acton. He had also an illegitimate daughter, Liana Beacci.

Arthur Action attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His roommate was Guy Hamilton Mitchell, the son of a wealthy American, William Mitchell, who was founder of the Illinois Trust and Savings Company of Chicago. It was widely rumoured that in his youth Acton was bisexual, having an intimate relationship with Guy and the two being thought of in Paris as a couple. When they completed their studies, the two toured Italy for a year, taking up residence in Florence. Acton’s uncle, Henry O. Watson, helped him establish as an art dealer.

When Arthur Mario Acton first arrived in Florence in 1894 with Guy Mitchell, he established an antique store in Borgo Ognissanti, just a block off the Arno River, to the west of Florence’s historic center and around the corner from the tony Hotel Grand Britannia. He began selling objet d’art through several dealers in London and New York. But within a year of settling in Florence, the Oscar Wilde criminal trial resulted in unwanted public attention and intense scrutiny for any homosexual. To assuage family demands and offer some comfort, Guy suggested that Arthur marry his sister, Hortense, adding legitimacy to their relationship while affording them even better reason to continue seeing each other. Hortense Lenore Mitchell and Arthur Mario Acton were married in Chicago in June 1903. Guy Mitchell, less conflicted in his homosexuality as an adult, remained unmarried and lived a private gay life in the Villa il Giullarino.


Villa La Pietra


Villa La Pietra


Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori

In 1903 Arthur Acton rented Villa La Pietra. With money from his wife's family, the couple bought the villa in 1907. Between 1905 and 1930 the gardens of the villa were substantially altered by the Actons, only the walled lemon garden to the north-west of the villa remaining mostly unchanged since the time of Luigi Capponi. The Actons laid out a formal Baroque Italian garden with extensive stonework, including almost two hundred statues, many of them by the Venetian sculptors Orazio Marinali and Antonio Bonazza, brought to Florence from the villas of the Brenta. The gardens were restored in the early years of the XXI first century.

Diego Suarez spent from 1904 to 1921 working with Acton on the villa. He was Acton’s constant companion during this time, often travelling to the Brenta Riviera and to Vicenza in the Veneto region on sculpture buying expeditions. The Acton/Suarez relationship seemed to be more than just close, and perhaps was modelled on the standard older/younger homosexual relationship of the time. James Deering, the Chicago financier, visited la Pietra in 1914 at the suggestion of William Mitchell, Hortense’s father; with him was Paul Chalfin, an American art expert and would-be painter. Chalfin was friends with Bernard Berenson and Isabella Gardner, and had been to I Tatti in 1907, before the completion of any of the major renovations to Villa La Pietra. The two couples, Acton and Suarez, Deering and Chalfin, travelled the Brenta region acquiring sculpture. It was a fateful trip for Arthur Acton as Suarez, on a later trip to America, decided to remain and become the designer of Vizcaya, Deering’s new mansion and gardens in Miami, one of America’s most elaborate and beautiful gardens of the Country Place era.


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